As the spring training reporting dates for players are drawing ever so near, there haven’t been a typically high number of story lines surrounding the Dodgers so far, outside of a few potentially tight positional battles at catcher and left field. Many people don’t expect much to happen during the time between the first squad workout on February 19 and the Cactus League opener against the White Sox on February 23, but we made a list of five things to look for during the early days of camp, which could impact the landscape of the squad come Opening Day.
Health & Fitness—It goes without saying that good health is of paramount importance for any MLB club, but with all the question marks about the fringe depth of the starting rotation, all eyes will be on the health of the big five: Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Should any type of injury dilemma surface early, it will be interesting to see who the Dodgers have in mind in terms of a No. 6 or even a No. 7 starter. In addition, many followers will be eager to see how Andrew Toles looks early, and whether his form will be strong enough to contend for a starting outfield spot. Coincidentally, the Dodgers began the 2017 regular season with six players on the disabled list.
The Demeanor of the Kids—The confidence and attitudes of some of the youngsters shown early in big league camp could very well determine the pecking order on the 40-man roster, especially when lining up the aforementioned starting pitching depth. Walker Buehler will be in the spotlight, as many fans wonder at which point of the season he’ll be needed in the major league rotation. Alex Verdugo will also be critiqued early, as some believe there’s a remote shot he could make the Opening Day roster.
Joc Pederson’s Approach—Seemingly, Joc Pederson shows up to spring training every year with yet another tweak in his swing mechanics, and it will be interesting to see how the 25-year-old outfielder is swinging the lumber early this time around. Pederson, who was demoted to OKC last August in hopes of rediscovering his good mechanics, hit only .212/.331/.407 with 11 long balls over 323 major league plate appearances during the 2017 regular season. Even after rejoining the big league squad in September, he was often seen experimenting with even more stances and swinging patterns, however, he was able to eventually put things together and impress late in the playoffs.
A Healthy Competition at Catcher—From the moment that Austin Barnes overtook the primary catcher’s spot from Yasmani Grandal late last summer, speculation immediately began to swirl about how the club would handle Grandal moving forward, and many believed that a trade sometime during the winter months was imminent. In spite of that, the rumors have quieted significantly, as both players are preparing to be the featured backstop at the beginning of the year. Many pundits believe that Barnes still has the momentum to see most of the starting time, while others contend that Grandal may have the upper-hand, specifically because of his ability to mash right-handed pitching. Battery preferences shown early by the coaching staff could dictate who gets the nod as the primary catcher early on.
Matt Kemp—The more time that passes, the better Matt Kemp’s chances improve of battling for a roster spot. When the deal with the Braves was made about a week before Christmas, many believed that Kemp’s reunion with the Dodgers would be short-lived, as the maneuver was executed solely to get the club beneath the luxury tax threshold, and that Kemp would immediately be dealt to an opposing club. However, whether it’s because there’s absolutely no other team willing to welcome in the 33-year-old veteran, or because the Dodgers are becoming more serious about having him compete for a roster spot, he’s still around, and he’s certainly making things interesting in the meantime.
Of course, there’s bound to be a handful of other stories developing toward the beginning of spring camp, but these are just a few examples of what to look for early. Please be sure to check back frequently, as we always to our best to bring you the latest news surrounding the squad as quickly as possible, as well as offering up plenty of insightful commentary.