Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2011 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Preview: Bench

In the third of a nine-part series, I'm previewing the 2011 Dodgers. This installment will preview the bench.

While some of these guys will be platoon players and/or start a fair share of games, they will still be included in this preview.

INF Jamey Carroll
- The Dodgers' team MVP last year, Carroll returns for his second season. When he signed last winter, I was unimpressed. He turned out to be a consistent player for the Dodgers and filled in admirably for Rafael Furcal, as he missed 65 games in 2010. Carroll should fill the same roll this season. With the addition of Juan Uribe, it frees him up to play more second- and third base, as Uribe is probably the team's top backup at shortstop. Carroll should be able to put up comparable numbers to his 2010 season.

OF/1B Jay Gibbons
- Gibbons made a comeback last season and OPS'd .819 in 80 plate appearances. His slugging percentage (.507) accounted for the high number, as he smacked five home runs. However, it's unrealistic to think he'd maintain that number, even as a part-time player, as he only OPS'd higher than .482 one time before 2010 (2002 with Baltimore). Gibbons splitting time with Thames and giving James Loney the occasional day off at first base looks to be the plan.

OF Tony Gwynn
- Gwynn was somewhat of a surprise signing this off-season. He hasn't hit much in his career, though, his .350 OBP in 2009 with San Diego was encouraging... until he had a .304 OBP last season. Gwynn's game is speed and defense, which is what the Dodgers need from him. He's in the mix to be the team's third outfielder, mainly because his defense in center field would be a massive upgrade over Matt Kemp's (subsequently moving Ethier back to his stronger positon, LF). The best-case scenario is Gwynn hits enough to be the Dodgers' everyday CF, making Gibbons and Thames true bench players.

C Dioner Navarro
- Navarro signed for $1 million this winter, which was an overpay by GM Ned Colletti. Triple-A catcher A.J. Ellis could have put up comparable -- if not better -- numbers than Navarro for the Major-League minimum. But I digress. Navarro was traded in 2006 to Tampa Bay and made the American League Al-Star team in 2008. However, his last two seasons have been horrific, posting a slash line of .212/.263/.306/.569. A .569 OPS! Bottom line: don't expect much from Navarro. The Dodgers are shaping up to have one of the worst catching duos in the majors -- and possibly Major League history (save the 2004 Dodgers after the Brad Penny-for-Paul Lo Duca trade).

OF/1B Marcus Thames
- Thames was the most recent signing of the Dodgers' bench mob and brings some much-needed power potential to a group that lacks it. However, he's currently slated to be a part-time left fielder, which isn't good news for Dodger pitching. He is one of the worst outfielders in baseball over the last few years, and it will show. But he should only play against lefties, which means Gibbons, who isn't much better, will play the rest of the time.

Then we come to the fifth/sixth member of the bench. As of right now, the Dodgers have no surefire last member of the bench. Here are some guys contending for the spot.

INF Juan Castro
- I'm really tired about writing Castro's name. I mean, there's no way he should get this much from me or anyone else. Yet, here we are. Castro is a good defender, but he is atrocious with the bat. I mean, you can probably pick five random guys off the street and one of them would be able to hit better than Castro. Here's hoping he stays in Albuquerque or is outright released.

2B Ivan DeJesus
- DeJesus has the most talent of anyone competing for the sixth spot, but the leg break he suffered in 2009 is still haunting him. He wasn't a "can't-miss" prospect before the break, but he was regarded a lot higher then than he is now. He likely starts in Triple-A.

OF Jamie Hoffmann
- The biggest thing working against Hoffmann is the signing of Thames and Gwynn. The Dodgers are probably looking for an infielder to fill the last spot. However, Hoffmann could be the first guy called up if the Dodgers need an outfielder.

INF Aaron Miles
- Miles was just signed last week and brings his weak bat and decent defense with him. He has a couple things working in his favor -- he can play shortstop in a pinch (as well as the other infield positions) and he isn't Castro with the bat (but he isn't much better). If I had to wager, I'd say Miles makes the roster out of Spring Training.

1B/3B/LF Russ Mitchell
- Mitchell came up last season and hit two home runs in 43 plate appearances. Unfortunately, that's about all he hit. Mitchell had a nice 2010 in the minors, but he seems like nothing more than a Four-A player.

OF Xavier Paul
- Paul has some MLB experience and has done all he can at Triple-A (at the plate, at least). He's out of options and unless he lights it up in the spring and there's an injury, he's likely going to be placed on waivers. It's unfortunate, but he'll catch on somewhere.

SS/2B Justin Sellers
- I stated my case for Sellers winning the 25th spot on the roster. I don't think he's going to get it, but stranger things have happened.

INF/OF Eugenio Velez
- Velez, the former Giant, is just not a good baseball player. He doesn't do anything well. For a guy who should flourish as a speed/defense guy, those are probably his worst qualities. He's a long shot at best.

Guys in the mix

C A.J. Ellis
- Ellis showed some flashes of on-base ability late last season and was primed to be the Dodgers' backup catcher. However, Navarro signing eliminated that possibility. If/when Barajas or Navarro gets hurt, Ellis will get the first call.

SS Dee Gordon
- Gordon is the heir apparent to Furcal and should be ready by 2012. He won't make his debut until September (if that), provided there aren't a lot of injuries.

OF Gabe Kapler
- Kapler was a super prospect with the Tigers back in the late-90s. However, he never amassed to much and will struggle to get a call up with the Dodgers -- assuming he makes the Triple-A team.

1B/LF John Lindsey
- Lindsey finally broke through in 2010 and earned a trip to the majors. He went 1-for-12 with one hit-by-pitch. He then suffered an injury and missed the rest of September. Unfortunately for Lindsey, he's about eighth or ninth on the call-up list.

OF Trent Oeltjen
- Oeltjen had a cup of coffee with the Dodgers last season. He's an outfielder who doesn't stand much of a chance of making the team out of Spring Training.

OF Trayvon Robinson
- My No. 3 prospect, Robinson's lack of seasoning at the upper levels is about the only thing holding him back. After a full (or nearly full) season at Triple-A, he should be ready for primetime come 2012.

OF/1B Jerry Sands
- Sands is in the same boat as Robinson, but he has even less experience as Double-A. Sands has big power potential but needs to show he can hit advanced pitching in the minors. He could succeed Loney at 1B if he struggles in 2011.


The bench looks to be in OK shape. It's going to be much stronger if Gwynn shows he can handle the everyday CF job. If not, it's going to be weaker than the Dodgers had hoped. The sixth member of the bench (because I'm counting the potential LF platoon of Gibbons/Thames as part of the bench) isn't going to have a great impact on the team. The prospects listed have virtually no chance of making the team out of Spring Training, but they could be ready to contribute as starters come 2012.

Next up: Catcher

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