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Spring Training Battle: Backup Shortstop

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The position of backup shortstop last year was an illustration of the Dodgers' preference to have veterans on the bench rather than youngsters.  Blake DeWitt made the opening day roster with the idea that infielders Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake would get regular rest, with DeWitt filling in for all of them.  DeWitt even got a start at shortstop, in the fourth game of the season, but after just seven plate appearances in the opening week it was decided he would be better served with regular playing time in Triple A.  Juan Castro, who was a non-roster invitee to spring training, was recalled from Albuquerque, and remained with the big club for the rest of the season.

This season, the Dodgers face a similar decision.  Is the 24-year old DeWitt, a natural third baseman, able to occasionally spell starter Rafael Furcal at shortstop? If DeWitt doesn't win the starting second base job, would he get enough at-bats by backing up short and third as well as second? Could he also be a lefty pinch hitter?  Perhaps, but I still think the Dodgers would rather have DeWitt play close to everyday, whether it be in Los Angeles or Albuquerque.

Angel Berroa was here in 2008, providing comic relief in addition to playing shortstop.  Acquired midseason after Rafael Furcal went on the disabled list, Berroa started 64 games and had twice as many innings at the position as anyone else on the team.  In limited time with both New York teams last season, Berroa put up an OPS+ of 6 and a wRC+ of -1.  Of the 444 players who have amassed 500 plate appearances over the last four seasons, Berroa ranks 441st with a 51 OPS+.  But, fear not, Castro is below Berroa, with a 50 OPS+!

Nick Green is likely to be better than Berroa with the bat and with the glove.  UZR has him as an above average defender at shortstop (+12.1 UZR/150 career), as does Baseball Prospectus (five fielding runs above average career), but Dewan's plus/minus system rates Green as average in the field.  However, Green is recovering from offseason back surgery, so that might hamper his chances.

Chin-Lung Hu is considered a defensive wizard at short, but is he good enough offensively?  He's already 26 years old, so I don't know how much development there is left to do.  Still, there is concern about his bat after putting up OPSs of .708 and .725 in the hitters havens of Las Vegas and Albuquerque, respectively.  Hu did start 2008 as the backup shortstop, and took over for Furcal went he went down in early May, starting 24 of 31 games.  However, he was sent down in June after he plummeted to a line of .159/.224/.206.  Fair or not, I have to think that poor performance is still in the mind of Joe Torre and Ned Colletti, so Hu would have to really go above and beyond to overcome that impression.  But, when the offensive standard is Castro, Berroa, or Green, I'm tempted to stick with Hu as the backup here.

Alfredo Amezaga is the most versatile of the bunch, even though he is similarly as offensively challenged as the other candidates.  He has been above average defensively at his two primary positions, centerfield (+11.5 UZR/150) and shortstop (+19.5 UZR/150), in his career.  However, he is coming off micro-fracture surgery in his left knee and his return date is up in the air.

Backup Shortstops: Tale of the Tape
  2010 Projections Career at SS
Player Age CHONE ZiPS UZR/150 Innings
Alfredo Amezaga     
32 .253/.315/.347 .264/.319/.353 +11.5 741.2
Angel Berroa 32 .240/.295/.354 .250/.298/.360 -5.2 5964.2
Blake DeWitt 24 .254/.327/.398 .250/.329/.397 -61.1 8.0
Nick Green 32 .234/.295/.381 .241/.294/.377 +12.1 752.1
Chin-Lung Hu 26 .258/.305/.366 .257/.295/.353 +1.3 312.0

The Dodgers' 40-man roster is currently full, meaning adding Amezaga, Berroa, or Green would require a corresponding roster move.  However, my feeling is that Amezaga has the advantage to securing the spot on the bench if he's healthy, but otherwise Green or Berroa will be chosen over Hu if given the choice.