The Los Angeles Dodgers might have the most thickly-stacked roster in the game, top to bottom, but it remains somewhat unsettled at the margins as we reach the final weeks (somehow) of this slapdash spring training.
How do we know the Dodgers aren’t done? They keep adding new names on minor-league deals (Kevin Pillar) and new potential right-and-left arms whenever they get a chance to. Sure, the heavy lifting is done, and an injured Luis Castillo probably isn’t walking through that door, but there’s plenty of TBD on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster — which is now set at 28, by the way.
So, who sticks their foot in the door and makes the team? Who actually needs a strong spring to assert themselves and make it clear the 2021 version was the standard, not an exception? Who the hell can possibly find playing time with studs in the lineup, one-through-nine?
A lot has changed since last spring, especially in terms of how we perceive the assets already on the roster. This time last year, Tony Gonsolin was coming off Rookie of the Year contention. David Price was returning to action after a season of rest. And the Dodgers’ fourth outfielder was … Edwin Rios? No one knew they had to pick up the slack for Cody Bellinger’s production, either. Things have, uh, changed.
Oh, and something like 12 key bullpen arms who emerged in 2021 weren’t even glints in Dave Roberts’ eye yet.
This is to say, plenty can change between the beginning and end of a season, but these three pre-Opening Day battles are worth keeping an eye on (before LA has to go to Plan B by mid-April, of course).
3 Dodgers position battles to end Spring Training
3. Kevin Pillar vs the Field for Outfield Depth
Entering 2021, the Dodgers believed they were fully stocked in the outfield with plenty of emergent prospects who’d be able to cover for any upcoming AJ Pollock injury.
Expectations were sky high for both Zach McKinstry and DJ Peters, with Edwin Rios lurking in both the infield and outfield mix as a “veteran” option while Chris Taylor served as glue. Behind them, still, were supposed “Quad-A” options like Luke Raley and Matt Beaty, who logged games at first, left and right.
By the end of the first half, though, LA was scrambling, adding Yoshi Tsutsugo to the mix in a desperate attempt to cover outfield innings. McKinstry hit well early on before being felled by a hamstring injury that sent him reeling. Bellinger was spiked in the ankle in Oakland and bizarrely never recovered. None of the Triple-A veterans hit whatsoever, leaving LA desperately hoping for a return to form for Belli and Pollock and making a mental note to add a more reliable veteran presence in 2022.
Enter Kevin Pillar, signed this past week on a no-risk deal as a gritty, capable outfield replacement at all four positions. Though it’s just a minor-league pact, we’d guess something very extreme would have to happen for him to not make the big-league roster, especially considering it’s been extended by two to start the campaign.
Keep an eye on the battle, though, made all the more difficult by Beaty’s DFA to make room for Hanser Alberto this week, as well as Peters and Raley being shipped out. Is McKinstry ready for another shot? Is another established big-leaguer en route? This isn’t done yet (but Pillar’s a near lock).