At the beginning of every winter, there seem to be conversations galore about which player will hold down the fort at second base for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as there are always new players entering the discussions, from prospects in the organization to free agents to some of the wildest trade candidates across the league.
When Enrique Hernandez was in his heyday in Los Angeles, many thought he would embrace the role of being the regular second baseman. The same concept applied to Chris Taylor on multiple occasions. However, neither really settled in as the everyday option.
Followers of the team need to look back to 2016 to find any solidarity surrounding second base, the year Chase Utley played his first full year in Los Angeles, slashing .252/.319/.396 with 14 long balls over 138 games. That season was the last the Dodgers had any type of consistency relating to playing time at second base.
2017 saw the arrival of Logan Forsythe, and despite a few flashes of strong production, never really got things going with the lumber. Before Utley, there was Howie Kendrick and Dee Gordon, both of whom never cemented themselves as the primary starter at second for more than one full season.
Brian Dozier arrived after the trade deadline in 2018, but he slashed just .182/.300/.350 in 143 AB over 47 games for the rest of the season.
One would need to drift back to a stretch during 2012-13 to find Mark Ellis, who held down the fort for two seasons, despite slugging just 13 homers and 79 RBI in nearly 1000 AB while wearing Dodger Blue.
Before the club decided to bring back veteran Justin Turner over the winter to handle the bulk of the duties at third base, there was a lot of concern for the keystone, especially if the team would have elected to make 26-year-old Edwin Rios the main option at the hot corner. That would have made Los Angeles somewhat vulnerable on defense with the possibility of having two questionable gloves as starters.
Nevertheless, it appears that 23-year-old lefty hitting Gavin Lux will be given the chance to play every day at second base in 2021, at least to begin the season. Skipper Dave Roberts has even gone as far to say that he has no qualms about Lux facing opposing southpaw pitching, eliminating the scenario of a definitive platoon situation.
“I see him getting a good runway to play regularly,” Roberts said recently. “What that means, I think that there’s room for conversations. But him against lefties, I don’t think we’re too concerned about that. He’s always handled them and performed well. It’s really not a handed-ness thing with Gavin.”
Obviously, that could change as the season progresses. Oftentimes, the roster landscape of a team changes dramatically by the time the fall months rolls around.
Regardless, giving Lux the opportunity to play every day shows how much the team values Taylor as a utility man. No question Taylor can hit well enough to be a key contributor on offense. In 2017, he registered a career-high 4.5 bWar and followed that up with a 3.9 mark in 2018—both outstanding figures for somebody who frequently moves around the park on defense.
That’s not to say the Dodgers don’t envision Taylor as a regular player. It’s just that they value him more for his versatility. If healthy, there’s no doubt he’ll get 140 games and 500 AB in 2020.
Anyway, there’s a good chance we’ll see Taylor at the keystone in 2021, if only to spell Lux. And, if Zach McKinstry ends up making the Opening Day roster like many of us think, he might see time at second base, too, particularly in late-game situations when double switching.
Newcomer Sheldon Neuse’s name has been thrown around quite a bit this spring from the utility perspective, but his chances of opening the year on the big-league roster are quite slim, especially if McKinstry secures a spot.
Moreover, the perennial conversations of Turner and Max Muncy filling in at second base are probably over. Turner hasn’t seen action there since 2015, as he’s simply not fast enough to cover the required ground. Muncy could play there in a pinch, but the same idea applies from both a range and glove perspective.
Along those same lines, I suppose there’s always the chance that guy wearing No. 50 could slide down into the infield for another cameo appearance at second.
But, for now, we’ll watch Lux with careful eyes to see if the opportunity to play every day lessens the pressures he had from the past when he was the clear favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year.
Both Taylor and McKinstry will be waiting in the wings.