Dodger spring do it yourself project: building a bench

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

One of this year's spring projects was to rebuild their bench. With a few days left before leaving on their Australia trip, here's a look at this year's likely members of the bench

While the focus at Camelback has been replacing Mark Ellis as starting second baseman, an additional task had to be addressed in coming up with players to be ready to play especially in the infield if the starters got hurt.

This was a known issue ever since last fall as members of the Dodgers 2013 bench began to leave the Dodgers: Nick Punto signed with Oakland, Skip Schumaker went to the Reds, plus Jerry Hairston and Michael Young retired.

Eric wrote this on Thursday about the Dodgers trying to fill their second base spot and he also broke down the players who were most likely to be in the mix for the bench.

Don Mattingly spoke about how a bench develops its identity, "They build their own little 'Band of Brothers.'  I remember from Aaron Miles to Jamey Carroll had their midget militia and then Punto and his crew, the bench kind of takes on its own little life."  Mattingly added that a good mindset is key, "I think it is important for guys to know their role, accept that role."

Dee Gordon has been preparing to play a utility role since the end of the 2013 season and this spring has continued that process. Though he has played primarily second base, he has played some outfield just to keep in practice. Gordon was fine with this new role as he told the LA Times in December 2013, "if that's what I have to do, this is a great team."

Scott Van Slyke is one of the few players left from a 2013 Dodger bench role. Van Slyke sees spring training games as chances to work on things that will come up once the season starts,

"When you come into the game in the 6th and 7th inning, I treat it as a double switch during the [regular season] or a pinch hit," Van Slyke said. "Be aggressive, get on base."

A carryover from last season, Van Slyke plans to take what he observed and put it into practice.

"I got to see Michael Young, Skip Schumaker, and Nick [Punto], just kind of watched what they do, they had a really really good routine," Van Slyke explained. "I'll just do the same this year."

Non-roster invitee Chone Figgins believes his playoff experience and versatility (Figgins has played second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions this spring) can be a plus for the Dodgers, "being that I have been in the playoffs a lot, played a lot of baseball, these guys got a taste of it last year, to have somebody who has been at the next step, calm them down a little bit."

Figgins added that he "could bring some good things, be a good teammate, I play hard and I work hard."

Another non-roster invitation player, Justin Turner has used his this camp to find some details about his potential teammates "getting to know guys, getting to know personalities, find out how guys carry themselves, find out how much you can joke with some guys, find how much you can't."

Turner has played all over the infield this spring (even starting at first) but if the time comes where he is playing for the Dodgers, he doesn't think he will have an issue being on the field with the regular players.

Turner said "it doesn't take long, you take a few ground balls and you get to know guys, what they like to do, where they like the ball, how they take the feeds, how they feed to you."

Turner had just finished a stint on the New York Mets bench and knows what to do to be a successful reserve. Turner said "I guess I am experienced doing it, learning how to be ready."

One important element of his preparation is learning his manager's style.

"You kind of have to feel him out, get to know how he likes to manage games, makes moves," said Turner. "The most important thing to not do is to never [get] caught off guard, [prepare] yourself to go in the game whether it is to grab a bat or get your legs loose to run because we're going to double switch here."

Tim Federowicz has one backup catcher year behind him and that role is unique for bench players because you generally are not called to play early in the game. Federowicz said "a lot of times I'll go watch the game on TV because you can see a lot more, what pitches are being thrown, what the location is, where [Ellis] is setting up, how [the other team] is reacting to pitches."

As the game goes on, Federowicz will begin his prep, "I go in and get loose, I usually go down to the bullpen once the relievers start to throw, just in case, it happens and I have to go in game, I actually have caught some pitches and I got loose."

Federowicz doesn't worry about his arm not being loose, "we throw during BP so its gets loose there, so maybe 10 pitches and [my arm's] loose"

Mike Baxter is someone to watch as he will probably be on the team in the early going due to Matt Kemp still rehabbing. Former New York Met, Baxter has been a reserve, so he too knows what the most important thing he has to do to prepare, "you go in and you develop a routine which is something that I have done a good job with for the last 3 years, play that role, I thrive on that role, and I try to help the team."

Baxter will follow the game and then he'll go get ready to hit, "as the game progresses, I try to get myself going, go back to cage, get some swings, for a potential at bat later game."

Baxter summed up what this bench will need to do right away once it gets set, develop an identity, Baxter said "when you have guys that buy into contributing off the bench and understand that's their role and take advantage in those starts when they are given to them, I think that is the right way to go about it."

Baxter also said, "obviously we all want to play, it is not that we are just content with being on the bench but when you take pride in your role and understand that you can have a hand usually in a important part of the game, you take pride in that, I think that is going to help and help define the group of guys trying to do that."

Finally Baxter will do this subtly but he does think there is more than just playing well that anyone on the bench needs to provide for their team, Baxter said what he and others on Dodger bench need to do starting with how they present themselves each day, it is "more of a daily attitude. your job is to provide good at bats also to be a positive person"

Baxter concluded "because moping around isn't going to do anyone any good especially if you are one of the last guys on the bench. You come in, provide energy, be a source for the guys, a positive source and play your game."

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