Since the Dodgers were sold to the Guggenheim group, after wasting away for many years under Frank McCourt, Andrew Friedman and company have made a habit of finding diamonds in the rough.
Sometimes, good things do come to those who wait.
On Thursday morning, the Dodgers signed infielder Max Muncy to a 3 year, $26 million extension. The deal also includes an option for a fourth year at $13 million or a $1.5 million buyout.
If there’s a single area of the Dodgers as a whole that we haven’t spoken much about over the winter, it’s undeniably the crew which makes up the infield. While there are tons of good things to say regarding each player, not many negative aspects exist. At the end of the day, on paper at least, this group could very easily be considered among the best in the game on both sides of the ball.
(Photo Credit: mlb.com)
Baseball writers selected Dodgers‘ shortstop Corey Seager as June’s National League Rookie of the Month on Saturday, giving the 22-year-old rookie his first career monthly award in what appears to be one of many down a long and very productive road.
When the MRI results came back and revealed a mild sprain of the left knee, many Dodgers fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief. However, after the dust settled and the possibility arose of prized shortstop Corey Seager missing the beginning of the regular season, a bit of minor panic surfaced once again.
Pain in the knee forced Seager to leave in the third inning of an 8-4 spring training loss to the Angels on Friday. He initially felt the pain in the outer part of his knee while rounding first base after hitting a single in the first inning. He was eventually replaced at short by Charlie Culberson.
Seager himself said that he feared the worst.
Depending on when he’s healthy enough to return to baseball activities, there may not be enough time before Opening Day to prepare him with the necessary number of swings and infield repetitions to be entirely ready.
When Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts was approached for comment, he said that he was still gathering information, but wouldn’t rule out Seager beginning the season on the disabled list.
On Saturday, we discussed how abundantly deep the Dodgers were at second base, and although there are a number of fine gloves defensively, the depth at shortstop pales in comparison offensively.
The possibility does exist of sliding Justin Turner over to short and having Rob Segedin provide cover at third until Seager is ready, but Turner himself has been rehabbing his own knee after surgery, and hopes to make his Cactus League debut Monday as designated hitter. All efforts with Turner will be getting him ready to play third.
When asked by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman expressed that the injury is short term, and that the team wouldn’t need to do anything drastic in terms of shuffling players before Seager’s return.
“It’s nothing long term,” Friedman said. “As soon as he’s asymptomatic, he’ll be back. A week or two. There’s no tear, there’s no surgery, nothing more than treating and waiting until he’s asymptomatic and getting him back on the field. He was still feeling sore, but after we checked we’re confident it’s nothing that will linger long term.”
In five Cactus League games this year, Seager is hitting .231 (3-for-13) with a double.
After being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma last September, he slashed .337/.425/.561 in 27 games played for the Dodgers.
Seager is the preseason, consensus favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year honors.
(Photo Credit: John Locher/AP)
Being familiar with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for over thirty years, it’s very difficult to remember a time when the team had as much depth as it does now. In the past, it seemed as if the club was abundantly stacked at one or two positions (starting pitching always being the most unmissable), but heading into the 2016 campaign, the Dodgers appear to be well rounded at almost every spot on the field.
Some positions are deeper than others, but one of the deepest spots on the diamond right now could very well be second base.
At the beginning of the winter, after Howie Kendrick elected to test the free agent market, it looked as if incumbent utility man Enrique Hernandez had a legitimate claim to man the keystone. However, concerned with Hernandez’s past success against right-handed pitching, the club re-signed Chase Utley, which created a presumable working platoon at second. At that point, it appeared the Dodgers were set at second base, with the future looking even brighter as Jose Peraza continued to climb the prospect rankings.
Then came the three-team deal with the Reds and White Sox in December which netted the Dodgers second baseman Micah Johnson, outfielder Trayce Thompson and pitcher Frankie Montas. Third baseman Todd Frazier landed in Chicago, while the Dodgers sent Peraza, outfielder Scott Schebler and infielder Brandon Dixon to Cincinnati. All three prospects the Dodgers scored were very much considered to be MLB-ready.
All at once, the Dodgers became even deeper in terms of reserve players and minor league depth.
Subsequently, when the bottom fell out of the second base free agent market, the Dodgers were able to bring back Kendrick on a very economical two-year deal. There was talk about both Kendrick and Utley possibly getting time at third base, but the consensus around camp right now is that they’ll share time at second, while Hernandez likely slips back into his super-utility role.
So where does that leave Micah Johnson?
When healthy, the presences of Kendrick and Utley keep him in Oklahoma City, but at the first sign of injury, Johnson will be among the first players to get the call to help man second base. Outside of providing secondary depth, the Dodgers’ immediate interest in Johnson could be for his speed on the basepaths, and for his usefulness in late game situations as a pinch runner once rosters expand, or maybe even in the playoffs.
Johnson’s best assets by far are his overall speed and his quick first step. His run tool is rated a 75 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Johnson was successful on 28 steals in 35 attempts at Triple-A in 2015, and stole as many as 84 bases in 2013 between Single-A Kannapolis and Double-A Birmingham. In 143 career games at the Triple-A level, he swiped 40 bases in 53 attempts (75.5 percent).
In terms of offense, Johnson has always found success at Triple-A, but hasn’t found much consistency in his limited time in the majors. He hit .315/.375/.466 in 78 games in Triple-A Charlotte last year, then hit .230/.306/.270 in his first 36 games in the bigs.
In the majors and minors combined in 2015, Johnson hit .300/.366/.455 against right-handed pitching and .287/.347/.346 against lefties.
The biggest knock on Johnson so far during his young career has been his defense, but according to his own accounts, what was once considered a small throwing hitch by scouts snowballed into a stereotype that he is error-prone with his glove.
“I know there were some things [the White Sox] wanted me to clean up, like turning a double play, but that was all because I had a hitch in my throw. That had nothing to do with my footwork, my hands. Routine plays have never been an issue. I field those fine. I get the outs,” Johnson said.
“I think some people get that confused, like, ‘Defensively, he makes errors’ or something like that. That’s not the case at all. I just had a little hitch in my throw and some double plays didn’t get completed. This offseason, I cleaned that hitch up. I had a couple months to just work on my throwing, short compact throws, using my torque and my body.”
Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts has a keen interest in Johnson, and thinks his best chance to stick might be as a second base/outfield utility role player.
“Micah is a dynamic player, he’s an interesting player,” Roberts said. “He is continuing to work on the defense and he’s taking balls in center field. He can run. He has that dynamic speed that we really don’t have, so a lot of times young players start to get ahead of themselves. We’ve talked about how it’s just a matter of him performing.”
When asked about what qualities he brings to a team that’s already two to three players deep at most positions, Johnson was quick to point out his aggressiveness with his bat and on the bases.
“I play the game the right way. I play hard, play to win. The numbers take care of themselves. If a runner’s on second base, nobody out and I bunt — can I get a hit out of it? Runner on third with less than two outs, my job is to bring him in somehow, some way. Even first and third with less than two outs, if I put the ball in play, it’s going to be hard for them to get a double play. When I put the ball in play, I know my game and I focus on winning the game and the numbers take care of themselves.”
Johnson realizes that both Kendrick and Utley have him blocked for the early part of the season, but he’s staying focused on winning and remains confident about his chances on contributing to the big league squad in some capacity.
“Everybody [in big league camp] has the sense that everybody’s going to contribute at some point toward the ultimate goal to win the World Series,” Johnson said. “If we win the World Series and you helped the team win three or four games, then you helped them win. There’s not much disunity between what level you’re supposed to be at and who you are. No one cares about that. … There’s not very much I want to accomplish except winning: ‘What did I do to help us win?'”
While the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ front office continues to mold the 2016 roster, it’s safe to assume that more changes will occur and additional moves will be made before pitchers and catchers convene next month.
One recurring theme across this blog over the winter has been infield depth. The more we write about it, the more worrisome it becomes — especially at shortstop.
For many years into the future, the Dodgers are set with Corey Seager at short. Well, at least a few years, anyway, before the chatter emerges once again about a potential move to third base because of his size, range or whatever else critics decide to pin on him. But all that is beside the point.
Two areas of concern may need to be addressed.
First, who backs up Seager?
In light of the modern game, there’s no way Seager takes the field 162 times this year. Rest is needed. Injuries and sickness will happen, hopefully minor. All fingers are crossed to ensure he stays consistent and productive over the course of the season, but cover is required nonetheless.
We already discussed the possible roles of Enrique Hernández heading into 2016, and realistically, covering second, short, third base and center field may be a bit too much, especially taking into account his range, his glove, and his success against right-handed pitching at the dish.
Secondly, who on the roster or the coaching staff is capable of mentoring Seager for one more year?
2015 saw Jimmy Rollins as the bridge to Seager being the everyday shortstop, but keep in mind Corey will still be 21 years old at the beginning of the season, and a strong, veteran presence around him would seemingly be very beneficial.
In view of the virtually “all new” Dodgers coaching staff for 2016, only two of the 10 coaches have any experience at all at shortstop.
Third base coach and former utility man Chris Woodward wasn’t exactly a wizard with the glove, while new quality assurance coach Juan Castro will be limited to clubhouse duties or watching the games from a suite.
Enter Juan Uribe.
Granted, at 36, Uribe doesn’t have the quickness of a fleet-footed gold glover, yet his defense is still solid. His range in his twilight years isn’t suited ideally for shortstop, but he’s more than capable of providing ample cover. The real value comes in getting a player who is also a dependable option at second base and third base, as well as being a legit long ball threat as a pinch hitter off the bench.
Uribe is very well respected by many of his peers, and possesses natural leadership qualities — something the Dodgers have been craving for the past several seasons, and something he was getting a handle on before being shipped to Atlanta last year. Most importantly, he could be a very influential mentor for a budding superstar like Seager.
Uribe won’t be demanding more than a one-year deal and shouldn’t add too much salary to the books. He could easily replace somebody like Alexander Guerrero on the 25-man roster, whose future with the club moving forward may be in limbo.
Above all, with an overloaded shift on the right side of the infield and an opposing runner on second, it never hurts to have an experienced player thinking one pitch ahead while shouting from the dugout for somebody to cover third in the event of a possible steal.
And that’s just one example.
(Photo Credit: dodgersway.com)
Based on the player personnel on the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ current roster at the moment, one would be fairly confident in saying that the 2016 second base spot will be a platoon between Enrique Hernández and Chase Utley.
After all, the splits setup quite nicely. Last season, Hernández slashed .423/.471/.744 in 87 PA against lefties, while slashing only .234/.262/.331 in 131 plate appearances vs. right-handed pitching.
Utley isn’t really horrible when facing LHP, but his power numbers are far better against right-handers. Over his career, Utley has hit .260/.364/.448 with 68 home runs in 2130 PA vs. lefties, while batting .290/.365/.492 with 168 homers in 4628 PA against RHP.
Couple those numbers with the fact that Utley turned 37 two weeks ago, a platoon seems very logical. Despite the stats, some may still argue that the 24-year-old Hernández is ready to embrace an everyday role with the Dodgers, but careful reasoning suggests that he may be much more valuable off the bench in a utility role.
Because Hernández can cover many different positions, the number of looks he gets at the plate shouldn’t really be limited. And if injuries play any factor at shortstop, second or third base, we may see him on the field every day, anyway — despite the ugly splits.
We took a look at the roster depth just a few weeks ago, and although the backup options in the infield should be fine defensively, the offensive firepower would certainly stand to suffer.
Even with the signing of Elian Herrera, there’s really not a strong backup option for Justin Turner at third or Corey Seager at short, except for Hernández. And depending on how the Dodgers decide to configure their outfield come Opening Day, Hernández could be the best possible alternative to Joc Pederson in center field as well.
There’s still no guessing how the Alex Guerrero situation plays out, so the depth factor in the infield may be worse than it currently appears.
The 2016 season may see the super-utility role as being far more important for the Dodgers than anticipated, and nobody stands to fill that spot better than Enrique Hernández.
Considering the possibilities and the needs, by no means would providing depth at 4-5 different positions be considered a backseat role, nor dictate a player’s future.
Just ask Justin Turner.
(Photo Credit: sportingnews.com)