The Los Angeles Dodgers played their first Spring Training game of the season yesterday, winning 2-1 over the Oakland Athletics. As of Monday, we are just one month from the beginning of the regular season.
The Dodgers are returning most of their championship team from last season, with a few notable additions and subtractions. Trevor Bauer has joined the starting rotation, and Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson have moved on to other teams in their free agency.
Pederson was mostly a platoon outfielder, but Hernandez played all over the field, prompting some to call him a Super Utility player. With that needed person now moved on to the Boston Red Sox, who on the Dodgers is most likely to take over the vacated role of Kiké?
Chris Taylor was the counterpart to Hernandez, and he will continue his role. So far in this early Spring Training, he has taken reps at third, shortstop and second base. Manager Dave Roberts has also said that he will also see some time in the outfield, mostly in left. Roberts stated that Taylor’s versatility on defense will have him playing pretty much every day, just not always at the same position. It will be interesting to watch if he takes over the second base position more permanently if Gavin Lux fails to secure that position as his own.
Matt Beaty has been somewhat versatile in his defense, having played the corners for this infield and outfield alike in his two years in the majors. 2020 was a down year for him, playing in only 21 of the 60 games. Beaty did collect the first hit of Spring Training, and then was later thrown out at home, on a superb throw from the A’s Buddy Reed.
Roberts mentioned that Beaty will spell A.J. Pollock in left field, and he will probably see the majority of his time at first base to relieve Max Muncy. While versatile, and a good bat off the bench, Beaty really isn’t Super Utility material.
Zach McKinstry’s name has been brought up most often this off-season/spring as the heir apparent to the Kiké Utility throne. McKinstry impressed in Spring Training las season before the shutdown, slashing .414/.452/.862, and spent most of the season at the alternate site. He did join the big club for four games in 2020, getting two hits in seven at bats, including a double.
Pollock has been really impressed with the 33rd round draft pick. “McKinstry, that guy can absolutely flat out rake. We saw that in Spring Training, and we know we’re going to have him. I don’t know when, but he’s going to be a contributor for sure”, A.J. said. “He’s just got a really, really advanced approach at the plate,” Pollock said. “His swing, it’s definitely going to play in the big leagues because it’s just so compact; it’s consistent. He’s got a really, really calm demeanor. You don’t see him getting too rattled, too up or down. He’s just super consistent. I’m excited for him. He’s a good dude, and his bat’s definitely going to play in the big leagues.”
Roberts has described McKinstry as a “baseball player”. As he can do a little bit of everything, he seems to be the most likely to step into the role vacated by Hernandez.
Lastly, the most intriguing person in camp could possibly Matt Davidson. Formerly of the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, Davidson can play both third and first base. He can provide pop off the bench as he hit 20 homers in both 2017 and 2018 for the White Sox. He hit the first homer of the spring for the Dodgers, a no doubter into a stiff wind.
But most interesting is that he also has logged six games in relief. Davidson broached the possibility of maybe pitching when he first joined the Dodgers, telling Roberts “I believe I can pitch”. He said that he’s touched 92 mph while with the White Sox, and has already started a throwing and weighted ball program with the Dodgers.
“He’s in the mix,” Roberts said, “a guy right-handed bat off the bench, he can play third, he can play first. He’s open to the idea of logging some innings out of the ‘pen. He’s got the good arm with the openness, willingness. Threw a pen the other day, ball came out good. So he just gives us that versatility.”
As with everything else, the Dodgers are rich with depth and have choices that will foster good competition. In a long season after a truncated one, all options will be explored and utilized, and the Dodgers have the luxury of time and resources.