As opening day in Major League Baseball quickly approaches, it’s time for the Los Angeles rubber to meet the Dodgers’ road!
Entering the 2012 MLB season, the biggest question mark for the Dodgers revolved around the uncertain ownership situation of the “Owner Formerly Known as Frank.” Now that Magic Johnson and his host of co-partners have purchased the Dodgers, we can move forward to on-field questions.
The biggest areas of concern for the Dodgers prior to spring training were: 1. Is A.J. Ellis ready to go from a career back-up catcher to the big dog?; 2. Is Dee Gordon ready to transition from Flash Gordon’s promising son to the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop?; 3. Will the real Juan Uribe please stand up at third base?; 4. Will left field be another black hole for the Dodgers in 2012?; and 5. How are the Nos. 4 and 5 starting pitchers looking?
After a month of spring practices and games, do we have enough information to answer those questions? If we don’t, we’re gonna fake it!
Question No. 1 – Is A.J. Ellis ready to be the man in 2012?
I guess that all depends on your definition of “the man.” If you want “the man” behind the plate for the Dodgers to be like Brian McCann of the Atlanta Braves or Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, then the answer to that question is no.
However, if you want Ellis to be “the man” for the Dodgers who plays good defense and doesn’t do anything boneheaded, then the answer is yes. So far this spring, Ellis is what we expect him to be – he is hitting .200 in 25 plate appearances (with one homer and two RBIs) and is playing solid defense.
Ellis isn’t going to “wow” anybody in 2012, but he should be moderately adequate. Reserve Matt Treanor is also there to assist Ellis. Treanor is hitting .273 this spring with a homer and two RBIs in 11 trips to the plate.
Question No. 2 – Is our young pup Gordon ready for a starting role?
Gordon is running away with the starting shortstop job … literally! The speedy Gordon is hitting .343 this spring in 35 plate appearances and has stolen six bases. Of course, Gordon hasn’t hit a homer and hasn’t driven in any runs, but anything he gives the Dodgers on that front will be gravy.
What do you want a good shortstop to do? That’s right – play solid defense! Gordon has fielded his position well, only committing one error in 43 chances this spring.
Question No. 3 – Which Juan Uribe are we going to get at third base in 2012?
Ummm, can we just skip this question and move on to No. 4? Okay, okay … Uribe has lost a lot of weight, he looks 10 years younger and he is tearing it up for the Dodgers this spring. And the Cincinnati Reds aren’t sorry they signed Ryan Madson this winter!
Unfortunately for the Dodgers (and their fans!), Uribe is still fat this spring. He is also still not worth his $21 million free-agent contract. In 23 plate appearances, Uribe has hit .217 with no homers, three RBIs and a .308 on-base percentage.
In other words, Uribe is being Uribe. The only thing keeping me from hitting the panic button at third base in 2012 for the Dodgers is the play of Josh Fields. The Dodgers signed Fields this winter for some bats and a few Dodger Dogs, and he hasn’t disappointed.
Fields has hit .385 in 26 trips to the plate, and he gives the Dodgers some good insurance in case Uribe has a sudden fat attack. Adam Kennedy also gives the Dodgers a reserve at third base. Jerry Hairston, Jr. can also play third, but his five errors at shortstop this spring in 23 chances are a little frightening.
I don’t feel great about third base this season, but it doesn’t make me curl up in the fetal position and rock myself into panic like it did before.
Question No. 4 – Will left field be another bland revolving door in 2012?
This position was supposed to be one to lose for rookie Jerry Sands last season. Sands was going to platoon with Tony Gwynn, Jr. and build his Dodgers resume. We all know that Sands flamed out and the Dodgers signed Juan Rivera midway through the 2011 season.
This spring, the left field job was supposed to be a battle between Sands and Rivera, with Gwynn somewhere in the background. Once again, Sands has fallen flat on his face (.154 average in 26 chances).
So, we’re back to Rivera starting in left in 2012. Rivera does lead the team this spring with three homers, but his .242 batting average and .286 on-base percentage are very ordinary. Sands was sent down to triple-A where he can hopefully improve his confidence and get back to Los Angeles.
Gwynn has had a good spring, with a .296 average in 27 plate appearances (with a .345 on-base percentage). If Rivera can stay healthy, the Dodgers should get some offense from left field. However, unless Gwynn is playing, look for our left fielder to be about as mobile as a three-legged dog.
Although Harang was the more heralded free-agent signing this winter, Capuano has been more impressive. In addition to his cool blue socks pulled all the way up to his knees, Capuano has struck out 10 batters in 8.2 innings this spring, with a win and a 3.12 ERA.
Harang got pounded in his first spring appearance for the Dodgers, but he has improved since then. Harang is 1-0 with a 5.00 ERA, but has not allowed a walk in his nine innings.
Harang will probably get the shot at the No. 4 slot in the rotation since the Dodgers already have two lefties ahead of him in Clayton Kershaw and Ted Lilly. I feel much better, though, about Capuano in the No. 5 slot than I did when the Dodgers signed him this winter.
Capuano looks like an innings-eater who should keep the Dodgers in games in which he pitches. I can definitely live with that from my fifth starter.