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Spring primer: Los Angeles Dodgers

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer


Did you know the Dodgers had a winning record last season? Yep, they were 82-79. They also sport one of the most exciting pitcher-hitter duos in Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp. The problem is the Dodgers also had the albatross-like cloud of Frank McCourt hanging over their collective heads all season. And that should soon be fixed, as McCourt is selling the Dodgers. So 2012 marks a new era in many ways for these Dodgers.

Major additions: 2B Mark Ellis, RHP Aaron Harang, LHP Chris Capuano, IF Adam Kennedy, OF Tony Gwynn, IF/OF Jerry Hairston
Major departures: C Rod Barajas, 3B Casey Blake, IF Jamey Carroll, RHP Jonathan Broxton, RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP Jon Garland

Probable lineup
1. Dee Gordon, SS
2. Mark Ellis, 2B
3. Matt Kemp, CF
4. Andre Ethier, RF
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Juan Rivera, LF
7. Juan Uribe, 3B
8. A.J. Ellis, C

Probable rotation
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Chad Billingsley
3. Ted Lilly
4. Aaron Harang
5. Chris Capuano

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Javy Guerra
Set-up: Kenley Jansen

Important bench players

C Matt Treanor, OF Jerry Sands, IF Adam Kennedy, IF/OF Jerry Hairston, OF Tony Gwynn

Prospect to watch
Starting pitcher Nate Eovaldi made an appearance in the majors late last season but he's still considered a prospect. He had a 3.63 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings. Of course, he did walk 20 batters. Having never even appeared in Triple-A, that's likely where the 22-year-old right hander will start the season and remain until injury or ineffectiveness from the current rotation provides an opening. In Double-A last season, Eovaldi was 6-5 with a 2.62 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 99 strikeouts in 103 innings. Again, though, his walk rate was a bit high, as he gave out 46 free passes. The sooner that issue gets fixed, the sooner he'll be bumping a Harang or Capuano.

Fantasy injury-risk sleeper: Andre Ethier
"The last two seasons have not been kind to Ethier, as he was derailed by a broken pinkie in 2010 and by a right knee injury last year, on which he wound up having surgery last September. Entering 2012 with his health woes behind him, Ethier may be able to pick up where he left off three years ago when he hit 31 home runs and drove in 106 runs. Even through his injuries, Ethier has shown good gap power and strike zone judgment, but his home run production has suffered. As last season wore on and Ethier's knee injury worsened, he hit a progressively higher proportion of ground balls each month. With better health, there is little reason to think he can't hit at least 25 homers. While owners may still be reluctant to trust him, Ethier should still provide a good return on a mid-round pick in standard mixed leagues." - Al Melchior [Full Dodgers team fantasy preview]

Fantasy bust: Chad Billingsley
"Billingsley had been a beacon of consistency for four years running, so when he posted his first non-winning record (11-11) and a career-high 4.21 ERA, Fantasy owners couldn't be blamed for thinking that 2011 was just a blip on the radar screen. However, Billingsley's strikeout rate has been in decline over the last three seasons, and even more concerning, his swinging strike rate plunged in both 2010 and 2011. Now that Billingsley isn't missing as many bats, his wildness is hurting him even more, and there are no signs suggesting he will improve on either his ERA or his WHIP (1.45) from a year ago. Rather than looking for Billingsley to return to being the top 20 pitcher he was just a few years ago, Fantasy owners should regard the 27-year-old as a late-round or waiver wire option." - Al Melchior [Full Dodgers team fantasy preview]

Optimistic outlook
Ethier hits like he did in 2009, Billingsley pitches like he did in 2008, Loney hits like he did in the last five weeks last season (1.117 OPS in last 35 games) and the hole-fillers (Ellis, Harang, Capuano, Rivera, etc.) fit perfectly. Meanwhile Gordon takes a big leap forward as a leadoff man and the Guerra-Jansen duo at the back-end is as scary as any in baseball. This could have the Dodgers finishing atop a three-team race for the NL West title.

Pessimistic outlook
Until there's more development from the youngsters, this isn't much more than a two-man team. The two arms at the back-end of the bullpen are promising and it's entirely possible to get better seasons from the likes of Billingsley and Ethier. Still, it's the Kemp and Kershaw Show here. Until there's more around these two, the Dodgers more resemble a last-place team than first.

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