In the eighth of a nine-part series, I preview the Dodgers' center field outlook for the 2011 season.
The job isn't necessarily a lock for the incumbent.
- Kemp is penciled in as the team's starting center fielder and cleanup hitter. The former could change by the end of Spring Training, but I'm not counting on it. Kemp had a bad 2010 campaign, but he did hit a career-high 28 home runs to lead the Dodgers. However, just about every aspect of Kemp's game regressed. His hitting was bad, his fielding was not anywhere close to Gold Glove-caliber and his base-stealing was putrid. Despite all that, folks -- including myself -- have high hopes for Kemp's 2011 season. The addition of Davey Lopes to the coaching staff should help him improve his base-stealing, which needs to be a big part of his game. Aside from Rafael Furcal, Kemp is the most important player to the Dodgers' offense. The team is going to need him to have a huge season if it wants to contend in the competitive National League West.
- I feel like I've written a lot about Gwynn (because I have). But Gwynn is a wild card in the race for the Dodgers' third outfield position. His defensive value is so great in center field that if he produces anything close to Major League-average offense, he could be patrolling center at Chavez Ravine. Such a move would improve the overall outfield defense, as Kemp would shift to right field and Andre Ethier to left field. Gwynn's plate discipline and base-stealing ability could be a plus for the Dodgers. The absolute best-case scenario for the Dodgers this spring is for Gwynn to win the center field job and bat in the No. 2 slot. It isn't that realistic, but stranger things have happened.
Guys in the mix
- Robinson, who just hit an RBI triple against the White Sox, could benefit from another year in the minors. It would take an unusual amount of injuries for Robinson to make his debut before September. His athleticism and improving plate discipline is encouraging. He needs to reduce his strikeout rate, though. Still, he is the Dodgers' future third outfielder (by my count) and should be the team's third outfielder in 2012.
Others: Gabe Kapler, Trent Oeltjen
This one is between two players: Kemp and Gwynn. Like I said, if Robinson is manning CF before September, things have gone terribly wrong for the Dodgers. That isn't a slight to Robinson by any means. Things boil down like this: If Kemp can regain his 2009 form, the Dodgers will get above-average offense and defense. If he can't, there's a chance the team could get just above-average defense from Gwynn as the center fielder. The smart money is on Kemp with the "8" by his name on the lineup card for the Dodgers. I wouldn't be opposed to Gwynn playing so well that he bumps Kemp to right, but it'd be surprising.
Next up: Right Field