Dodgers Claim Matt Angle On Waivers From Baltimore

Yesterday, I mentioned that the 60-day disabled list was now available for Rubby De La Rosa, should the Dodgers need to open up another 40-man roster spot to make room for Jamey Wright, John Grabow, or another NRI at the end of camp. Who knew we’d be revisiting that idea less than 24 hours later?

Today, the Dodgers took advantage of that option by moving De La Rosa off the 40-man roster and claiming 26-year-old outfielder Matt Angle from Baltimore. Angle made a brief debut with the O’s last year but spent most of 2011 as Triple-A Norfolk’s center fielder; since the Dodgers already acquired Norfolk’s primary right fielder, Tyler Henson, in the Dana Eveland trade, all they need to do now is get 2011 Norfolk left fielder Kyle Hudson (now with Texas) to complete the entire set.

Angle hit just .177 in 31 games for the Orioles last year, but he’s not without his uses, since he has a .372 career minor league OBP and plenty of speed, stealing 11 bases in 12 attempts with the big club and an additional 27 in the minors. Baseball Prospectus 2012 has additional info:

Angle’s best tool is his speed, which he put on full display in his first taste of the big leagues: despite a mere .293 OBP, Angle stole 11 bases in 95 plate appearances thanks to an absurd 55 percent attempt rate and a 92 percent success rate. Widely considered the best defensive outfielder in the system, his bat is suspect. He has no power to speak of and struck out 18 percent of the time at Triple-A, unacceptable for a guy without pop and without Ichiro‚Äôs BABIP. Still, he takes some walks, and if he can manage to stretch his tools, his best case scenario is becoming a toned-down version of Michael Bourn.

So for the low, low price of a waiver claim, you’re getting a young guy who can fly and is apparently a plus defensive outfielder. By itself, that’s all well and good, though you do have to wonder about a player who got DFA’d by Baltimore (and to fit in Luis Ayala, of all people), because the Orioles are hardly overflowing with talent and might actually start Endy Chavez in left field this year. Still, Angle didn’t cost anything and comes with at least two tools, so that’s fine for additional depth.

Now that the 40-man roster is indeed full, that makes it all the more likely that the out-of-options Ramon Troncoso is going to get the axe unless he surprises us all to take that last bullpen spot. It also makes Trent Oeltjen‘s spot that much more perilous with another outfielder around; it also does make me wonder if Alex Castellanos really is destined for more infield work in Albuquerque, perhaps pushing Alfredo Silverio to a corner (where he probably belongs) and letting the defensively superior Angle remain in center.

Seven Reasons for Optimism in 2012

Nearly five months after the disappointing 2011 season ended when a Kenley Jansen-induced flyball off the bat of Arizona’s John McDonald landed in Tony Gwynn‘s glove, pitchers and catchers are finally getting back to work in Camelback Ranch. Hitters will join them later this week, though many, like Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp, are already there. No matter what your outlook is on the 2012 season, this is the time of year where everyone has hope. (Well, everyone who isn’t an Orioles fan, I suppose, because that situation is beyond repair.)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that much like last year, I haven’t exactly been thrilled with the offseason. The good will engendered by signing Kemp to an eight-year extension (which looks better by the day) hasn’t completely overcome the disappointment of spending millions on backloaded two-year contracts handed out to aging veterans, or that the previously-added expensive veterans like Matt Guerrier, Ted Lilly, & Juan Uribe are unlikely to improve enough to earn their contracts, or the fact that the big bat which was so desperately needed never arrived – despite the late push for Prince Fielder. Just like last year, this team looks like it’s built to win around 83-86 games, with some small chance of pushing 90, though with a likely equal change of falling below .500. When you have two of the best players in the game and some interesting young players around them, that’s not exactly what you hope your expectations would be entering the spring.

Still, it’s not all doom & gloom around here, so with a nod to last year’s attempt at finding some hope ahead of what looks like it could be an uninspiring season… here’s seven reasons why 2012 is going to be great – and no, the return of Brent Leach is not among them.

1. The welcome end of the Frank & Jamie McCourt era. I just cannot overemphasize this enough, because there’s almost nothing that can happen on the field that is going to make us remember 2012 as anything but the year that we finally rid ourselves of these two vultures.

The first mention of their separation on this site came on October 15, 2009, just hours before Game 1 of the NLCS. (Which I’ll never forgive them for. Jackasses. Edit: okay, there may have been other reasons why that happened then.) In the nearly two-and-a-half-years since then, through dozens of sins and probably hundreds of posts on this site, they have bankrupted the team off the field, hindered it on the field, and dragged one of the crown jewels in American sport through untold miles of mud and embarrassment. (And let’s not forget, it’s hardly as though we all loved them right up until the news of their separation came out.)

We don’t know who the next owner will be, or how they’ll run the team. We all pray they’ll be the owner we all hope they will be, but we know that there’s no guarantees; the next owner could be just as bad as the current one. For the moment, it doesn’t matter, because come April 30, it won’t be Frank McCourt. That’s a sentence I’ve been dying to write for years. Soon, friends. Soon.

2. The pure joy of having Kemp & Clayton Kershaw. There’s a lot of fluff on this team. Old, backloaded, underwhelming, underperforming, overpaid fluff that at best will help you tread water, but isn’t going to really help you move forward. Yet in the midst of all that mediocrity, we’re lucky enough to have the best hitter and best pitcher in the National League, two elite talents who are either close to or in their primes, coming off seasons where they reached the potential we all knew they had.

The best part is, short of injury, there’s little reason to think that they won’t as productive in 2012 and going forward, because 2011 was hardly an out-of-nowhere fluke from either player. Kershaw was a top-ten pick who was successful basically from the day he arrived in the bigs and continued to improve through his breakout 2011; Kemp has been a productive player in each of his four full seasons, despite a (somewhat overblown) disappointing 2010. We should be careful not to get ahead of ourselves here, particularly with Kershaw not yet signed to a long-term deal, but it’s pretty hard not to think that we’re watching the early stages of two of the greatest careers in Dodger history. For that alone, we should be thankful.

3. A big rebound season from Andre Ethier. We keep going back and forth on Ethier. On one hand, I’ve been pretty clear that I don’t like the idea of investing big money in a moody, overrated player who isn’t a great defender, absolutely cannot hit lefties, and has dealt with nagging injuries as he moves into his age-30 season. (When you put it like that, he basically sounds like a platoon DH.)

Yet for all his shortcomings, everything is perfectly primed for Ethier to have a really, really big year. He’s finally healthy heading into 2012, and if you don’t think that matters, just check his pre- and post-injury stats from the last two years. He’s also in his final year before free agency, and he’s made his displeasure at not having been signed to an extension clear. Whether it’s to impress new ownership or potential suitors on the market, Ethier has a chip on his shoulder and plenty to prove in 2012. A healthy, motivated Andre Ethier is exactly the kind of Ethier that could put up a huge season… before convincing someone to wildly overpay him.

4. The breathtaking speed of Dee Gordon. I don’t know if Gordon has enough plate discipline to allow his zero-power game to work on the major league level. I don’t know if he can hone his defensive chops enough to stop making the errors on easy plays that occasionally hurt more than his flashy, outstanding plays help. And I especially don’t know if his slight frame can hold up to the rigors of a full season. But I do know this: in just 56 games last season, Gordon and his speed made more jaw-dropping plays on both offense and defense than I think we’ve seen over the last ten years.

Gordon’s done all the right things this winter to improve his game, from working out with Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin to being one of the first to arrive at camp. It remains to be seen what kind of player he’s actually going to be, but no matter how much he progresses (or not) this year, his entertainment value alone is worth the price of admission. Considering the rest of the infielders that’ll be around him, that’s a stat which might even be more important than his on-base percentage.

5. More young pitching on the way. Last year, we were excited to see the next wave of Dodger hitters, since Gordon, Jerry Sands, and Trayvon Robinson were all starting together at Triple-A. All three saw big league time – though not exactly in the way we expected – and Gordon & Sands are poised to be big parts of the Dodger core going forward.

This year, it’s the youthful pitching that demands our attention. Other than Nathan Eovaldi, I’m not even really talking about what we saw in the bigs last year, because Scott Elbert & Josh Lindblom finally proved themselves as big leaguers after having been close for years, and Javy Guerra really came out of nowhere to take over the closer’s job – at least until Kenley Jansen takes it. If you look at all of the various top prospect lists that came out over this offseason, you’ll find an Alfredo Silverio here and a Joc Pederson there, but what you’ll mostly see is a Dodger list that is full of quality pitching, most of which is ready to make their Los Angeles debuts in 2012 and 2013. This year alone, you could see Eovaldi, or Allen Webster, or Shawn Tolleson, or Chris Withrow, or Steve Ames or others, plus the return of Rubby De La Rosa; after them, it might be Zach Lee, Chris Reed, Garrett Gould, Ethan Martin, Aaron Miller, Angel Sanchez and more.

ESPN’s Keith Law summed up the feeling well in a recent chat:

Mike (CT)
After really digging into this did any farm systems surprise you in a good or bad way??

Klaw
Rockies came out better than I expected. Dodgers too. I love that collection of arms, and now it’s close enough to potentially impact the ML club this year.

We all know the failure rate of pitching prospects, and you can guarantee that some of the names on that list will either never make the bigs or do so unsuccessfully. But there’s so much talent there that we’re almost certain to see a few of them make big contributions to the Dodgers over the next few years (whether in blue or via trade), and they’re close enough that it’s worth keeping a close eye on them as they try to advance another level in 2012.

6. Improved infield defense. You can make a good argument that the Dodger infield might be the worst offensive group in baseball. (A really good argument, especially with the durability issues around Gordon, Mark Ellis, and Juan Uribe, and the complete unknown that is James Loney. But hey, at least Adam Kennedy is in reserve!) Who knows what you’ll get out of Uribe – though the fates aren’t on his side – and Ellis is coming off an age-34 season with a .288 OBP.

But what you should get out of this group is some fancy glovework, superior to what we saw last year. For all of his failures, Uribe was a plus defender at third base when he played, and Ellis has long been one of the better defensive second basemen in the game. Assuming health, they’re replacing 970 innings of Aaron Miles (who was merely passable at second and atrocious at third) and about 1050 innings of Jamey Carroll, who was rated as slightly below-average at each of the middle infield spots. As mentioned above, you hope that Gordon can get to enough balls with his incredible range to make up for the easy ones he’ll boot, and it’s easy to see how this group of infielders could potentially be a big step forward over last year. Even when they go down, the glovework may not suffer; for all of my problems with the Kennedy signing (and there are many), he’s still a good second baseman, though one who should never play elsewhere, and Jerry Hairston offers a decent glove at a few spots. Beyond them, playing solid defense might be the only thing Justin Sellers can do.

Is this group going to hit, at all? Well, uh, this is the optimism post, so we’ll stick to what works. At the least, they’ll pick it, and that can only help the questionable starting staff beyond Kershaw.

7. Vin Scully. No matter what happens off the field, no matter how many games are lost on the field, as long as there’s Vin, there’s reason to watch. Well, home games, at least. No year with Vin can be a bad year, and it’s comforting to know that he’ll outlast Frank McCourt at Dodger Stadium.

The 60-Day DL Is Now Open For Business

When the Dodgers signed Todd Coffey earlier this month, they had to DFA Russ Mitchell in order to make room for him, since the 40-man roster was already full. While it was something of a surprise to me that it was Mitchell who got the axe and not Ramon Troncoso or Trent Oeltjen, it did raise a question that I was unable to answer at the time: when can you start putting people on the 60-day DL (and thus, off the 40-man?) The Dodgers have an obvious choicefor the 60-day in Rubby De La Rosa, who is reportedly making good progress but who won’t get into rehab games until June at the earliest.

Via River Ave Blues, we’ve now learned that yesterday was the first day the 60-man DL is available, as the Red Sox took advantage of shifting John Lackey and Bobby Jenks there in order to make room for Rich Hill and Chris Carpenter. The Dodgers aren’t expected to sign anyone else to a major-league contract this spring, so it’s not an immediate concern, but we should know by now that every year, at least one non-roster guy (or more) is going to find his way onto the team. (Last year, there were three: Aaron Miles, Lance Cormier, and Mike MacDougal. Completely off-topic, how is it that Miles hasn’t even picked up an NRI from someone yet? He’s awful, but I can’t quite reconcile how Adam Kennedy can get a guaranteed deal in November, while Miles can’t even get a no-strings-attached pity date in February.)

Now that we know Blake Hawksworth isn’t going to be ready for Opening Day, the last spot in the bullpen is available, and if Jamey Wright (or John Grabow or someone else who isn’t Josh Lindblom) makes the cut, they’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster. That’s the obvious time to shift De La Rosa, though don’t forget as well that Troncoso is out of options, and will need to be DFA’d (or traded) when he doesn’t make the club. So while it may seem that only one 40-man spot is going to be needed in order to get that last reliever on the club, mark my words, something else is going to happen that will require both De La Rosa and someone else to be removed from the 40-man.

Back later today with something a lot more uplifting than rosterbation procedural news.

News From the First Day of Dodger Spring Training

Plenty of news coming in on this first official day of camp, and isn’t that a lovely feeling? Pitchers & catchers have reported, with position players joining them by Monday, and that means we’ll finally have real news & updates to talk about, not just hypotheticals and what-ifs. Don Mattingly held court this morning with a few of our famililar media names, and here’s what we know so far…

* Clayton Kershaw will be your Opening Day starter. (Ken Gurnick) Well, of course. This is news in the sense that “hey, Frank McCourt might not be such a great guy” is news. You know how I feel that the Opening Day assignment is wildly overrated, and so this doesn’t mean a great deal to me. Still, it’s a nice honor for Kershaw, and one that he’ll hopefully be able to carry for at least the next ten years. With three lefties likely to be in the rotation, I imagine that Kershaw will be followed by Chad Billingsley & Ted Lilly, then Aaron Harang & Chris Capuano. That will mean two lefties back-to-back as the rotation turns around, but that’s unavoidable.

* Dee Gordon will lead off and Matt Kemp will hit third. (Eric Stephen) No surprise here, either, especially with how well Kemp finished the year in the #3 spot. I think there’s a good enough argument to be made that Gordon is best served hitting lower in the order, where his inexperience and questionable on-base skills may not be exposed as much, but with his speed there was never any real chance Mattingly would have done that, and to be honest it’s not like there’s an obviously better choice anyway. (No, not even A.J. Ellis.) The official Dodger Twitter notes that Gordon reported early to camp and was in the cage taking BP today, which is a great sign. Dylan Hernandez adds that Mattingly likes the idea of Andre Ethier & Juan Rivera behind Kemp for protection, so while it’s not like we didn’t already know what the batting order was going to be, it seems pretty clear that the regular 8 will work out like so: 1) Gordon 2) Mark Ellis 3) Kemp 4) Ethier 5) Rivera 6) James Loney 7) Juan Uribe 8) A.J. Ellis, with some chance of Loney & Uribe being swapped. You know what’s going to be fun, though? When Gordon is inevitably banged-up, or even just gets a regular day off, and Jerry Hairston or Adam Kennedy gets to lead off instead.

* Blake Hawksworth is not going to be ready for Opening Day. (Dylan Hernandez). This initially came as something of a surprise, because Hawksworth’s January elbow surgery was originally not expected to keep him out so long, but Hernandez reveals that Hawksworth had to have a second procedure to deal with an infection that resulted from the first, so he’s “a few weeks behind schedule.” If there were any justice in the world, this would mean that the final bullpen spot would go to Josh Lindblom, who clearly proved he was big-league ready in his debut last season. Of course, Lindblom has options remaining, and the Dodgers have plenty of washed-up veteran non-roster types in camp. Remember yesterday when I said that I had a feeling that I couldn’t back up that Jamey Wright was going to make this team? Yeah, this is how. Depending on Hawksworth’s timetable, his recovery could force the Dodgers to make some interesting roster choices to make near the end of April when Ronald Belisario is eligible to return from suspension. (I know, it sounds crazy to even suggest it, but Stephen actually saw him in person today.)

* Javy Guerra starts camp as the closer. (Hernandez) Again, no surprise here, because Guerra took hold of the job last year after no one else could and did little to force the team to make a move. If he can be effective again this year, then fantastic, because Kenley Jansen is arguably more valuable as a “fireman” type who can come in and dominate when the situation dictates, rather than tether him to the 9th inning. Still, I see Jansen moving into the 9th inning at some point this year.

* Steve Yeager rejoins the Dodgers. Yeager, who originally joined the organization when he was drafted in 1967 and was a Dodger catcher for all but one of his 15 major league seasons before becoming an occasional Dodger hitting coach for four minor-league affiliates, has been hired to work with the backstops in camp. Yeager hit .228/.298/.355 over his career, which makes him basically the perfect person to work the current group of catchers… or lead an interstellar battleship.

* A spring training primer from Jon Weisman. In a long piece at ESPN/LA, Jon breaks down the players in camp, all the way from Kemp to Lance Zawadzki. Rabid followers over the winter will likely have seen all of these names already, but this is a good resource to keep bookmarked for three weeks from now when you’re trying to remember just who in the hell Matt Chico is.

More to come, no doubt.

One More Day

We’re barely 24 hours from pitchers & catchers officially reporting to camp, and it’s not a moment too soon; other than Todd Coffey arriving, it feels like we haven’t had any real movement in months. But first, let’s celebrate an anniversary: 20 years ago today, the classic Simpsons episode “Homer at the Bat” first aired. In addition to being the episode which lent this blog its name, it’s still famous for the collection of 80s and 90s baseball stars which graced its guest list, and so both Larry Granillo at Baseball Prospectus & Chris Jaffe at The Hardball Times present well-deserved retrospectives. In addition to making me feel old that this episode is now two decades old, isn’t it amazing what a different connotation you get from Ken Griffey Jr. getting a giant head after drinking a mystery liquid now as opposed to then?

* Sorry, Blake DeWitt fanboys. After being DFA’d last week by the Cubs, DeWitt has chosen to stay within the Chicago organization and battle for a job in camp.

* No inside info here to back this up, but the more I think about it, the more I think Jamey Wright is going to break camp with the team. He won’t last the season, but you’ll see him in blue. Um, yay?

* Remember the MLB Fan Cave from last year? Presented as an “MLB Dream Job”, two fans were selected to live in a New York City apartment all year, watch every single MLB game, and write about their experiences. While it was an interesting idea, the execution seemed somewhat lacking, since the two winners were A) actors and B) tremendously annoying. This year, they’re opening it up to fan voting, so if you want to help Dodger fan Jeremy Dorn get one of the two spots, you can vote right here.

* Ownership update: the list of 11 current bidders is expected to be sliced to five on Thursday, Feb 23. Those five finalists will go through a more rigorous MLB approval process, and then the winner will be selected by Frank McCourt, who has a maximum of 40 days from now to announce who he has selected. Can’t come soon enough.