The Dodgers Say Goodbye to Camelback Ranch… and Yasiel Puig & Dee Gordon, Too

So those questions we had about the Dodgers earlier this afternoon? We’re starting to get some answers already.

Where to start? Mercifully, Yasiel Puig has been shipped off to Double-A Chattanooga. Argue all you like about whether .526/.508/.842 should have been enough to keep him in the bigs — you know my thoughts on the subject — but it was time to end the uncertainty. Tonight is the last home game for the Dodgers in Arizona, and decisions need to be made. From this perspective, this is the correct call for all the reasons we’ve been over so many times. With Carl Crawford on track to be ready for the season (he’s again leading off in left field tonight), the only right answer was to let Puig play every day in the minors. If that delays his free agency, all the better.

Rockies
Dodgers
CF
Young
LF
Crawford
2B
Brignac
2B
M.Ellis
LF
Gonzalez
CF
Kemp
1B
Cuddyer
1B
Gonzalez
RF
Colvin
RF
Ethier
3B
Arenado
SS
Cruz
C
Hernandez
3B
Uribe
SS
Herrera
C
A.Ellis
P
Garland
P
Harang

Speaking of uncertainty, not that there really was any, Dee Gordon was sent to Triple-A Albuquerque at the same time. There were those who thought that Gordon might get a shot at shortstop after Hanley Ramirez was injured, but it never really seemed likely; after all, opening or not, Gordon still has much to prove. More, perhaps, than even Luis Cruz does. He’ll head to the Isotopes and play every day at shortstop, surrounded by massive uncertainty in the rest of the Triple-A infield.

Finally, we know now a bit more about the starting rotation. Chad Billingsley will miss his first start because of the bruised finger he’s been fighting for the last week, and that lines up Hyun-Jin Ryu & Josh Beckett to follow Clayton Kershaw in the opening series against the Giants. After an off-day on April 4, Zack Greinke is expected to make his debut in the opener of the Pirates series on April 5.

It’s not yet been announced, but because Billingsley is pitching in a minor league game later this week and not for the big club, it’s almost certain that he’ll begin the year on the disabled list. Because it can be backdated, he may only miss the one start rather than a full two weeks of April; either way, that will buy Ned Colletti at least a few days longer to deal with his starting pitching surplus.

Tonight’s game against Colorado and ex-Dodger Jon Garland, again the final at Camelback Ranch of the spring, is available both on KCAL and as MLB.tv’s free game of the day.

Six Days Before Opening Day, Six Questions Left For the Dodgers

With less than a week before Opening Day, the Dodgers still have a fair amount to work through. Taking from the most popular questions I receive across all forms of media…

1. Is Yasiel Puig going to make the team?

No. Well…. no. Right? I think?

We’ve been over this a lot, but he’s still here, and even though management said weeks ago that he definitely wouldn’t be on the team, it’s hard to argue .526/.508/.842. But with Carl Crawford looking like he’s going to be ready to play, there’s not a spot here without bouncing Crawford to the bench, which doesn’t seem realistic. Besides, there’s service time considerations at play with Puig, in addition to obvious concerns about his true readiness.

92topps_alexcastellanos2. So who will get that last spot off the bench?

For most of camp, we thought this was simple. Carl Crawford would start the season on the disabled list, Jerry Hairston & Skip Schumaker would platoon in left field, and Tim Federowicz, Nick Punto & Juan Uribe would staff out the rest of a very unappealing bench. But now it looks like Crawford will be active, and Hairston may be needed for additional duty at third base thanks to Hanley Ramirez‘ injury.

That makes the outfield extremely left-handed, which is why Don Mattingly has been talking about wanting a righty corner outfielder so much. (Thanks for joining the rest of us in “every year since 2009″ in wanting that, by the way, Don.) That’s partially why Puig remains in the mix, as does Alex Castellanos and multipositional switch-hitters Alfredo Amezaga & Elian Herrera. Amezaga’s non-40 man status probably hurts him here, so I really think Castellanos is the right call. That being the case, it’ll absolutely be Herrera because of course it will.

3. Oh my god, Kevin Gregg is going to make this team, isn’t he?

Wellll… yes. I’m sorry.

We know that Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell & Ronald Belisario are locks. Matt Guerrier, much as I hate to admit it, is probably getting one spot, and let’s say one additional spot goes to an excess starting pitcher. That leaves one final spot for Gregg, Peter Moylan, Paco Rodriguez, etc, but we know that Ned Colletti almost always has one NRI pitcher on the club.

That worked out okay last year with Jamey Wright, who just made the Tampa roster today, and the Dodgers have had success with it in the past. (They’ve also had more than one Ortiz on the same time, so there’s that.) You’ll hear a lot about Gregg’s “1.00 ERA this spring!”, but I’m guessing surprisingly little about his 4/0 K/BB in nine innings. Can’t say I have super high hopes on that one.

4. So if just one starter makes the bullpen, then…

… yes. I expect some sort of trade before the end of the weekend, because noise and rumors have really picked up over the last few days, especially with the amount of scouts watching Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. My guess is that one (likely Capuano) starts in relief, one gets moved (likely Harang), and as for Ted Lilly, well, he probably has to hope that Chad Billingsley‘s injured fingernail falls off. Considering how rotten his spring has been, it’s probably not too hard to see some sort of DL stint get ginned up for him.

5. Where is Kyle Cofield going to end up?

If the reaction here is “wait… who?” that’s more than justified. The Dodgers signed the minor league free agent in January after many undistinguished years in the low minors for Atlanta & Pittsburgh. He didn’t receive an invite to major league camp (though he has suited up on occasion to fill out the big league roster for the day), and is more than likely destined for the Chattanooga bullpen, if he even makes a roster at all. Why am I bringing this up now? Because I have one person who has asked me about him at least a half-dozen times this spring, both via email and Twitter. I have no idea why I should care about Kyle Cofield, but someone clearly does.

6. What can’t Vin Scully do?

Nothing, apparently.

 

The Welcome Return of Zack Greinke

For the first time since March 1, Zack Greinke is on the mound in a Cactus League game for the Dodgers, facing off against Wade Davis and his old Kansas City squad. With the possible exception of Skip Schumaker over Mark Ellis at second base, it sure looks like Greinke will be backed by something that’s going to look a hell of a lot like the Opening Day lineup.

Dodgers
Royals
LF
Crawford
LF
Gordon
2B
Schumaker
SS
Escobar
CF
Kemp
DH
Butler
1B
Gonzalez
3B
Moustakas
RF
Ethier
C
Perez
SS
Cruz
1B
Hosmer
3B
Hairston
CF
Cain
C
A.Ellis
RF
Francoeur
P
Greinke
2B
Getz

That doesn’t include Yasiel Puig, though we’ll of course be besieged by questions about whether he’s on the roster until the day he’s sent down. (Which I still believe he will be, though I admit I’ve softened on my certainty over it lately.) That’s especially the case when Don Mattingly is saying things like, “we’ve talked about Puig in all different scenarios,” though I suppose you can’t be too surprised that the manager is impressed by a guy hitting .527 this spring.

But even if (and when) Puig doesn’t make the roster on April 1, Ken Rosenthal makes a great point — teams still need to be scared about what his looming presence means:

No, rival executives are concerned that Puig’s ascent eventually will help the Dodgers secure other top prospects.

How?

By pushing the Dodgers to trade one of their expensive corner outfielders, Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier – and secure additional young talent by paying most of that player’s contract as part of the deal.

In other words, the Dodgers not only can outbid teams for stars, but also can buy their way out of mistakes and come out ahead. And, at a time when teams face new restrictions on spending for both domestic and international amateurs, the Dodgers’ financial might could give them a huge advantage in amassing top prospects.

That, my friends, is what’s known as “a good problem to have”.

Back to Grienke, he’s expected to throw about 60 pitches tonight, and 75 against the Angels this weekend. Assuming that all goes well, he’ll probably avoid the disabled list and pitch on April 5 against Pittsburgh. You can catch the game tonight on MLB Network, and you can tell it’s getting late in the spring because the expected pitchers behind Greinke are Matt GuerrierJ.P. Howell, Kenley Jansen, & Brandon League — big leaguers all. Yes, even you, Guerrier. I guess.

To Puig Or Not to Puig (Plus Friday Lineups)

yasiel_puig_firstbase_springSo there’s this, from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan…

The Legend of Yasiel Puig is greater than The Truth of Yasiel Puig. The Legend plays like Bo Jackson. The Truth simply looks like Bo, a diesel 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. The Legend hits .521 in spring training. The Truth understands spring-training statistics might as well be tabulated by Arthur Andersen. The Legend is an invincible athlete. The Truth lost three straight games of ping-pong Thursday to Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is the anti-athlete.

And then there’s this, from ESPN’s Keith Law…

Also: When you hear a player compared to Bo Jackson, just stop listening.

In this case, both are correct. Passan is right to be impressed — Puig is blowing the doors off of camp, wowing everyone and exceeding the wildest expectations that could have been set upon him. Again, he’s hitting .521/.500/.854 this spring, and even for a guy who puts absolutely zero relevance on spring stats, that’s absurd. It’s beyond absurd, it’s unlike anything we’ve really ever seen before and it’s exciting in a way that spring training rarely is.

But Law’s right, too. Puig’s not Bo Jackson. It’s ridiculous to be making that comparison — Jackson was a once-in-a-lifetime athletic specimen who nearly everyone on the planet drooled over. Puig’s a beyond-raw talent with limited athletic experience who has the potential to be great, but is probably not a true “five-tool player”. As much fun as this has been, we should all know by now not to act as though a few weeks of spring ball suddenly makes a player considerably different than he was before, and Puig is still an incredibly talented player with little pro experience who has significant concerns over plate discipline.

So what’s the right answer here? As far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t changed. It does no damage to start Puig in the minors, and in fact it only helps. It allows him to prove himself against pitchers who are actually trying to get him out — and while I appreciate Passan’s contention that Puig has done well against actual big league pitchers, simply saying “Mat Latos” was on the mound doesn’t say whether Latos was just working on his fastball that day — and it helps the Dodgers down the road with service time implications. Perhaps most importantly, as we’ve discussed before, it allows them to get a look at Carl Crawford and see what they have there. You don’t bring Puig up unless you’re prepared to play him every day, and you can’t do that and still see what Crawford can give.

Reds
Dodgers
CF
Heisey
DH
Crawford
2B
Phillips
SS
Gordon
1B
Votto
RF
Hairston
LF
Ludwick
1B
Gonzalez
RF
Bruce
3B
Cruz
3B
Frazier
CF
Puig
SS
Cozart
RF
Herrera
C
Mesoraco
C
A.Ellis
P
Leake
2B
Amezaga

Puig starts today in center field against Mike Leake and the Reds, hitting sixth, but there’s a lot happening in this game. Crawford is back atop the lineup at designated hitter — he is expected to play left field tomorrow, per the team. It’ll be the first time he plays the field as a Dodger.

This is also likely to be Clayton Kershaw‘s final full start in Arizona, and you’ll probably note that Dee Gordon is playing shortstop, with Luis Cruz pushed back to third. That’s not all that surprising since Gordon has missed the last few days with an ankle injury and they’ll obviously want to get him back on the field, though it’s worth noting that the Hanley Ramirez replacement plan hasn’t been fully finalized yet.

Today’s game is available on dodgers.com, the final of the eight scheduled webcasts for the spring.

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.