With the Dodgers position players having reported on Friday morning, spring training 2013 is now officially underway. And while many things are pretty much set in stone, there are several everyday positions that are definitely up for grabs.
Every indication is that Mark Ellis will be the Dodgers everyday second baseman in 2013, but this is one of the positions that I wouldn’t consider being in stone. This is not to say that Mark won’t come out of spring training as the everyday second baseman, but it is also a position that lacks an heir-apparent (I’ve always hated that term in baseball) and a position that figures to see quite a bit of platooning throughout the season to give the 35-year-old Ellis (36 in June) an occasional day off – and probably two or three days off per week. Granted, I anticipate that Ellis will get the majority of the starts at second, but I also expect to see Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and perhaps even Luis Cruz get a few starts at the position and will probably be used as late-inning replacements for Ellis as well.
While there are many who have concerns about left field for the Dodgers, at least at the beginning of the season, I am definitely not one of them. In my opinion, Carl Crawford is the guy – lock, stock and barrel. I believe that he will be the Dodgers Opening Day left fielder and that he will not relinquish the position at all during the entire 2013 season. Granted, I anticipate that Mattingly will be extremely cautious with Crawford at the beginning of the season, but by May, I expect to see Carl play nine everyday. What excites me most about Crawford is that the Carl Crawford that we will see on Opening Day is only going to get better as his surgically repaired shoulder heals. In fact, on MLB Network Radio’s Power Alley, show co-host Jim Douquette picked Crawford as his number one choice to be comeback player of the year in 2013; an opinion that I agree with wholeheartedly.
For the most part, everything else will probably play out as expected. A.J. Ellis is a lock at catcher, Adrian Gonzalez a no-brainer at first base, and Kemp and Ethier in center and left respectively. This, of course, brings up the burning question: Who will be the Dodgers everyday third baseman and shortstop?
I can pretty much assure you that there is no one who wants to see Luis Cruz as the Dodgers everyday third baseman more that I, but I’m now not as convinced that this will happen as I was on the final day of the 2012 season. And the sad part is that it actually has absolutely nothing to do with Luis Cruz. Instead, it has everything to do with Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon – and believe it or not, more so Dee than Hanley.
Hanley Ramirez is going to play every day, make no mistake about that; and he should play every day. A team simply cannot allow a 25+ home run hitter to sit on the bench – period. The question of course is, will it be at shortstop or third base? Unfortunately, the World Baseball Classic may be as much of a determining factor as is Dee Gordon.
As much as I love the WBC, it could very well be what keeps the Dodgers out of the World Series this season. Face it, Hanley Ramirez needs work and he needs work with the Dodgers, not team Dominican Republic. He needs to work with Mark Ellis (and the others) up the middle every day at spring training, not just the final couple of weeks. Hanley is not a Derek Jeter or a Troy Tulowitzki. In other words, he is not automatic or a shoe-in at shortstop. In fact, he isn’t even close. Offense aside, Hanley needs to prove that he is the best choice at shortstop based on talent, not salary.
Whether Dee Gordon knows it or not (and I am pretty certain that he does), his very future as a Dodger will be determined in the next six weeks. If he struggles even slightly this spring, he will begin the season in Albuquerque and will have an extremely difficult time getting back to the Bigs. It’s as simple as that.
On the other hand, if Dee has the best spring training of his young life, and I’m talking an outstanding spring training both offensively and especially defensively, Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly will have no choice but to return Hanley Ramirez to third base. And while Luis Cruz may be better defensively at third, the Dodgers simply cannot keep Hanley’s bat out of the line up.
So there you have it in a nutshell – it all boils down to Dee.