Opening Day is just a day away
The Dodgers had about as boring a spring as you can have and with the season opener just a day away everything is basically what Ken Gurnick expected back in Feb with a few minor exceptions.
Ken felt that Chris Taylor was going to be the Dodgers starting second baseman. I didn’t agree but felt he had better info. Turns out he did not.
I’ll defer to the beat writer who should have some inside information on who the Dodgers are leaning toward but it would not surprise me in the least if Hernandez wins the 2nd base gig and Taylor is the super utility guy.
That could easily change but for now, Kiké is the starting second baseman which leaves Chris Taylor to patrol left field against left-hand pitching, and possibly spell everyone except the catcher and 1st baseman.
It took Corey Seager a while to get in playing shape but he does appear ready to handle a full season load at Shortstop. None of the position players were injured so the Dodgers enter the season with a full squad of position players. Andrew Toles took himself out of the running for a bench spot when he was unable to appear this spring due to personal issues that we hope he is able to successfully navigate.
The only real battle besides second base was between Brad Miller and Alex Verdugo for the last spot on the bench. I felt Brad Miller would be more useful but the Dodgers opted for Alex Verdugo.
The pitching side had a few hiccups and one big painful cough when Clayton Kershaw had to be shut down, but he is back on the mound and should rejoin the team sometime in April. It is a shame that Clayton will not start the opener since he has been the opening day starter every year since 2011 but all things eventually come to an end. The good news is that Clayton appears to be pitching pain-free and just needs to get stretched out. This might have been more of a big deal if the expectations for Clayton in 2019 hadn’t been more muted than in seasons past when he was simply expected to pick up his CYA at the end of the year.
The other hiccups belonged to Walker Buehler and Rich Hill. Walker took his time in getting ready this spring but is now ready for the season to start. Rich Hill was in line to make the opening day start but got hurt last week and will join Clayton Kershaw on the injured list to start the season.
Replacing Kershaw and Hill will be Julio Urias and Ross Stripling. Julio Urias reminded everyone why he was a teenage phenom before his surgery by having a fantastic spring. It has only been nine months but I think many Dodger fans have already forgotten that Ross Stripling was an All-Star last summer after being their best pitcher in April/May/June. Ross still has a big fan in Paul Sporer from Fangraphs who made him part of his bold predictions for 2019.
Ross Stripling is a top 15 SP
Stripling only threw 122 innings last year, but the 29-year old isn’t incapable of handling a full season workload. A 1.5x increase of last year’s total would yield 183 innings, which is more than enough to put up a top 15 season with a strong enough performance. In fact, these days you can go 150-160 great innings and still land in the top 15. An incredible first half (2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 24% K-BB in 95.3 IP) earned Stripling an All-Star bid, but back and toe issues mired a poor second half that limited him to just 26.7 uninspiring innings (6.41 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 17% K-BB). He’s already in the rotation with some spring injuries hitting the Dodgers rotation and if he performs, there’s no reason he won’t stick.
Suffice to say no team in baseball could replace two pitchers in their rotation with the upside of Urias and Stripling.
The biggest surprise to me this spring was the outright release of Josh Fields who had been a solid part of the bullpen since being acquired for top 100 prospect Yordan Alvarez back in the summer of 2016. It must be a good sign for the bullpen that the Dodgers felt that they had better arms than Fields.