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, aside from a few light whispers about a long-shot trade or a free agent signing. Many people don’t expect much to happen during the time between the first squad workout and the Cactus League opener against the White Sox on February 23; however, 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, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, 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.
Along those same lines, shortstop Corey Seager will be watched with a careful eye, as he’ll be striving to assure his elbow is in peak condition after sitting out the majority of last season.
The Demeanor of the Kids—The confidence and attitudes of some of the youngsters shown early in big league camp could very well play critical when determining the 25-man roster, especially when lining up the aforementioned starting pitching depth. Buehler will be in the spotlight entering his second full year of big league action, as many fans wonder if he’ll be cut loose without any type of innings limit.
Alex Verdugo will also be critiqued early, as some believe there’s a chance that he’ll play large in the Opening Day outfield picture. It will also be interesting to see how the club handles lefty Julio Urias, as he will be facing some type of innings limit of his own.
Furthermore, all eyes will be on the quartet of the newest additions to the 40-man roster—Matt Beaty, Edwin Rios, Yadier Alvarez and Josh Sborz—as all four will be trying to jockey for positioning on the squad’s depth chart.
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 saw a resurgence in 2018, hit .248/.321/.522 with 25 long balls and 27 doubles last year after hitting just .212/.331/.407 during the 2017 regular season. Pederson is expected to see the bulk of reps in left field against righty pitching in 2019, but that will depend on how well he produces during the early part of the year.
A Healthy Competition at Catcher—From the moment the Dodgers traded for veteran Russell Martin, speculation immediately began to swirl about how the club would handle the playing time at catcher. Many even believed that a trade for J.T. Realmuto was forthcoming, even though the Marlins are holding their lines as far as a very expensive return package goes.
In spite of that, Austin Barnes still has the momentum to see most of the starting time behind the plate. Battery preferences shown early by the coaching staff could dictate who gets the nod as the primary catcher early, most specifically in certain righty vs. lefty matchups. Barnes hopes to revert to the success he found at the plate during his rookie campaign in 2017 when he hit .289/.408/.486 with eight long balls and 15 doubles.
The Presence of Robert Van Scoyoc—The Dodgers hired the highly regarded Van Scoyoc, a 32-year-old innovative hitting instructor who helped turn J.D. Martinez into a superstar, as their new hitting coach in late November. Van Scoyoc preached the importance of launch angle long before it became mainstream across the league. His beliefs entail keeping swing paths through the strike zone as long as possible and lifting the ball in the air, concepts the Dodgers obviously utilized during their power-hitting themed 2018 campaign. He’ll certainly be under heavy scrutiny, as one of the key areas needing addressed by Van Scoyoc is the squad’s success at producing with runners on base.