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Spring decisions are coming into focus

3/5/2014

The Dodgers are only 11 days from boarding their flight for Sydney and only 17 days from opening their 2014 season, so decisions are coming faster than in a normal spring. With the clock ticking on the key position battles, here is a look at some of the more interesting story lines shaping up:

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti is a hoarder of pitching

That, of course, makes him no different than most GMs, who acquire as many quality arms as they can, hoping one little adjustment can turn them into a serviceable major-league pitcher. Colletti just carries it to extremes.

A year ago, Colletti looked like he had found a diamond in the rough when he signed declining closer Kevin Gregg to a minor-league deal and invited him to camp. Gregg was the most dominant reliever the Dodgers had all spring, pitching to a .088 ERA in 11 spring innings.

The Dodgers, however, couldn’t find a roster spot for him and released him shortly before Opening Day. Gregg probably could have come in handy, particularly while Brandon League was imploding early in the season. He wound up as the closer for the Chicago Cubs. On a really bad team, he saved 33 games.

A similar roster conundrum could be brewing with Seth Rosin. The Dodgers acquired Rosin from the New York Mets shortly after the Mets took him from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Rule 5 draft. Rosin, a hulking 6-foot-6 right-hander, has been working with Dodgers pitching coaches on using his lower half to drive off the mound, which could give him a few extra ticks of velocity.

It looks like it might be working. In five scoreless innings, Rosin has struck out eight batters. What if he keeps mowing down hitters for another 10 days?

The Dodgers have a bullpen packed with guaranteed contracts, plus some young relievers like Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow who merit opportunities. If Rosin doesn’t land on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster, they would have to designate him for assignment, which means he could end up back with the Phillies or be taken off waivers by another team.

Second base is still a pile-up

The most wide open competition in camp has gotten just a bit more contained. It appears more and more likely that Alex Guerrero will begin the season at Triple-A Albuquerque so he can continue the transition from shortstop and get his swing back up to speed after a year away from the game.

It looks like the Dodgers will open the season using a platoon at second base involving either Dee Gordon or Chone Figgins as the lefty half and Justin Turner, Brendan Harris or Miguel Rojas as the righty half.

Gordon has done the most to earn his spot this spring, playing strong defense at second and showing a little more power after packing on 13 pounds of muscle. He has two doubles, three stolen bases and hit a home run in an intrasquad game. Figgins brings greater versatility because he can play above-average third base, but he’ll have to prove he can hit after two dismal seasons in Seattle. Figgins is batting .154 in 13 at-bats.

Of the righties, Rojas is the best defender. Harris and Turner are steady and versatile without having major offensive upside. A good guess would be a Gordon-Turner platoon in Australia.

The outfield looks settled… for now

Matt Kemp isn’t going to be ready for Australia. In fact, the Dodgers aren’t even sure if he’ll play in any of their exhibition games, which include three games in Southern California against the Angels at the end of the month. They say Kemp is in stage 5 of a 7-step recovery from ankle surgery, but they’ve given no details on what the final two hurdles are.

So, the four-outfielder conundrum is on-hold for the time being. Presuming all of them get through the spring healthy, Carl Crawford will start in left field, Andre Ethier will start in center and Yasiel Puig will start in right.

It appears likely that Kemp’s rehab will spill into April. His first games figure to be against minor-leaguers in extended spring training and, possibly, the regular season. If he feels good in a month or so, let the who-gets-traded debate begin!