After one of the saddest and longest winters ever for Dodgers fans, the end is finally here. Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow to Camelback Ranch. Although many of us are still hungover from what might have been, most of us can’t help but get excited about what might be waiting for us during the upcoming season.
On Friday, I wrote about things that could conceivably happen over the course of the season. Today we’ll take a smaller view, a quick wrap up of the offseason, and focus just on what to watch at spring training.
Andrew Toles—There are definitely a lot of story lines surrounding the outfield in general, but one thing I am most interested to watch in particular is the health of Andrew Toles. 2017 seemed like it was going to be his breakout season, until he gave everything going for a ball on May 9th, and ended up with a torn ACL. By all accounts, Toles is healthy and ready to go this season, setting him up to compete for the starting left field position. Andrew quickly became a fan favorite with his years of struggle and almost giving up on the sport. I’m excited to see what Tolesy can bring to this team.
The Rest of the Outfield—Will Matt Kemp make the team? Will he and Yasiel Puig be able to put aside whatever their previous issues were with each other? How will Joc Pederson react to not being the starting center fielder anymore? Will Chris Taylor be able keep up the incredible play of last year? The outfield will probably end up being a huge story line long through the season.
The Battle at Catcher—Towards the end of last year, Austin Barnes took over the starting job at catcher, and caught most of the games throughout the playoffs. Both he and Yasmani Grandal were ranked in the top 10 catchers by MLB network. This is a good problem to have, of course, and it will be interesting to watch this one play out.
The Health of the Starting Rotation—Many fans were upset when the Dodgers failed to re-sign Yu Darvish, who ended up signing with the Chicago Cubs. If all of the current starters stay healthy throughout the season, the Dodgers will be just fine. But that hasn’t been the way the last few seasons have gone for L.A. Of course, this year’s starting pitchers aren’t really a bunch of rag tag guys thrown together after Clayton Kershaw, a bunch of guys who may or may not actually make it thought the year. Kershaw seems to have accepted his back issues and is working to avoid them. Rich Hill seems to have gotten over that pesky blister thing. Alex Wood now knows what it’s like to be dominant throughout an entire season. Kenta Maeda wants to prove that he is still a starter, even after an impressive postseason in the bullpen. And Hyun-Jin Ryu is by all accounts poised to have a bounce back year. Will Julio Urias make an impact this season? How about Walker Buehler? Although I personally would love to see the Dodgers add another starting pitcher for insurance purposes—and they are rumored to still be in the market for one—the ones that we have now are more than acceptable. If they stay healthy.
Postseason Hangover—This may not actually show in spring training, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for as the Dodgers head into the season. Both the Cubs and the Indians started off real slow last year after their 2016 run through the World Series. Questions are going to constantly surround the team, who was just one game of realizing their ultimate goal. How all those questions and possible lagging fatigue affects the team is something to keep an eye on.
(FOLLOW ANDY ON TWITTER: @DODGERSANDYINPA)