The Cactus League Is Shaping Up Just As You’d Expect It To Be

cactus_league_standingsA week and a half into spring training, let’s check into the Cactus League standings. Just as you’d expect, the Royals (72 wins in 2012) and the Mariners (75 wins) are a combined 18-1. On the bottom, the Rangers (93 wins last year), Angels (89 wins), and Reds (97) are a combined 5-23.

Just as you’d expect, right? Spring training is great. I say this not to point out that spring training stats and records — especially this early — are pretty meaningless, because I know that you know that. Yet you’d be surprised by how many fans haven’t quite grasped that fact, at least judged by the quantity of those on Twitter and elsewhere asking me if I’ll admit I’m wrong yet about Luis Cruz because he’s hitting .444 or insisting the Dodgers are crazy for not announcing Yasiel Puig as the Opening Day cleanup hitter because he destroyed a pitch from terrible, terrible, Fernando Nieve.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be encouraged by Cruz or excited by Puig, because absolutely we should. In fact, let’s get excited by Puig’s dinger from yesterday right now:

puig_homer_cleve_linkLord, that’s fun to watch. I just want to see how they — or anyone else, really — looks when real pitchers start throwing real curveballs, or when lineups aren’t full of Justin Sellerses & Matt Palmers.

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Aaron Harang trade watch:

With scouts from the Brewers and Orioles watching, Dodgers starter Aaron Harang threw three scoreless innings in a Minor League game Monday at Camelback Ranch.

This isn’t so much “news” as it is an acknowledgement that Harang is obviously available and teams who need pitching will be interested. Despite stories like this one from Mark Saxon indicating that Hyun-Jin Ryu‘s spot may be in jeopardy, I think it’s far too soon to worry about that after three innings. Besides, what’s Don Mattingly going to say, that Ryu has absolutely nothing to work for? Of course not.

Pitchers & Catchers Report; Life Worth Living Again

What's at the kiosk? I must know. (via)

What’s at the kiosk? I must know. (via)

It’s been just over four months since the Dodgers last took the field, and while they managed to add Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, J.P. Howell, Skip Schumaker, and a ton of non-roster hopefuls in that time, it’s actually been a quieter offseason than we thought it might be. When all you can do is speculate due to the lack of any new data coming in, you can only talk about huge questions marks like Carl Crawford, Chad Billingsley, & Luis Cruz so much — at some point, the story has to actually get written.

Today, we’re finally making our first small steps towards that goal and away from the long, cold, interminable winter, thanks to the four most glorious words in the English language: “Pitchers and catchers report.” 28 pitchers — from Juan Abreu to Chris Withrow — will join A.J. Ellis and five catchers who are not A.J. Ellis in Camelback ranch today, with the first official workout being tomorrow. (Several have been in Arizona for some time already, of course.)

Position players report on Friday, and the first game of the spring is a week from Saturday, when the Dodgers face their Camelback partners Chicago on February 23. Sadly, we may not get our first glimpse of the team on television until well into March, though that may change as we start to get the broadcast schedules of other teams in the Cactus League who may be televising games of their own here and there.

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer. In the next few days and weeks, players will get hurt, they’ll get cut, and they’ll potentially get traded. Who am I kidding, though? I’m away on vacation until Thursday — yes, I wrote this post three days ago — and judging by past history, Aaron Harang will somehow have been traded for Michael Bourn while I’m away.

There’s Finally Real, Live Dodger Baseball Today

Well, as “real” as any game that will include at least five pitchers who have just about no shot of seeing any actual meaningful time for the big club this year can be. Still, for the first time since last September, we’ll have Dodger baseball against another team in a game that, if not actually meaningful, will at least be played under the normal rules of Major League Baseball. If it’s not quite Game 7 of the World Series out there, at least it’s something.

Of course, the tendency in our current 24/7 Twitter age is to place an overabundance of importance on early spring games just because it’s the first new on-field data we’ve had on players in months, and it’s important to remember how unrealistic it is to expect players to be in mid-season form on March 5. Different players arrive in different states of fitness, and batters & pitchers don’t always get up to gear at the same speed; even if they did, the focus is less on winning games than getting loose and getting your timing down. Hey, maybe Chad Billingsley throws two shutout innings today. Or maybe, as he attempts to tweak his mechanics this spring, he gives up six homers, like Atlanta’s Julio Teheran did yesterday on a windy day in Florida. It’s important to keep in mind that none of that matters right now. (Except for every Juan Uribe oh-fer. That’ll always matter.)

With that in mind, here’s today’s lineup, which isn’t that far off from what we expect to see on Opening Day other than at third base. (Though it is somewhat odd that Uribe is the only starter who isn’t in this lineup…) Since the Dodgers are the road team today against their Camelback Ranch co-tenants Chicago, the designated hitter is in use.

1) Dee Gordon SS
2) Mark Ellis 2B
3) Matt Kemp CF
4) Andre Ethier RF
5) Juan Rivera LF
6) James Loney 1B
7) Adam Kennedy 3B
8) A.J. Ellis C
9) Tony Gwynn DH

Again, spring training, so no complaining that Gwynn (who can’t hit) is DH while Rivera (who can’t field) is in left. Most of these guys will only play the first few innings, and by the end of the game the Dodger lineup will look more like Chattanooga’s JV team. (Update: according to Eric Stephen, the reserves are listed as well. Expect to see appearances from Justin Sellers (SS), Ivan De Jesus (2B), Trent Oeltjen (CF), Scott Van Slyke (RF), Alex Castellanos (LF), Josh Fields (1B), Russ Mitchell (3B), & Tim Federowicz (C). Nathan Eovaldi will follow Billingsley with two more innings, and they’ll be followed by one inning apiece from non-roster guys Fernando Nieve, Wil Ledezma, Angel Guzman, Ryan Tucker & Scott Rice.

Today’s game won’t be televised, but tomorrow’s “home opener”  against the Giants will be shown live at 12:05pm PT on Prime Ticket and starting at 1pm PT on MLB Network.

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Over at Baseball Prospectus, the continuing division-by-division preview continues, with Jay Jaffe joined by Geoff Young (formerly of Ducksnorts) to join the chorus of voices not nearly convinced that Ned Colletti’s offseason plan was in any way the right one. Two snippets:

3. Beyond Matt Kemp, who is going to provide offense for this team?
JJ: Andre Ethier and nobody else. That infield—James Loney, Mark Ellis, Dee Gordon, and Juan Uribe—is going to be the least productive in baseball, unless you’re counting Gordon’s steals for your fantasy team.

GY: Agreed, assuming Ethier is healthy. It’s incredible to think that a team would miss the bats of Jamey Carroll and Rod Barajas.

JJ: It truly is. What drives me nuts about Colletti isn’t that he bought low on so many guys—there’s a value strategy that can work in there—it’s that he went for the backloaded second year, when the first one might be a disaster.

5. How does left field unfold between Phony Gwynn, Juan Rivera, and Jerry Sands? Is the latter ever going to get another shot?
GY:
You’ve got a guy in his prime who will never hit big-league pitching, a guy past his prime who can’t play a position, and young kid who has dominated the minors. Which one do you make sure never sees the light of day? Not that Sands is great, but it seems to me he deserves a chance.

JJ: I agree. And don’t think at my age that I’ll live to see it, at least under this regime.

Even Open Tryout Players Get Two Year Deals


Since there’s not a whole lot going on in big league camp right now, at least until exhibition games begin on Monday, I can’t help but pass along this delightful story from Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA on Dodger batboy Francisco “Chico” Herrera:

That story begins six months ago during a batting practice at Dodger Stadium. For years, Dodgers players have commented to him that he had a good arm or made some good, athletic plays while they were shagging fly balls during batting practice. Herrera took the compliments in stride. He’d been the best player on his team at Hollywood High and was now the starting shortstop at Valley College in North Hollywood. But what did that matter out here on a big league diamond?

This time one Dodger went a step further.

Jon Garland and I were playing catch in the outfield,” Herrera said. “He was hurting at the time, but he could still play catch and he’s like, ‘You really do have a good arm. When are you going to try out?’”

Try out?

And try out he did, as one of what Eric Stephen reports was a record 125 people at the annual open tryout at Camelback Ranch today. You’ll never hear of 99% of those names, and with good reason, though there were a few players with some professional experience: Dylan Hernandez reports that former Rangers righty Wes Littleton (21 games with Texas between 2006-08) and Giants catching prospect Todd Jennings were present, as well as 28-year-old Japanese righty Hiroki Sanada, who was posted earlier this offseason with no bids. In addition, 13-year vet Doug Davis was there along with Jarrad Page, a seven-year veteran of the NFL who was an outfielder with UCLA before heading to the NFL. Jackson reports that there’s likely to be one signing (perhaps two), though of course that would just be to a zero-risk minor-league deal, much like Randy Keisler last year. If so, Davis is probably the best bet, despite his 1-7, 6.50 showing for the Cubs last year.

What Will Be the Spring Training Surprise This Year?

For most of the winter, the common refrain around the Dodgers is that the slew of (often regrettable) veteran signings this winter has all but solidified the Opening Day roster, taking some of the excitement out of spring training. You can see that fully 23 of the 25 spots are spoken for right now:

Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Matt Treanor

Infielders (6): James Loney, Mark Ellis, Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe, Adam Kennedy, Jerry Hairston

Outfielders (4): Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn

Rotation (5): Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano

Bullpen (6): Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal, Scott Elbert, Blake Hawksworth

Even the questions about the final two spots aren’t exactly fraught with drama, those being “will Jerry Sands get the final spot on the bench?” (I say yes) and “will a second lefty reliever push Josh Lindblom back to the minors?” (potentially, but I lean no.)

But it’s never really that simple, is it? Last year we thought that the six-man rotation was overstuffed, until Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla each got hurt in camp and forced John Ely into an April start. We laughed at the NRIs, until injuries allowed Aaron Miles, Mike MacDougal, and Lance Cormier to all make the club. And who among us remembers now that Hector Gimenez was actually one of the 25 players who went north? (Or, I could ask, that Hector Gimenez was even ever a Dodger?)

Whether it’s an injury to an existing player, a non-roster invite (perhaps even a distant Ortiz relative) making a short-lived splash that is in no way sustainable, or unexpected progress in the ownership process which causes drama, something is going to happen in camp that changes the roster as we anticipate it right now.

What’s it going to be?