Spring Training is finally over and another Opening Day is upon us. I have listed below the top six things I’m most curious about entering the new season. Six questions that I hope will all have affirmative answers by October. I’ve stuck to subjects that are mostly positives and avoided items that fill me with dread (back end of the rotation, closer-by-committee, etc). Opening Day is like a spring Christmas, a day filled with joy and promise. No dark clouds here, so let’s take a look at some potential sources of triumph for 2015.
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1. The Rollins-Kendrick Spine
In just about any sport, the core of a good defense is a strong spine, that being the players occupying the middle of the field. In baseball that would be the catcher, middle infielders, and the center fielder. Joc Pederson looks ready for an amazing season in the outfield so I am giving him his own section below. The A.J. Ellis and Yasmani Grandal combo, while improving, still doesn’t really move the needle for me, but the arrival of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick is a different story. The Dodgers now have two veterans bringing a different set of skills as compared to Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon of a year ago. Maybe a little less power, a little less speed, but a boost defensively that could prove the difference between a World Series appearance and yet another post-season cameo.
Mar 18, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson against the Chicago Cubs during a spring training game at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
2. A Rookie Joc
There has been a mountain of hype whirling around Joc Pederson, and the baseballing world can’t wait to see how he responds come Opening Day. Pederson has had a wonderful spring exhibiting power, speed, and an improving sense of patience at the plate. Facing left-handed pitching is still a large hurdle to clear if Joc hopes to be the everyday center fielder, but all other signals are looking positive. He’ll be expected to grow quickly this year, learning to adjust to pitchers who will adjust to him. His weaknesses will be exposed and he’ll need to make the expected corrections. What he is today is not what he’ll be come September. Watching his progress should be quite an experience.
3. Puig, Year 3
No one has ever doubted Yasiel Puig’s talent, power, and immense potential. It is only the mental side of his game that people will debate. Little things can still trip him up as we saw on his collision with Howie Kendrick in Game 1 of the Freeway Series on Thursday (he whistles sometimes instead of calling off other fielders). On the plus side, he seems to be more disciplined this spring and in more control of his emotions. His ability to throw out runners is legendary, but there are still times when hitting the cut-off man might be the better option. There are also questions surrounding his ability to play at the highest level for the full 162. Last season he ran into an extended slump after the All-Star break leading some to speculate whether he had the mental toughness and work ethic to remain engaged all year. Has he come to terms with pitchers attacking him inside? Some would say yes, but those questions still lurk. With time comes experience. With experience comes maturity, and this year all Dodger fans are expecting big things from a more consistent and established 66.
4. Mr. Kershaw
Can he do it again? Last year was like a game of PlayStation for the Cy Young winner. He had a slightly abbreviated season due to injury and still broke 20 wins while generating an ERA so small one needed a particle telescope to find it. So can he do it again? Could he possibly be even better? Kershaw gets some flak from certain voices in the media who like to compare him to Peyton Manning. He’s great in the regular season, but doesn’t rise to the occasion in the playoffs. The Texan really just had two bad innings against the Cardinals last year, but in baseball that’s all it takes. Will he be able to make amends this year? Can he put together another Cy Young-caliber season and still deliver the goods in October? We’re all anxious to find out.
Call to the Pen
5. Cranky Greinke
The Dodgers’ second ace will have his own demons to face this year. Zack Greinke has the option to enter the free agent market for the 2016 season and he’s looking to parlay a strong 2015 into one last lucrative contract. As I’ve written before, it could be a buyer’s market for starting pitching next year, but if Greinke shows he’s still able to mow down batters as usual then the odds of him returning to LA appear remote. Knowing that he’s effectively performing in order to leave, will Greinke be able to keep engaged with the team all season? He’s an aloof personality by nature. Will this situation only further that divide or will Greinke, still a consummate professional, deliver BAU in a year when the Dodgers will be relying heavily on their first two starters.
6. Justin Turner, In a Pinch
The Big Red One took us all by storm last year, delivering on every front expected of him. Pinch hitting, hitting for average, fielding multiple positions, and being a great clubhouse personality, the utility infielder overachieved at every facet. Will he be able to repeat his 2014 success or will he regress to his mean? As I have suggested before, this could be the new normal for Turner. Coming from the Mets where he didn’t get nearly the opportunities he was afforded last season, what we are now witnessing could be the new standard operating procedure. If that’s true, 2015 promises to be very exciting for Justin.
Opening Day brings with it bags filled with both potential joy and heartache. Many questions and few answers. What are you looking forward to the most this season? What are you most fearful of? Post your thoughts in the comments below to be saved for posterity. Then we’ll take this long journey that is the 2015 season together and see how things unfold.