Tuesday, March 22, 2011

5 Dodger Questions Before Opening Day: Who's Knocking on the Door?


Reading people's opinions and evaluations of minor league players (specifically the ones in the Dodger farm, who would've guessed?) is one of my favorite things about off-season baseball. Especially after Brandon Lennox made this monstrous but incredibly thorough recap of the Dodger system. So for this portion of the Dodgers, I'll be covering who (I think) will be coming up from the farm and making an immediate impact this year.

The easiest place to start is with Jerry Sands (pictured to the left), who tied for the home run lead last year in the minors, and is probably the most exciting prospect in the Dodger system. I say that because fans (i.e., chicks) dig the long ball, and Sands, if nothing else, can hit a long ball. He might not quite have the face of a champion, but he appears to be most likely to make an immediate impact. Especially if the whole JaMarcus Gwybbons Jr. thing doesn't really work out, (which, as MSTI pointed out today, Jay Gibbons could very easily not make the club out of spring training, and probably shouldn't, in this blogger's opinion). Should the Left Field platoon fail, fans will be begging for Sands to come up, and infuse some likely-much-needed power into the lineup. Now, if he's not doing well in AAA, this probably won't happen, but it's really hard not to do well in AAA Albuquerque. Sands also has the advantage of being Right Handed, which means he can take Ethier's place in the lineup against tough lefties, and his defense is projected to be average to slightly below average, depending on who you ask. I happen to think he'll be serviceable, which is all a corner outfielder really needs to be anyway. There is concern about his ability to hit a major-league breaking ball, so that's the one area to watch if he does indeed get called up. Bottom line, Sands will likely be mashing in AAA, the current left field platoon doesn't look like it will, put two and two together, and it's easy to see Sands being called up by late May.

So what if both the Left Field platoon and James Loney are having poor starts to their seasons? Well Sands can also play First Base, so he could easily be called up to play there, but what about Left Field? Enter Trayvon Robinson. A switch hitting Center Fielder with a bit of power and good speed. He's pretty solid up and down, with nothing spectacular about him. He's one clever nickname away from being the Dodgers version of Shane Victorino. Trayvon could easily play left and bat toward the top of the order, using his good speed and on-base skills to set up the big bats in the middle. Because he simply has less power, and a bit less upside, he excites me less as a prospect than Sands, but he certainly wouldn't be a bad player on this Dodgers team. I see him as more of a late June than early May call-up, but I certainly do look forward to him contributing to the Major League Club in the near future.

Justin Sellers and Ivan Dejesus Jr. look to be the Shortstop and Second Baseman, respectively, of the AAA team, and if the Middle Infield depth of the Dodgers is severely tested, I could see either of them being called up as a temporary replacement. Sellers seems to be the latest version of Chin-Lung-Hu, a guy who can play solid defense, but can't hit much at all. I still think there's good potential in Dejesus, but he's got to really prove himself in AAA this year, both offensively and defensively. Don Mattingly seems to like him, and he knows a lot more about Dejesus than I do. I see both of them being called up before Dee Gordon, who is by far more popular, only because I think Gordon needs to prove himself in AA as a legitimate player, especially defensively. Obviously he's got the speed, but his bat and glove aren't major league ready, and both Sellers and Dejesus are closer than Gordon, so they'll get looked at first. If Gordon is having a big season in AA, then that only makes it more likely he begins next year as the starting Shortstop, assuming Rafael Furcal is let go of, but that's for a whole other blog post.

Lastly, the minor league bullpen is stocked full of capable arms. I talked about it a bit in my last post, but just to recap, guys like Ramon Troncoso and Scott Elbert (assuming neither makes the major league 'pen) are capable arms (although Elbert has well documented control issues, I think he can be effective as a lefty-specialist, at least in the beginning of his call up, just to ease him into the major leagues). Jon Link, once the Dodgers decide to stop stretching him as a starter, is another good arm. Travis Schlichting was actually better in the majors last year than in the minors, not that that's worth a whole lot, because his Major League sample size was very small. Ronald Belisario has proven himself as a solid arm, at least when he's been in the United States. Josh Lindblom is now strictly a reliever forever, and he's certainly got what it takes to be a good relief pitcher as well. I trust almost all of those guys as middle relievers, so should the bullpen be hit with injuries, those guys can all step in and perform well enough.

Overall, Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson are the two guys to get most excited about, and while I could see the Left Field platoon not hitting well enough to justify it's own existence, I think James Loney will hit well enough for Ned Coletti not to replace him or trade him, unless a team really wants him and makes an offer Coletti can't refuse. What that means, is that likely only one of Sands and Robinson can/will get called up this year, and as I said before, Sands has power and higher upside because of it, so he's likely to get called up first. And I'm looking forward to that day.

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