Commentary

Dodgers have few spots up for grabs

Updated: February 21, 2012, 11:13 AM ET
By Jon Weisman | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

Clayton KershawKevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesAlmost a year ago, Clayton Kershaw walked into Camelback Ranch to kick off a Cy Young Award-winning season. What will 2012 hold?

The fate of the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers might be a mystery, but the fate of their opening day roster … not so much.

In 10 years of my previewing the Dodgers heading into spring training, never has there been fewer spots up for grabs for the first game of the season. Defining a roster lock as someone who will be in a Dodgers uniform for Game 1 unless he is injured, disabled or suddenly and shockingly incompetent, 22 of the 25 spots on the roster appear set.

However, that doesn't mean we won't see the usual rotation of has-beens and might-bes parading through Arizona in March. So here's where we'll introduce them.

Here's the breakdown of the 41 men on the Dodgers' 40-man roster (including that one fellow on the restricted list) and the 21 non-roster invitees to spring training.

Locks (22)

Starting pitchers (5): Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano

Relief pitchers (5): Kenley Jansen, Todd Coffey, Matt Guerrier, Scott Elbert, Mike MacDougal

Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Matt Treanor

Infielders (6): James Loney, Mark Ellis, Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston Jr., Adam Kennedy

Outfielders (4): Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr.

Most likely to succeed (3)

Javy Guerra, RHP: Why would last year's saves leader not be a lock for the opening day roster? For much the same reason that Jansen wasn't a lock a year ago. Guerra has minor league options remaining and is low on experience, so if his spring training is terrible, it wouldn't be a shock if Ned Colletti & Co. decided to give him a quick tune-up down on the farm while keeping another veteran on the major league roster. That being said, it would be a shock if he were terrible.

[+] EnlargeGuerra
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJavy Guerra, last year's saves leader, might not be a lock for opening day.

Blake Hawksworth, RHP: Hawksworth is out of minor league options after his 4.08 ERA and 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011. It's only a matter of proving he's healthy after arthroscopic surgery this winter, and then you probably can lock him in.

Jerry Sands, OF/1B: He won't make the roster if he's there only to ride the bench. And even if the Dodgers end up platooning Ethier and/or Loney, that wouldn't necessarily begin opening week. But there is a spot on the roster for another right-handed bat (especially one with power potential), and Sands easily could make too good an impression in March to ignore.

Next in line (7)

Josh Lindblom, RHP: After a debut like he had in 2011 (2.73 ERA, 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings), Lindblom has no business being sent to the minors in 2012. But should Hawksworth be ready to go, Lindblom might be kept on ice.

Nathan Eovaldi, RHP: If the Dodgers had a No. 6 starter at the ready, it would be easier to picture Eovaldi in the major league bullpen as a long reliever. But he's probably the first one they're going to want to turn to if anything happens to the primary five in the rotation, so that would entail his starting the season in the minors, most likely at Double-A Chattanooga.

John Grabow, LHP: Some have suggested Grabow will be in the opening day bullpen as a second lefty, and certainly the 33-year-old San Gabriel High grad is an established major league pitcher, with 506 career games, including 58 with the Cubs in 2011. But his 4.76 ERA, 1.524 WHIP and 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011 hardly seem worth saving a roster spot for, and it's not as if he was overwhelming left-handed batters, who had a .715 OPS against him last year (and .811 the year before). If something goes awry with Elbert, maybe Grabow is next in line, but he's probably less likely to stick with the Dodgers than Ron Mahay was a year ago.

Jamey Wright, RHP: The best-known of the Dodgers' non-roster invitees is Wright, who made his major league debut at age 21 for the Rockies in 1996 and has more than 1,800 innings under his belt. He spent years as an inconsistent starting pitcher before making a conversion to full-time relief work in August 2007. Seattle proved to his liking, facilitating a 3.25 ERA over 105 1/3 innings from 2010 to '11. The Dodgers' bullpen is filled with right-handers, especially if Hawksworth is healthy, but if Wright is willing to start the year in the minors, he easily could end up wearing a Dodgers uniform sometime in 2012. However, he can opt out of his minor league deal in late March, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

[+] EnlargeNathan Eovaldi
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesNathan Eovaldi will probably the first one the Dodgers turn to if anything happens to a starter.

Josh Bard, C: Fitting the journeyman catcher profile as the potential backup's backup, the 33-year-old Bard had a .615 OPS in 212 plate appearances with Seattle from 2010 to '11. Dodgers fans might remember the switch-hitter from his days with the Padres, for whom he had a .943 OPS in 263 plate appearances during their division-winning season of 2006 -- including the RBI single in the 10th inning off Aaron Sele that put San Diego ahead 10-9 moments after the Dodgers' four consecutive homers in the 4+1 game. Yep, each time you see Jeff Kent, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin, Marlon Anderson and Nomar Garciaparra homer, that's Bard in the background, waiting for the pitch that never arrived.

Trent Oeltjen, OF: An opening day slot isn't out of the question for left-handed hitting Oeltjen, who was on the Dodgers from June 9 through the rest of the 2011 season. On the other hand, he mostly wasted that roster spot, going 6-for-50 with a .430 OPS after July 1.

Justin Sellers, IF: The Dodgers effectively pushed him off the opening day roster by signing Kennedy, a move predicated mainly on Kennedy's past glory. Sellers didn't hit much with the Dodgers last year, but there's not much reason to think he couldn't be as productive as Kennedy as a reserve in 2012, for half the dough. In any case, he could be the first infield call-up of 2012.

Midseason mambo (12)

Ivan De Jesus Jr., IF: Almost certainly organizational depth at this point, De Jesus still could get some playing time given the likelihood of injuries to the quartet of elderly infielders.

Scott Van Slyke, OF/1B: The Dodgers' 2010 minor league player of the year, Sands was in the majors by April 2011. Perhaps it won't be so fast for the young Van Slyke, but with his addition to the 40-man roster, his first taste of Dodger Stadium easily could come before Memorial Day.

Ronald Belisario, RHP: No matter what he does in spring training, Belisario reportedly would have to serve a 25-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy before he could pitch in a regular-season game for the Dodgers. That could be to his advantage, however, in helping him avoid the roster crunch without going straight to the minors. It's anyone's guess whether he can take advantage of this second (third? fourth?) chance.

Ramon Troncoso, RHP: Say what you will about Belisario's disappearing act, but his partner in 2009 greatness, Troncoso, hasn't been much more useful. It's not that he's been consistently terrible, but he has been unreliable. Out of minor league options, Troncoso has a shot to make the opening day roster with a strong spring, but it's even easier to imagine his ending up back in Albuquerque after clearing waivers and then once again making sporadic marches to the bigs.

TBD
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesIvan De Jesus could be in demand, given the Dodgers' aging infield.

Josh Fields, 3B: Fields is doing a reverse Brandon Weeden -- going from Oklahoma State quarterbackhood to the Dodgers' farm system. A former first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox, he hit 23 home runs in 2007, as well as .306 with three home runs in 49 at-bats for the 2010 Kansas City Royals, but those are his major league highlights. In 2011, he split time between Triple-A Colorado Springs (1.103 OPS in 203 plate appearances) and Yomiuri of the Japan Central League.

Russell Mitchell, 1B-3B: Mitchell cleared waivers this month and returned to the Dodgers' organization, where he will try to make the majors for a third straight year after going 14-for-93 with four home runs -- including that memorable blast against the White Sox last May -- in 2010-11. He turned 27 on Feb. 15.

Jeff Baisley, 1B-3B: After six seasons in the Oakland farm system, Baisley spent 2011 with the Angels' Pacific Coast League team in Salt Lake, for which he had a .355 on-base percentage and .483 slugging percentage, including an even 20 homers and 100 RBIs. He played third base, arguably the Dodgers' weakest position, so that gives him a fighting chance to earn his second taste of the majors (in a Mitchell-type context). His one and only cup of coffee came in 2008, when he had a .598 OPS in 47 plate appearances for the A's.

Tim Federowicz, C: Some think A.J. Ellis is only keeping the seat warm for Federowicz, whose defense and power are higher than those of the likely opening day starter. It figures that at some point in 2012, the 24-year-old Federowicz will get his chance, but he'd be better suited for a team that had better offense around the infield.

Rubby De La Rosa, RHP: DeJon Watson said this month he expected De La Rosa to be in minor league games by June and didn't indicate by any means that the organization's top pitching prospect -- at least before last year's Tommy John surgery -- would be required to stay down in Albuquerque or (more likely) Chattanooga for long. Los Angeles certainly won't rush him, but the hope is there that Dodgers fans won't have to wait for rosters to expand to see him again.

Alex Castellanos, OF-IF: There's gonna be a lot of wishin' and hoping that Castellanos can (A) maintain the offensive surge that generated a .958 OPS in Double-A last year and (B) make a move to the infield to boot. It's iffy, but it's better than having no hope at all. The 25-year-old has walked only 109 times in four minor league seasons; last year, he had 39 walks and 118 strikeouts.

Michael Antonini, LHP: Antonini, 26, perhaps exceeded expectations in the year since being acquired from the Mets for Chin-lung Hu, striking out 131 in 148 innings with a 4.01 ERA for Chattanooga while walking only 42. Now that he's on the 40-man roster, one could envision his being used as an emergency starter or midseason long man out of the bullpen.

[+] EnlargeRubby De La Rosa
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDodgers fans hope it won't be too long before they see top pitching prospect Rubby De La Rosa again.

Alberto Castillo, LHP: He's wearing a 2011 National League West champion ring after giving Arizona a 2.31 ERA over 11 2/3 innings (despite allowing 17 baserunners) at age 36. Once involved in a Charlie Hayes trade, Castillo made his pro debut back in 1994 -- primarily as a first baseman while also pitching -- after the Giants took him as a third-round pick, one year after he helped Cuba win the world junior championships and then defected. He's a southpaw, but he's never had much success against left-handed batters.

See you in September? (3)

Alfredo Silverio, OF: Although he's already 24, Silverio is rated by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus as the Dodgers' top position-player prospect, following a 2011 in which he delivered a .340 on-base percentage, a .542 slugging percentage, 16 homers and 18 triples for Chattanooga. However, people might be underestimating the importance of his low walk totals (30 in 572 plate appearances last year), which are a major warning sign.

Scott Rice, LHP: Here's one to root for. Drafted as a supplemental pick in the first round of the 1999 draft by Baltimore, the 6-foot-6 Rice, a Royal High grad, has spent 13 seasons in the minors without a taste of the bigs. He began the 2011 season pitching for York in the independent Atlantic League. The Dodgers acquired him in June and assigned him to Double-A Chattanooga, where Rice had a 1.95 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings against 60 baserunners. Rice turned 30 in September.

Griff Erickson, C: Eight days older than Kershaw, Erickson has been gaining fans over time, and his successful 2011 season added to the momentum. The switch-hitter had an .899 OPS with Class A Rancho Cucamonga, followed by .808 with Chattanooga. Some question his ability defensively, but at least he threw out 30 percent of runners attempting to steal last year. Federowicz should get first crack at a midseason call-up, but Erickson is on track to reach the majors next season, if not sooner.

Check back in a year or two (5)

Chris Withrow, RHP: DeJon Watson had encouraging words about Withrow, who had his best season with a 4.20 ERA and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings for Chattanooga. He still walks too may batters, but if he can show continued improvement in his age-23 campaign, the one-time first-rounder could re-establish himself as a key pitching prospect.

Josh Wall, RHP: After starting 100 games in four minor league seasons from 2006 to '10, the former second-round pick pitched strictly out of the bullpen last year, coming up with a 3.93 ERA and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his first Double-A season. That wouldn't exactly seem to put the 25-year-old close to the majors, although Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. passed along encouraging reports of Wall's fastball touching 100 mph.

Stephen Fife, RHP: Fife's 14-4 record at Double-A last year looks gaudy, but it masks a strikeout-walk ratio of only 1.8. Of the three players acquired by the Dodgers in last summer's trade of Trayvon Robinson, Fife might have the toughest time reaching the majors or sticking around.

Shane Lindsay, RHP: The Melbourne native pitched a shutout inning in his major league debut with the White Sox in September, then allowed seven runs in his next inning two days later. That put an unpleasant coda on a Triple-A season in which he had a 1.98 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings -- but perhaps his 51 walks in that same span served as a hint of trouble. The wild and wooly Lindsay then went on walkabout to the Dodgers.

Matt Wallach, C: The son of the Dodgers' third-base coach -- the one who wasn't sent to Chicago in the 2010 Ted Lilly trade, nor the one drafted by the Dodgers in 2010 -- had a .396 on-base percentage and .351 slugging percentage in 244 plate appearances for Chattanooga last year, indicating he might be from the A.J. Ellis mold. He turned 26 last week.

Fodder (10)

Wil Ledezma, LHP: A veteran of seven major league teams, 31-year-old Ledezma lasted six major league innings with Toronto last year, allowing 10 runs on 18 baserunners -- certainly a disappointment if you consider he struck out 12 batters per nine innings in Triple-A. But his last productive year in the show was 2006, and he's another lefty who hasn't been reliable against lefties for a while now. Still, it probably won't shock you to learn that during Ledezma's career, the Dodgers have gone only 9-for-46 (.194) against him with eight walks and zero home runs.

Cory Sullivan, OF: Sullivan, once upon a time, exploited the wilds of Coors Field to generate passable numbers (a .279 batting average 2005-08), but the 32-year-old has only 46 major-league hits in the three years since he left Colorado. Last season, he went 21-for-100 with no homers and 20 walks for the Phillies' Triple-A team. On the upside, he has not committed an error in the majors or minors since 2008.

Will Savage, RHP: The 27-year-old from El Camino Real High in Woodland Hills has spent the past two years in the Dodgers' organization and had a 3.95 ERA in 141 1/3 innings for Chattanooga in 2011, but with only 87 strikeouts.

Jose Ascanio, RHP: The 26-year-old allowed five runs on 12 baserunners in 6 1/3 innings for Pittsburgh last year and has a career 5.28 ERA in 46 MLB innings. However, he did strike out 50 in 44 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis in his first significant action since recovering from late-2009 shoulder surgery. So he sounds qualified for an Albuquerque stint.

Matt Chico, LHP: The one-time USC Trojan spent 2011 in the minors, putting up a 5.87 ERA across three levels in the Washington organization. He pitched out of the bullpen after having spent most of his major league career as a starter, most notably posting a 4.63 ERA with 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings for the Nationals over 31 starts in 2007. Tommy John surgery in 2008 curtailed things thereafter, and he's been in only one major league game since.

Angel Guzman, RHP: Now 30, Guzman had a 2.95 ERA and 68 baserunners allowed in 61 innings with 47 strikeouts for the Cubs in 2009 -- and hasn't pitched in the majors since. He suffered ligament tears in his shoulder during spring training in 2010 and missed the rest of the year, coming back to pitch 35 2/3 innings in Class A ball with a 4.04 ERA and 28 strikeouts. Whether he can complete his comeback to the majors remains to be seen, but there are worse players to take a flier on than one with 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his MLB career.

Fernando Nieve, RHP: Owner of a 2.95 ERA in 36 2/3 innings with the 2009 Mets, Nieve slumped to 6.00 the following year and then finished 2011 with only 15 1/3 innings and a 7.63 ERA, all for Triple-A Oklahoma City, before pitching the rest of the year in South Korea.

Ryan Tucker, RHP: Taken 34th overall in the 2005 MLB draft by Florida, Tucker has 42 major league innings to his credit and 38 earned runs allowed, including a stint for the Marlins in 2008 in which he allowed eight homers and 23 walks in 37 innings. Florida had five of the top 44 picks in that '05 draft and spent them on five pitchers (Chris Volstad, Aaron Thompson, Jacob Marceaux, Tucker and Sean West) who have a combined 4.88 ERA in 766 1/3 major league innings. For Triple-A Round Rock last year, Tucker had a 5.40 ERA in 68 1/3 innings.

Luis Cruz, UT: Cruz, 27, has played seven positions as a pro but mostly at shortstop, and although he's a light hitter, it's not like the Dodgers haven't used his type before. His major league career consists of a .275 on-base percentage and .260 slugging percentage in 169 plate appearances; in April 2009, he was pushed off the Pirates' roster when they acquired Delwyn Young from the Dodgers. Last year Cruz hit .301 OBP/.433 SLG for Triple-A Round Rock.

Lance Zawadzki, IF: A former Padre who went 7-for-35 with five walks in 2010, Zawadzki went to the Royals' Triple-A team in Omaha last year, and had a .288 on-base percentage and .383 slugging percentage in 352 plate appearances. He holds the distinction of having the first hit ever in Petco Park, when he doubled for San Diego State in March 2004.

Jon Weisman is the author of Dodger Thoughts, and a features editor and TV reporter at Variety.

Jon Weisman

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Jon Weisman is the author of Dodger Thoughts and a TV editor and writer for Variety.