Dodgers Roster: Building a Working Infield

Compared to previous years, the beginning of the upcoming 2023 campaign will be a lot different for the Los Angeles Dodgers because of the uncertainty of which players will see the most regular playing time. Last year, we saw players like Trea Turner and Justin Turner — who have both departed the organization — handle the everyday defensive duties at shortstop and third base, respectively.

Although JTurner is on the downside of his career, he was still a decent defensive option at third base, at least when compared to all the alternatives the team had on the 40-man roster. Missing out on the chance to bring back TTurner was huge, especially when considering the gap the team could have up the middle to start the 2023 season.

Defensively, the infield will be anchored by Freddie Freeman at first base and Will Smith at catcher, but there’s not much written in stone outside of those spots. From what we can tell, Chris Taylor may see most of his time in a thinned-out outfield. In addition, the coaching staff will likely give Gavin Lux all the chances in the world to prove himself as the regular shortstop, leaving Max Muncy, Miguel Vargas and Miguel Rojas to fill in at the other positions.

Where Does Max Muncy Fit?

Muncy isn’t exactly stellar with the glove anywhere you put him, but one would think he would slot in better at second base, although some pundits suggest Vargas could be the better second baseman being that he has slightly better range. Over the course of his four-year minor league career, the righty-hitting Vargas made 205 appearances at the hot corner, 28 at second base, 23 in left field and 14 at first base.

Rojas also hits from the right side of the plate and has primarily played most of his MLB career as a shortstop. Over his nine years as a big leaguer, Rojas has made 719 appearances at short, 99 at third and 73 at the keystone. Although Rojas underwent wrist surgery early this winter to remove a bone formation, all indications are that he’ll be ready when spring camp opens in a few weeks.

There’s definitely a lot of balance with those options, but there’s really not much to write home about offensively, particularly if Muncy doesn’t produce beyond the numbers he put up in 2022. Conceivably, Michael Busch could see some action early in the year, particularly if the club is seeking a spark with the bat.

Designated Hitter Options

Righty-hitting J.D. Martinez will hold down most of the designated hitter responsibilities if healthy. With a career slash-line of .282/.343/.500 against righty pitching and a .306/.377/.579 line against southpaws, the 35-year-old Miami native’s splits are favorable. Still, there’s always the option of having Muncy slide into DH against right-handed pitchers should the matchups favor it.

The early perception might be that the 2023 infield will be a work in process throughout the season with the hopes of building a solid corps just in time for the stretch run of the regular season. For now, should the team stay healthy, we’ll probably see Freeman at first, Lux at short, and some combination of Muncy and Vargas handling the duties at second and third base by the time Opening Day rolls around.

Dodgers Prospect Watch: A Closer Look at Dalton Rushing

While the Los Angeles Dodgers have had one of the league’s best overall farm systems for decades, their stronghold on blue-chip pitchers and catchers has been among baseball’s elite. There always seems to be at least a handful of pitchers and several catchers ranked in MLB’s Top 100, and there isn’t anything right now that suggests the trend will stop anytime soon.

Catcher is often one of those spots that’s highly challenging to draft and develop, but the Dodgers have done amazing job over the last several seasons with players like Will Smith, Hunter Feduccia, Carson Taylor, departed names like Keibert Ruiz and Connor Wong, and most recently, Diego Cartaya, who sits atop the organization’s overall prospect list.

Despite all this talent, Los Angeles selected another blue-chip backstop in Dalton Rushing in the 2022 draft. Although he has some significant work to do on defense, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder has already shown that he has the potential to be a juggernaut at the plate.

Louisville Catchers Galore

The irony with the 21-year-old lefty-hitting Rushing is that he attended the University of Louisville for three seasons before turning pro, the same school that produced Smith. Although Smith was about five years ahead of Rushing, they both had time to work together and chat during Rushing’s time as a Cardinal.

“Yeah, we’d spoken a few times before and I’d worked with him a little bit,” Rushing told Baseball America of his relationship with Smith. “Obviously, he knows everything. He’s one of the best catchers in baseball right now. Learning from a guy like him was something I really took pride in, and I was able to grow as a player going into my junior year.”

Last season, Rushing got his feet wet in the Arizona Rookie League for a few games, but he was quickly ushered to Low-A rancho Cucamonga, where he hit an insane .424/.539/.778 with 19 extra-base hits and an even more impressive 21 walks in just 128 plate appearances. At the end of the year, he was promoted to High-A Great Lakes just in time to join the team for the playoffs.

“We think he’s an extremely talented player,” said Dodgers vice president of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino upon drafting Rushing. “We love his strength; we love his athleticism. We thought he could hit with power and not chase outside the zone. We’re excited to get a left-hitting catcher with power.”

Looking Ahead to 2023

With Rushing’s perfect build for a backstop, the Dodgers remain committed to developing the Memphis native at catcher, although he spent some time as a first baseman at Louisville. While his arm strength and release are decent, he still needs to develop his ball handling skills, which he thinks will come by getting to know his fellow battery mates better.

“Creating bonds with my pitchers [is the key],” Rushing added in the Baseball America interview. “I’m not worried about my throwing. My biggest thing is I want to create a relationship with every single arm that’s coming out of the bullpen [and] every arm stepping on the bump to start the game. I think that’s what really sticks out as a catcher. That’s what separates good from the great — being able to work with every single guy and knowing how to talk to them.”

Although they’re both nearly the same age, Cartaya is currently light years ahead of Rushing on the MLB depth chart. While there’s a good chance Rushing starts his 2023 in High-A ball, there might be chance he earns his way to Double-A Tulsa by the end of the season, particularly if he shows more maturity on the defensive side of things.

Should Dodgers Try to Extend Julio Urias?

Aside from bringing back veteran utility infielder Miguel Rojas, not much has happened on the Los Angeles Dodgers player personnel front since the team officially bounced Trevor Bauer from the roster last week.

Although the club is on the hook for the approximately $22.5 million of Bauer’s 2022 salary, all indications are that the team will attempt to stay under the luxury tax threshold for the upcoming season. A move last week that somewhat affected the budget was an agreement on a one-year, $14.25 million deal with starter Julio Urias, allowing the 26-year-old lefty to avoid the arbitration process in his final season before free agency.

We really haven’t heard anything concrete regarding serious extension talks between the Dodgers and the Mexican native, which you might consider surprising depending on how you look at it. Nevertheless, with Clayton Kershaw on the downside of one of the MLB’s most prolific careers, and Walker Buehler having to sit out the upcoming year due to UCL surgery, there’s no question that Urias will play the role of Dodgers Ace for 2023, at least for the early part of the season.

Urias has been nothing but stellar since recovering from a serious shoulder surgery procedure that saw him miss the entirety of the 2018 season. Even though he surprisingly has never made an All-Star team, he ended up finishing in the Top 10 Cy Young Award voting the last two campaigns, including a third-place finish last year.

Although Urias has been an iron man as far as the Dodgers’ starting standards go — 185-2/3 innings in 2021 and 175 innings in 2022 — it was his lack of innings pitched that saw him finish behind Max Fried and winner Sandy Alcantara in the CYA voting last season.

Regardless, last year was undoubtedly the best campaign of Urias’s career, having produced a 0.960 WHIP and an NL-leading 2.16 ERA and a 194 ERA+ over 31 starts.

A few seasons back, it looked like the game was beginning to steer away from a traditional five-man rotation where each guy would throw his heart out each night. However, the Dodgers have been one of the few who have stuck with the traditional starting pitching concept, even though Los Angeles pitchers are seemingly throwing fewer innings as each year passes by.

In 2022, Urias averaged 5.65 innings pitched per game over his 31 starts.

The upcoming season has one of those feelings that the daily lineup at the end of the regular season might be a bit different than the batting order we see at the beginning of the year. Accordingly, the starting rotation could have a similar fate. However, it’s tough to imagine any pitcher on the current roster replacing Urias as an ace if he pitches anything like he did over the past two years.

If Urias ends up staying healthy and contending for another Cy Young, he could end up with a ridiculously high contract next year, especially if he hits the free agent market at a still very young age of 27.

Dodgers Prospect Watch: What Lies Ahead for James Outman?

One of the biggest questions for the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into the 2023 season is the core structure of the outfield. Because we all know that front office boss Andrew Friedman and field skipper Dave Roberts prefer to have plenty of moving pieces, there could be more uncertainty heading into this season than usual as far as the regular playing time goes.

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Los Angeles Dodgers Roster: Let’s Talk 2023 Lineups

Although many fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers wait patiently for Trevor Bauer’s fate with the team, there’s a good chance the roster will go relatively unchanged otherwise as the club heads into spring training, which is now approximately six weeks away.

Of course, there are several scenarios that could provide the Dodgers with a bit of salary relief, particularly if they find a trade partner to offset part of the $22 million they still owe Bauer.

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Merry Christmas from Think Blue Planning Committee

Happy Holidays to our loyal readers!

I should start by saying that I didn’t expect to be writing after the 2022 season. Nothing because of what happened with the Dodgers over the course of the year, but rather my own personal schedule and priorities. Writing full time professionally during the last two years has left me with little mental energy for creating content in my spare time, even if it’s about my favorite sport and team.

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Dodgers 2023 Roster: Designated Hitters, Relievers and Other Veteran Additions

While there could conceivably be a few surprises in store later in the winter, all indications are that the Los Angeles Dodgers might be taking a stab at staying under the luxury tax threshold for the 2023 season.

The return of veteran lefty Clayton Kershaw has been the most significant signing of the offseason, although there was a bit of excitement with the recent additions of pitcher Noah Syndergaard and designated hitter J.D. Martinez.

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Dodgers Roster: Early Thoughts on 2023 Payroll

Just like every other typical offseason, the question of how much money the Los Angeles Dodgers are willing to invest in team payroll is at the top of the conversation list for many fans.

Last year, once the smoke settled on the season, the Dodgers ended up spending $270.8 million total on payroll, which led the entire majors, according to Spotrac. The general thought among many fans was that despite the team’s early exit from the playoffs, it might have been the most talented group of players the team had in recent decades, at least from an offensive perspective.

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Dodgers Exit 2022 MLB Playoffs Early at Hands of Padres

After one of the most impressive regular seasons in recent history, the powerhouse offense of the Los Angeles Dodgers failed to deliver in the playoffs, leading to a quick exit in the NLDS at the hands of the San Diego Padres.

While some may argue the Padres played some of their best baseball of the season, there’s no doubt the Dodgers played their worst. The offense went cold at the most inopportune time, and a late-inning bullpen implosion finally sealed the Dodgers’ fate in a 5-3 defeat.

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Dodgers Head to San Diego for Pivotal NLDS Game 3

If there’s one thing that we learned over the course of the first two games of the 2022 NLDS, it’s that the San Diego Padres have come ready to play. By no means have the Dodgers been performing well, but the Padres have shown they will not roll over easily the way they did in 14 of the 19 matchups during the regular season.

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