Dodgers Roster: Outlining the Battles that Could Go Down to the Wire

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(Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports)

Now that a full week has passed since the Dodgers began their 2017 Cactus League campaign, we thought it may be a good time to revisit several of the roster battles that we’ve been discussing since the squad began taking shape earlier in the winter.

Yet before we dive directly into those specific competitions, it’s probably best to layout all the spots on the team that are viewed as locks, if only for the sake of painting a clearer picture of the 25-man roster’s landscape.

Starting with the infield, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Logan Forsythe and Adrian Gonzalez are certainly locks, and will compose the nucleus of the team’s attacks both offensively and defensively. There’s really not much to report here as far as spring training news, except that the tendinitis that Gonzo was fighting in his left elbow has all but subsided, and that Turner has been receiving injections in his knee, adhering to the exact regimen that worked for him last year.

In terms of infield reserves, so long as he’s healthy, we know that Chase Utley is guaranteed a spot on the 25-man, mainly seeing time at second base when Forsythe sits or is shifted to third base. Presumably, Utley will also see some action at first base, if needed, in addition to being featured as one of the club’s primary pinch hitters off the pine.

Nothing major at all is happening at catcher. Yasmani Grandal may be poised to have his best season ever at the dish offensively, while Austin Barnes will finally have the opportunity on a larger scale to show Dodgers’ management how good he really is.

Moving along to the outfield, it definitely safe to assume that there’s at least three sure bets — Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier. We’ll get to the remainder of the outfield crew in just a bit, but after adding up all the certainties among the position players, the tally comes to 10 solid bets for about 13 or so spots.

Even though the starting rotation may seem a bit complicated in its development, the circumstances surrounding the five who will ultimately get the nod are actually quite simple. The first three spots are cemented with resident ace Clayton Kershaw, lefty veteran Rich Hill and Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda as the headliners. Regarding the remainder of the rotation, the deciding factor could boil down to health. If both Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy are 100% fit and mechanically sound, they likely earn spots in the rotation. At the first sign at even the slightest bit of an abnormality or discomfort, lefty Alex Wood vaults into the starting five.

After a bit of a rocky start in his spring debut on Friday, McCarthy was able to rebound in his second inning of work and his bullpen afterwards, regaining decent command and feeling quite pleased overall with his outing. And although Kazmir displayed erratic control while lasting only 36 pitches in his own debut on Wednesday, he’ll certainly see enough action in the near future in hopes of fine-tuning his delivery.

With Hyun-Jin Ryu nowhere on the rotation’s radar, and 20-year-old Julio Urias presumed to begin the season in extended spring training, the real battle here shrinks to a competition between Wood, McCarthy and Kazmir, with the upper-hand right now going to the veterans just because they have substantial contracts without any available options. However, this outlook could easily change with the drop of a dime.

If the Dodgers decide to carry eight pitchers in the bullpen, it would limit the bench crew of position players to four, assuming the club starts the season with its full compliment of five starting pitchers in the rotation. Despite eight being the preferred number, management will almost be forced to go the seven-man route, just to make sure all the secondary depth is covered at every position on the field.

About the only two sure locks among the relief corps are All-World closer Kenley Jansen along with new addition Sergio Romo. Player options will come into play here as well, meaning Chris Hatcher and Luis Avilan are almost certainties to begin the season on the roster, at least until either an injury or performances suggest otherwise. Subsequently, assuming Brandon Morrow throws well throughout the spring, he may conceivably earn a roster spot, especially when considering the availability of an opening on the 40-man roster that was created by the departure of Chase De Jong.

The best guesses to fill the final two or three bullpen holes are Pedro Baez, Josh Fields and Grant Dayton, with Dayton leading the charge. Nevertheless, each of those players have options on their contracts, affording management some much needed flexibility as the season progresses. Adam Liberatore and Josh Ravin, or perhaps even Ross Stripling as a long man, may also be considered for big league spots, but all three could very well open the year on the pitching staff at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Drifting back to the reserve spots among the position players, the inclusion Scott Van Slyke on the Opening Day 25-man roster almost guarantees that rookie outfielder Andrew Toles begins the season at OKC. In the same breath, Franklin Gutierrez was brought in for the sole purpose of providing a right-handed bat in the corner outfield spots, which would almost relegate Van Slyke to being a backup first baseman, in essence creating an unwarranted roster spot, excluding the availability of another formidable bat off the bench. The final decisions surrounding the 25-man are already borderline difficult, especially when reiterating that it may be almost impossible to carry eight arms in the bullpen instead of seven. So, basically, out of SVS, Tolesy and Gutierrez, we’ll probably see two of the three on the 25-man.

As far as infield depth goes, we’re guessing that Enrique Hernandez makes the 25-man roster right out of spring camp after battling with teammates Chris Taylor and Charlie Culberson for the single super-utility role.

Summarizing all the aforementioned points, the four key battles for roster spots will ultimately result in the choice of a fifth starter, an intense competition for the last three spots in the bullpen, the decision of which outfield reserves to carry, as well as one super-utility infield position. Four weeks hardly seems like enough time for the management crew to put everything together.

Please feel free to check back frequently, as all of us here at TBPC have often been updating the blog’s 25-man roster predictions on our projections page.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)
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