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Spring Training Jobs Up For Grabs: Orlando Hudson Take II Edition

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With the signing of Orlando Hudson, I thought it would be prudent to revisit our look at what jobs are at stake this spring...

For the most part, barring injury, the Dodgers have a pretty set roster heading into spring training.  Since pitchers and catchers report Saturday spring games start Wednesday, let's take a look at the probable 25-man roster, and the spring training battles that will round out the edges of the roster.

The Locks

Catchers (2)
Russell Martin, Brad Ausmus

Infielders (5)
James Loney, Orlando Hudson, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Mark Loretta

Outfielders (5)
Manny Ramirez*, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Juan Pierre, Delwyn Young

Starting Pitchers (4)
Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf

Relief Pitchers (4)
Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Cory Wade, Guillermo Mota

*Assuming Manny eventually signs of course

That's 20 of 25 spots that can safely be written in pen.  Here's how the other five spots will be filled:

Utility Infielder

1) Tony Abreu
As a 22-year old in 2007, Abreu put up a .309 OBP, 19 points higher than Castro's career high.  However, Abreu's first move might have to be simply introducing himself to Ned Colletti, Joe Torre and the rest of the coaching staff.  Abreu hasn't been healthy in a year and a half, so it's quite likely that he has been forgotten.  Last week, Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise reported this when Colletti brought up the club's infield situation:

Colletti also would be interested in another infielder "if the right player came along," and he mentioned the Dodgers already have Mark Loretta, Chin-lung Hu, Ivan DeJesus Jr., Hector Luna and Juan Castro.

Notice anyone missing there?  Abreu might be the best of the middle infield bunch, but he's only an afterthought right now in the organization's eyes.  He's got a lot of work to do.

Since spring practice has started, Abreu has indeed started to make his mark.  Again, per Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise:

The Tony Abreu lovefest continues. "To me, Abreu is really a perfect fit for a utility guy. But we have to be comfortable that he's going to be there for you. He's got high marks right now. He seems to be a different guy, too."

It seems right now like the utlity infielder spot is Abreu's to lose.

2) Juan Castro
On the plus side, the soon-to-be 37-year old Castro can still pick it.  Or at least he has the reputation for being able to field.  Castro seems to be slipping a bit:

Fielding at Shortstop
Year Innings Plus/Minus UZR FRAA
2005 568.2 --- 7.9 15
2006 548.2 +5 2.3 2
2007 89.1 +1 -0.3 -1
2008 408.2 -4 -4.2 -1

However, even if he lives up to his defensive reputation, Castro simply cannot hit.  In the last five years, of all the players with at least 1,000 plate appearances (there are 357 of them in all), only John McDonald has produced worse than the anemic 59 OPS+ by Castro.  Castro has had a plate appearance in 14 different seasons.  Outside of the .400 OBP he pulled off in his 5-PA first season (1995), Castro has never had an OBP higher than .290.

Castro is on a minor-league deal, and will earn $700,000 if he makes the big club.  If he's not on the 40-man roster by June 30, he can ask for his release.  Sadly, he might be the favorite for the position.  A few weeks ago, I thought Castro had the inside track for this spot, but today I feel Abreu will have every chance to win the spot.

3) Chin-Lung Hu
Hu made the opening day roster as the utility man last season, and even started 23 of 30 games at SS once Rafael Furcal went down with injuries in May.  However, Hu only hit .132/.175/.197 during that span, and looked completely lost at the plate.  Hu later claimed to have  vision problems, which caused him problems all year.  It was quite a fall for the Dodgers' 3rd-best prospect per Baseball America in 2008.  Last year's Prospect Handbook gives us the best reason for Hu to win the utility spot:

His well-above average defensive package -- with the arm strength, footwork, and hands of a Gold Glover -- always will be his best asset.

Hu is a defensive wizard, but he might be better served by playing everyday in AAA.  Kensai of Fire Ned Colletti Now has a very informative profile of Hu here.

4) Blake DeWitt
Up until a few days ago, the second base job appeared to belong to DeWitt, with perhaps a healthy dose of Mark Loretta against LHP.  While DeWitt would make a fine utility man at either 2B or 3B, his presence is on the roster is redundant with Mark Loretta.  If DeWitt could play SS, he might have a better shot at making the club.  It's important to remember DeWitt is still only 23 years old, and playing everyday at AAA for one year wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

5) Ivan DeJesus, Jr.
DeJesus is another defensive wizard at SS, with very good plate discipline (through age 21, he has a .385 OBP in four minor league seasons, despite only limited power -- .369 SLG).  Some of those doubles (he hit 43 in the last two years) could turn into homers as DeJesus matures.  He was invited to big league camp, but like Hu would be better served playing everyday in the minors.

6) Hector Luna, Luis Maza, et al
They are part of the "If Wilson Valdez made it, why can't I?" club.

5th Starter

1) Jason Schmidt
If he's healthy at all, Schmidt will claim this spot.  Then again, if he's healthy the devil will probably lace up his ice skates.  Schmidt, with one win as a Dodger and one season left on his contract, needs seven wins in 2009 to pass Darren Dreifort on the dollars per win scale:

Pitcher Contract Salary Wins $$$ per Win
Darren Dreifort 2001-2005 $55 million 9 $6.1 million
Jason Schmidt     2007-2009    $27.5 million*   1* $27.5 million

*Schmidt's total contract is $47 million, so 8 total wins will push Schmidt to $5.875 million per win

2) Claudio Vargas
Vargas has battled injuries his entire career, never pitching more than 167.2 innings in a season.  Right elbow pain limited Vargas to 37 innings last season with the Mets.  Like Schmidt, if healthy Vargas will have a spot on the pitching staff, whether it be as the 5th starter or long relief man.  The Dodgers are hoping for a Chan Ho Park redux here.  Vargas is set to make the major league minimum of $400,000, but can earn $1.4 million in incentives based on games started and days on the active roster.

3) Ramon Troncoso
While Cory Wade got the bulk of the attention in the "rookie in the bullpen" department (much of it deserved), Troncoso was a pleasant surprise last season, riding his power sinker to strike out a batter per inning, and post a 3.00 FIP.  The Dodgers made the decision to convert Troncoso to a starter, and could end up reaping the benefits of it very soon.  David Cameron of Fangraphs called Troncoso the next big thing:

No matter where he ends up, Troncoso has shown all the skills necessary to be a terrific major league pitcher. Just on the strength of his sinker, he’s going to be a nightmare for right-handed hitters, and his slider and curve have made enough progress that he’s a legitimate option as a potential relief ace or a starting pitcher. For whatever reason, the world hasn’t jumped on the Ramon Troncoso bandwagon yet, but I’d imagine that will change twelve months from now.

Whether he makes the rotation right out of spring training or a few months down the road, Troncoso could make significant impact on the staff.  I would imagine if he doesn't win the 5th starter job out of spring training, Troncoso will end up starting every 5th day for either Albuquerque or Chattanooga.

4) Eric Stults
Stults had a couple things going for him:

1) In 14 starts over the last 3 years, Stults has put up a 4.08 ERA in just over 5.3 IP per start, while averaging 3.24 BB/9 and 6.84 K/9.

2) In 20 minor league starts for Las Vegas in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League last year, Stults put up a 3.82 ERA and averaged 7.8 K/9

However, Joe Torre hasn't taken a liking to Stults, banishing him for two months after only one bad start in Coors Field, despite a relatively strong showing in his five previous starts.  Stults seems destined to be the insurance starter at AAA, but the Dodgers could do worse for a 5th starter.

If I had to guess, I say Stults will make at least 10 starts for the Dodgers this year, especially since the injury-prone Schmidt and Vargas are ahead of him on the depth chart.

5) Shawn Estes
Signed to a minor league deal, Estes seems like a long shot to make the club.  Say what you will about this pitching staff, but the Dodgers have cornered the market on pitchers who put up a 4.74 ERA for the Padres in 2008:

Pitcher IP ER ERA
Randy Wolf 119.2 63 4.74
Shawn Estes    43.2 23 4.74

6) Eric Milton
Signed to a minor league deal, the lefty Milton hasn't pitched in a game since May 8, 2007.  He has been recovering from Tommy John surgery in the last year and a half.  Since Milton came into the majors in 1998, only Scott Elarton and Jose Lima have given up more HR/9 than Eric Milton.

The Bullpen (3 Spots)

If both Schmidt and Vargas are healthy, I suspect one of them will end up in the bullpen, with Vargas the most likely in the pen.  Stults and Estes also have a shot to be the long man as well.  Here's a look at the rest:

1) A free agent, yet unsigned
Per Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise, Colletti is still looking to sign another veteran in the pen:

"Doesn't make any difference if it's left-handed or right-handed. It'll give us a little more of a foundation and a deeper club."

Past reports have linked the Dodgers to lefties Dennys Reyes , Will Ohman, or Luis Ayala, or maybe even the return of Joe Beimel.

2) James McDonald
A starter for most of his minor league career, the Dodgers seem to like him more out of the bullpen, based on his increased velocity last fall in all of 11.1 innings.  Baseball America rated McDonald as having the best changeup and best control in the Dodgers' farm system.  I tend to think McDonald would be better served as a starter, but if he can contribute out of the bullpen to start the season I'm OK with that.

3) Scott Elbert
Another one-time starter, Elbert was more or less forced to the bullpen due to a myriad of injuries as a minor leaguer.  Elbert has a plus fastball and curveball, and Baseball America said last year:

He profiles as a No. 2 or 3 starter, and he could wind up as a top-flight closer if moved to the bullpen.

Given Kuo's injury history, Elbert has an excellent chance to make the roster as the second lefty in the bullpen, especially if Reyes, Ayala, or somebody else isn't signed.

4) Greg Miller
Miller is intriguing because he has all the talent in the world -- before his injuries he was one of the top prospects in the game.  Since he is out of options, the Dodgers would have to expose him to waivers in order to send him to the minors if he doesn't make the club in the spring.  Thanks to astute reader Silverwidow for pointing this out, but Miller actually has a rare 4th option year so he still has a year before the tipping point.  I think Miller will get every opportunity to add his live left arm to the Dodger pen, but it will be a longshot.

Kensai has another excellent breakdown of Miller here (you really should check out his site, Fire Ned Colletti Now, for more great information like this).

If Miller makes the club, that would be a great story, but he'll have to improve his control in order to sniff the majors.  Over the last four years, Miller has struck out 9.88 batters per nine innings, but the excitement is dampened by the fact that he has also walked 224 batters in his last 225 innings (8.96 per 9).

5) Yhency Brazoban, Tanyon Sturtze, Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton, et al
With all the young talent, it would appear the chances of these non-roster invitees are quite slim.  Vargas and Estes seem more likely to take the veteran roles than any of these guys.  However, we might need another bullpen catcher...

I am assuming a 12-man pitching staff coming out of the gate, due to the need for a 5th starter right away, but that of course could change. 

Well, enough talk.  It's time for the spring battles to begin.  We can all sit back and relax with today's secret ingredient.