Matt Kemp, On Hearing Juan Uribe Might Start Opening Day

matt_kemp_flies“You again? Time to bust out my mad Matrix skills to make sure that doesn’t happen. What are you looking at, Dee? You’re next.”

(via the always wonderful team photographer Jon SooHoo)

Carl Crawford Survives His First Game, Which Is More Than The Ball Matt Kemp Hit Can Say

crawford_spring_green_firstpa

Carl Crawford‘s spring debut ended up with no hits in three plate appearances — he flew to center and grounded to short twice — but that’s entirely missing the point. He played in a real game, he made contact each time, and looked reasonably good doing it. As far as we know he didn’t re-injure anything, and that’s absolutely all you can ask for right now.

News from the the rest of Sunday’s split-squad doubleheader of fake games…

Home against Milwaukee, i.e., “the good”:

Adrian Gonzalez hit not one but two opposite-field homers off Brewer pitching as part of an 11-1 rout. That’ll do. Hyun-Jin Ryu went 5.2 one-run innings, striking out six and retiring the last 11 batters he saw in what was really a very encouraging outing for him. Andre Ethier reached three times, including two doubles, & Mark Ellis reached four times, including a homer.

Road against Arizona, i.e., “the bad”:

Ted Lilly looked absolutely atrocious, getting yanked after retiring exactly zero of the five hitters he saw in the third inning, getting charged with five earned runs overall. I’m starting to wonder if they can gin up a disabled list reason for him to start the year, because he has shown absolutely nothing this spring. Chris Withrow, who just can’t buy a break, left the game after being hit with a ball off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt, and Peter Moylan didn’t help his chances either by allowing a first-pitch homer to Aaron Hill. Chris Reed got into the game and gave up a dinger to “old friend” Rod Barajas. The entire starting offense was stagnant other than Yasiel Puig, who stole both second and third after singling his way on.

Well, okay, there was one good thing in this game. Good lord, Matt Kemp, that just ain’t right:

******

Per Ken Gurnick, Javy Guerra was optioned to the minors before today’s game. I didn’t think he really had much of a chance of making a crowded bullpen, especially since he’d missed time with a groin strain and had pitched only 2.2 innings this spring, but I count it as a mild surprise that he’s gone so soon.

On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to be too concerned about it…

 

So there’s that. If you’re wondering why the first one shows up just text and the second one only as a real tweet, it’s because he later deleted the initial one. He also vented his frustration on Instagram, in another post that was since deleted, saying “it’s a frustration kind of trip … If u would have seen me throw yesterday .. You would know I could help ANY team win right Now … But that’s life… People will always tell me what I Can’t do … So ill take out this frustration and get back to work Thursday … #ItIsWhatItIs” (h/t Antonio)

Lovely. More cuts to come this evening, no doubt.

What Have We Learned About the Outfield Today?

Sure, the game is still going on, but if Kevin Gregg is on the mound… well, is it really still going on?

This is what today’s game has given us just from the outfield perspective…

1) Alex Castellanos really, really wants to make this team. His homer in the seventh prompted this from Bill Shaikin:

2) Yasiel Puig isn’t just big and powerful, he’s really, really fast. Here he is beating out an infield grounder, and it isn’t even close.

At TrueBlueLA, Craig Minami had a conversation with Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Jason Parks about Puig & Zach Lee that’s worth reading.

3) Carl Crawford isn’t the only injured Dodger outfielder worth being concerned about. Matt Kemp went 0-3 with two strikeouts today, leaving him oh-for-the-spring, not reaching in 10 plate appearances with four whiffs. Obviously, I’m not putting much emphasis — any, really — on that small of a sample when he’s coming off surgery, especially when we’re reading stories that he’s trying to get over the mental hurdle of accepting he’s healthy. So that’s fine, and there’s still weeks to go in the spring. Still, as we saw last year, Kemp is the man that makes this offense go, so his presence — productive an healthy — is a requirement.

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Center (Field) of Attention

Center field is the shortstop of the outfield, as far as the minor leagues go. Future stars can often be found playing here, much like at shortstop. Yet it is also filled with players who will likely never start there at the major-league level. This does not diminish their potential, but for every “true” center fielder manning the position somewhere on the farm, there are plenty of future left and right fielders who can still be at least average to above-average big-leaguers.

He might not stay in center field, but Joc  has a chance to be a solid everyday outfielder in the Majors someday. (Photo courtesy of Dustin Nosler)

He might not stay in center field, but Joc Pederson has a chance to be a solid everyday outfielder in the Majors. (Photo courtesy of Dustin Nosler)

Much as was done with the prior positions, the players I am listing here were primarily center fielders in the minors last season. Again, this does not mean they will end up pushing Matt Kemp to right field. That player probably does not exist in the Dodgers’ system, but he is hard to find in most farm systems. While Jackie Bradley Jr. might be coming up behind Jacoby Ellsbury in the Red Sox system, there are no obvious prospect replacements for fellow post-2013 free agents Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds, Curtis Granderson of the Yankees, or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers.

While the Michael Bourn rumors encouraged some to scream “move Kemp out of center!” (though his collision with the wall in Colorado probably did that even more), the fact is that Kemp is still just 28 years old should indicate he is capable of playing center for at least a few more years. As long as he avoids crashing into things at full speed. If he has learned nothing from that wall in Denver, he should at least call Ellsbury and see how full-speed collisions have wiped out two of his last three seasons.

That debate can rage another time. For now, here are the Dodgers’ center fielders down on the farm, starting with a familiar name.

Tony Gwynn Jr.: The 30-year-old veteran is still around to collect the $1.15 million remaining on that head-scratching two-year deal he received prior to 2011. Sure, he was dropped from the 40-man roster, but the market for light-hitting center fielders is a barren one, so Gwynn has opted to stick around (for now). Ultimately, it is not a lot of money, so the Dodgers could opt to sever ties in spring training if they would rather play a younger man in center at Albuquerque. The fact they have kept him around this long might be more out of necessity, seeing as how Kemp is coming off shoulder surgery and there are probably some doubts as to how a combination of Carl Crawford, Jerry Hairston, and Skip Schumaker could handle center (at least defensively) if Kemp is not ready for Opening Day.

Matt Angle: A 27-year-old fringe prospect snagged off waivers from the Orioles last year, Angle got off to a terrible start in Albuquerque before righting the ship and finishing with a .303/.376/.412 line. It still did not save him a spot on the 40-man roster as he was dropped late in the season. Without the right to refuse the assignment and opt for free agency, Angle is effectively a man in limbo. He could return to the Isotopes, but with Gwynn around he almost seems a bit redundant. Angle’s best hope at this point might be to have a strong enough spring to convince another team desperate for center field depth to swing a trade.

Nick Buss: The former USC Trojan has not moved as fast as most college players, only reaching Double-A as a 25-year-old last season. Now 26, Buss is coming off a fairly average season, batting .272/.328/.411 with eight home runs, 57 RBI, and 19 stolen bases. In a lot of ways, Buss is similar to Angle, only with a shade more power and less patience at the plate. He rarely walks and is often graded as average or slightly below average defensively. At best, Buss could end up a fifth outfielder, capable of playing all three positions. With Gwynn and Angle ahead of him, he might be squeezed out of a starting job at Chattanooga.

Joc Pederson: The best prospect here, Pederson probably will not play center regularly in the Majors, but at the very least he should make for a solid corner outfielder. Still just 20 years old (until mid-April), Pederson fared well against older competition in the California League last year, batting .313/.396/.516 with 18 home runs, 70 RBI and 26 stolen bases. Minor League Ball rated him as the Dodgers’ No. 3 prospect, while FanGraphs pegged him at No. 9. John Sickels said Pederson “has solid tools and terrific instincts,” while FG disagreed by saying “he lacks outstanding tools.” While the scouting community might be split, the Dodgers still think highly of Pederson. Though he ran out of steam in the Arizona Fall League, after he had played for Israel in a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament, Pederson showed enough with Rancho Cucamonga to move up to Chattanooga for 2013. Whether he stays in center or moves to a corner will be determined in spring training.

James Baldwin III: The son of the former White Sox right-hander, this Baldwin combines blazing speed (53 steals last year) and a habit of swinging at everything (177 strikeouts). In many ways he is the ultimate raw American prospect, not unlike his fellow Dodger Dee Gordon. Baldwin hit just .209/.293/.334 with seven homers and 40 RBI for Great Lakes. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo called him a “very toolsy center fielder with a ton of upside and a long way to go,” stressing that patience will be needed to turn Baldwin from a great athlete into a polished ballplayer. Considering the lessons learned with Gordon, plus a lack of a desperate need in Los Angeles, and Baldwin should move slowly up the ladder. He is only 21, so there is plenty of time. He could move up to Rancho Cucamonga this year or he might remain at Great Lakes.

Noel Cuevas: A 21-year-old Puerto Rican, Cuevas already fits the bill of a utility outfielder, having played 25 or more games at all three positions while bouncing around the Dodgers’ system last season. Overall he hit .267/.337/.365 and finished with 35 stolen bases. While he does not strike out often (just 40 in 288 at-bats), he rarely walks (24). Cuevas could return to Great Lakes to back up Baldwin, or more likely he will be the utility outfielder at Rancho. He projects as an organizational player only.

Jeremy Rathjen: The sleeper prospect here, Rathjen is a big kid (6-foot-6, 190 pounds), who draws a lot of comparisons to Corey Hart. The difference is that Rathjen, at least for now, can play center, as he did 45 times last year in Ogden. An 11th-round pick out of Rice last June, Rathjen hit .324/.443/.500 with nine home runs, 53 RBI, and 16 stolen bases in the thin air of the Pioneer League. The Dodgers could send him to the unfriendly confines of Great Lakes, or, as he is already 22, he could skip ahead to Rancho should Baldwin need more time in the Midwest League. Much like Pederson, Rathjen’s future could be in a corner spot, but for now the Dodgers will keep him where he is and hope that his bat was not an illusion of Ogden’s altitude and his age versus his competition.

Jacob Scavuzzo: An organizational player who saw the bulk of the time (20 games) in center in the Arizona League. Scavuzzo hit just .220/.281/.317, about all one might expect of a teenager drafted in the 21st round. He will remain behind in extended spring training and hope to fight for a roster spot with Ogden in late June.

* * *

That’s it for the center fielders, where some talent resides, but no one guaranteed to play there in Los Angeles in the future. There is still some talent at the corners, led by a certain Cuban defector and more. Look for the corner outfielders up next (as a warning, it might be split into two parts, since there are an awful lot of ‘em).

Someone Should Make a Database of Players Who Insist On Playing Through Injury

92topps_mattkempToday’s entry: Matt Kemp.

Kemp had significant surgery to repair a labrum injury, sustained when he smashed into the center-field wall at Coors Field on Aug. 27. He said doctors told him the soreness he feels is normal for the repair work done by Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Oct. 5. Kemp said he can tell that the sharp pain he felt while insisting on playing through September is gone.

“I can definitely tell my labrum is stronger, my shoulder is stronger from the rehab I’m doing,” Kemp said. “I’m sure when I come to Spring Training there will be some limits put on me for some things. I’m not trying to be 100 percent for the first game of Spring Training. I’m trying to be 100 percent for the first game of the season.”

Kemp said he was told to have surgery shortly after suffering the injury, but insisted on playing as long as the Dodgers were in contention for a postseason berth. Kemp was batting .337 at the time of the injury. After the crash, he hit .214 with six home runs, 15 RBIs and 33 strikeouts in 112 at-bats. The Dodgers were two games out of first place when Kemp was hurt and finished nine games back.

“I couldn’t shut it down,” Kemp said. “They told me to shut it down and think about surgery — or at least rest. But I just couldn’t do it. I had to continue and play. That’s what I do. I can’t sit and watch.”

“Sharp pain.” Love that. Love it, especially the part where Kemp was told he needed surgery but insisted on playing anyway, because why should a person in a position of authority — say, a doctor, or a manager — have any say? If this sounds familiar, that’s because this was us in September

So, what, if anything, have we learned? That no matter how many times it’s been drilled into everyone’s head over the decades that “heroes play through pain,” it’s nearly a universal truth that hiding an injury or attempting to gut your way through it usually ends up hurting everyone in the end. For pitchers, that can mean a minor arm injury becomes a serious one (hi, Eric Gagne!). In Kemp’s case, even if this doesn’t have deleterious effects on his long-term health, the short-term impact is that he’s been a main contributor to the offensive struggles of the club.

Not only did Kemp’s injury-limited awful play hurt the Dodgers in September, now we have to worry about what effect it will have on 2013.

For the last time: playing through serious injury doesn’t make you tough. It makes you foolish, because it hurts the team both in the present and the future. It’d be wonderful if athletes could come to recognize that.