In the seventh of a nine-part series, I preview the left field situation for the Dodgers.
Let's just say it isn't pretty.
- "Wait, I thought Ehtier played right field?" Currently, he does -- and not very well. Since Ethier took over in right field in 2008, his UZR/150 has been atrocious: -11.8 in '08, -14.2 in '09 and a Major Leauge-worst (by far) -19.7 in '10. The bottom line is, Ethier needs to move back to left field, where he's still bad, but it isn't nearly as bad as this. The only way this happens is if Tony Gwynn takes charge of the center field position in Spring Training.
- I wrote about Gibbons in my bench preview and he is the favorite to get the most at-bats as the left fielder. Gibbons has some pop but is bad defensively and probably won't maintain a .500+ slugging percentage, as he did in limited time in 2010.
- I was for the Thames signing this off-season, despite his horrific defensive metrics. If you thought Ethier's -19.7 was bad in right, well, it has nothing on Thames' last three seasons in left field: -26.5 in '08, -23.8 in '09 and a whopping -35.6 in '10. Good thing there are significantly fewer left-handed pitchers in baseball than righties, or Thames would be getting a lot more time in the field. Just from the eye test, he cannot be that much worse than Manny Ramirez, but with numbers like this, who knows? Thames will also backup James Loney at first base.
Guys in the mix
- Blake is a masher against lefties and if the Dodgers had a legitimate backup third baseman capable of starting against right-handers, perhaps Blake would get a look in left. However, he's played just two games in the outfield since being acquired by the Dodgers in July 2008.
- Early last season, Paul was my preference to take over for Ramirez in left following the 2010 season. A less-than-impressive showing in the majors and defensive problems caused many to give up on him, including management. Paul's ceiling is as an average No. 3 outfielder, but he does have some value. I highly doubt he makes the team out of Spring Training (barring injury). However, he deserves to be in this discussion.
- Robinson is one of my best Dodger prospects, but he needs some more seasoning before he gets a legitimate shot at left field (or center field). His strikeout rate is too high for my liking, but the rest of his game is progressing quite nicely. If there are enough injuries, Robinson could make his debut before September. If that happens, the Dodgers are in trouble, unfortunately.
- Sands is surprisingly comfortable in the outfield and could take grasp of the left field job come 2012. But like Robinson, Sands needs more seasoning at the upper levels of the minors. As my No. 1 Dodger prospect, Sands needs to show he can adjust to veteran pitchers. All the scouting reports say he has the ability to adjust to breaking balls and is willing to go the other way, so that bodes well for his and the Dodgers' future.
Others: Jamie Hoffmann, Gabe Kapler, Russ Mitchell, Trent Oeltjen
Left field was all the talk this off-season for the Dodgers -- and for the wrong reasons. Unless Ehtier plays 140 games in left field or one of the prospects explodes, I don't see the Dodgers getting league-average production -- offensively or defensively -- from the position. The 2012 LF outlook is a lot better than 2011. Paul is a sleeper in all this, but I wouldn't get my hopes up.
Next up: Center Field