The Dodgers have the highest payroll in the majors and a lot of expectations riding on the players they’ve acquired. Still they’ve got a lot of questions and a big challenge in upsetting the World Champion Giants, who may be somewhat offensively challenge but who have big time pitching.
Clayton Kershaw is a sure thing and possibly the best pitcher in the game (and thus not written up below), but he’s one of the only Dodgers who don’t at least have questions or health concerns coming into the 2013 season. If the team gels they’ll be a force to reckon with, but if too many pieces fail they could be the most expensive third place team in baseball’s history.
Here are 10 to watch in 2013.
Hanley Ramirez (SS/3B): Ramirez is a very talented individual who is capable of being elite or close to elite at both of the positions he is eligible at. At least he was before he injured his thumb in the WBC, tearing a ligament. Now he’s going to miss at least six to eight weeks, and likely will take at least a minor step back in his power numbers. That should knock him down at least a tier, maybe even two, on draft day. That said, he still should go at least 10-10 with more upside than that. Brandon League (CL): The Dodgers brought in League to take over the closer's role out of concern for Kasey Jansen, who had he job last year but lost part of the season to heart palpitations. This year the Dodgers are taking no chances and spending a few extra million to get some insurance seemed like a solid plan. However League is not your typical lights out closer. He managed just 15 saves last year but posted a very lucky 3.13 ERA, despite a significant increase in walk rate and line drive rate, which will deceive a lot of people (his xERA was 4.14). Lucky for him Dodgers Stadium will help hide a multitude of sins. Call him a middle of the pack closer, but have Kasey Janson on your bench if you can afford to.
Carl Crawford (OF): Crawford is coming off Tommy John surgery, which came right on the heels of wrist surgery. That opens the doors to a lot of questions about his ability to hit for power or to stay healthy for a whole season. He’s 31 and the skills should already be declining; add in the rust from two consecutive injured seasons and expecting a rebound to his 2010 levels isn’t realistic. That said, good average, 10-plus home runs and somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 steals is probably a safe baseline. Provided of course he can stay healthy.
Matt Kemp (OF): Kemp had shoulder surgery in the offseason and hamstring injuries last year, both of which are capable of impacting his fantasy value. That said, he’s potentially a true top 5 pick if neither of those injuries have left lingering issues. The upside is huge, and plenty of folks are betting that Kemp will be the player he was and odds are he will be close. Three stolen bases in spring training show that the speed is still viable. I’d like to see a little more power though before I bet that the home run stroke has fully returned.
Zack Greinke (SP): Greinke was one step away from being elite in the American League. Now that he’s switched back to the NL and cavernous Dodgers Stadium the potential to take that step forward is really there. The concern with his elbow this spring should drive the price down and so long as he really is as healthy as the Dodgers claim there is potential profit here.
Dee Gordon (SS): The injury to Ramirez could be a bonanza for those who invest in Dee Gordon, provided he gets at least half of the available ABs (instead of Luis Cruz who offers little fantasywise) while Ramirez is on the DL. His value is entirely in his legs since he’s a poor hitter, has no pop and doesn’t take enough walks. That said he should steal at least 25 bases, but has the potential to steal up to 50 if he gets enough ABs.
Adrian Gonzalez (1B): The 31-year-old Gonzalez comes into the season healthy and coming off a disappointing season when he only managed to hit 18 home runs despite getting 629 ABs. Part of that was driven by a fall off in HR/FB rate, but questions linger as to if the shoulder surgery back in 2010 really affected his power. That makes him a difficult read going into the season. However he’ll bat in the middle of the Dodgers lineup and should drive in and score plenty of runs. If the power comes back he’ll be a draft day bargain. If not, he should still be a solid contributor and worthy of a second tier rating.
Josh Beckett (SP): Once an elite pitcher Beckett now is nothing more than a No. 3 starter with upside. He should better last season's 4.65 ERA but how much he’ll improve is a big question. His numbers after the trade to the Dodgers (2.93 ERA, two wins and 38 Ks in just 43 innings) were very promising. If he can build on that he COULD offer some serious profit and someone probably is likely to believe that he can do it. It probably shouldn’t be you (though if the league is deep and the price is cheap I might sit him on my bench and watch him).
Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP): The Korean import who laughingly qualifies as a rookie was the best starting pitcher in the Korean baseball league. That makes him the equivalent of the best pitcher in a decent AA league. Plenty of AA players have made the leap to the Majors and have been successful, and Ryu is well worth a shot, though there is plenty of risk. He’s looked great in spring training thus far striking out almost a batter per inning (23 in 23 1/3 innings) and posting a 1.07 WHIP. If he can carry that over to the regular season he might be a steal.
Yasiel Puig (OF): The Cuban “rookie” has certainly garnered plenty of press this spring, hitting .527 (as of the time of writing) with three home runs in just 55 ABs. Plenty of scouts say he looks Major league ready, and if the Dodgers agree, he could easily be the guy who steals ABs from Andre Ethier when the team faces lefties. That said, while Puig has tremendous upside, odds are that he won’t find full time employment this season. Barring injury to Ethier, 250-300 ABs is probably a reach. Still if he hit .300 with 15 home runs in those 250-300 AB there would be no complaints. .280 with 10 home runs is probably more likely.