LOS ANGELES — Familiar faces and optimism abounded at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, with the vast majority of Dodgers showing up to meet and greet 28,697 fans at Fan Fest, the highest attendance in the six-year history of the event.
Logan Forsythe was the key newcomer at the event, five days after he was acquired from the Rays to fill the Dodgers need at second base. He said he learned of the trade while closing on the purchase of a 64-acre farm.
Forsythe will likely bat leadoff for the Dodgers, something he said he was used to after batting first for all 125 of his starts for Tampa Bay in 2016.
Yasmani Grandal was excited to reunite with Forsythe, his teammate in San Diego in 2012-2013 and was also happy after a healthy offseason, not having to rehab like last year’s post-surgery winter.
Grandal switched to a healthier, vegetarian diet this offseason, and said he is now 10 pounds lighter than where he normally is heading into spring training.
"We changed the diet around, and I just started dropping weight,” Grandal said. “I feel great, and I feel strong.”
Grandal admitted he was worried about the weight drop since he normally shows up heavier knowing he will drop weight during the long spring training. But that was mitigated since he still felt strong and was able to complete his workouts.
He estimated that even with the plant-based diet he was eating 4,000 calories a day but burning twice that much, and said that he would likely add meat back into his diet during spring training, for more protein.
The three key free agent returnees — Rich Hill, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen — were all at Fan Fest, as were new trade acquisitions Vidal Nuno and Darin Ruf. For the most part, the Dodgers are pretty much a fully-formed team, outside of maybe one bullpen arm.
"I don't think you're ever truly done building a bullpen,” said team president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. “We're at the tricky part of roster construction. We really like the guys that we have.”
Corey Seager was announced as the cover man for RBI Baseball 2017 at the event.
Joc Pederson said he will not play for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
Kiké Hernandez, however, will play, for Puerto Rico:
Enrique Hernandez said he will play for Puerto Rico in World Baseball Classic. #Dodgers— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) January 29, 2017
Kenta Maeda is also out of the WBC, saying on Saturday his focus was to get ready for the season. His goal in 2017 is to pitch 200 innings after throwing 175⅔ innings last year.
After throwing a combined 127⅔ innings between Triple-A, the majors and playoffs as a rookie, it is uncertain how many innings Julio Urias will throw in 2017. But it is likely that his innings will be curtailed at some point, whether that’s during the middle of the year or staying back in extended spring training.
Urias through a translator on Saturday probably answered some version of that question five times, repeating roughly that whatever decision is made would be for the team and one he supports, and that his role would be to get ready to pitch whenever he is asked.
Friedman said Alex Wood will enter spring training as a starting pitcher rather than a reliever. Wood, who battled back from elbow surgery in-season to pitch in the bullpen in September and October, said he is fully healthy and has already thrown off a mound twice.
Hyun-jin Ryu wasn’t in attendance but Friedman was “cautiously optimistic” after Ryu said he felt pain free after throwing four bullpen sessions in an offseason workout camp in Japan. “He could be a real boon to us,” Friedman said.
Cuban infielder Jose Miguel Fernandez, signed by the Dodgers to a minor league deal two weeks ago, is still waiting on a visa before he can enter the U.S. and join the Dodgers — "It's a heightened issue this winter,” Friedman said.
The plan is for Fernandez to play multiple positions. "Obviously it's been a long time since he has played,” Friedman said. “Our vision has him playing some second base, some third base.”
I missed the interview with Yasiel Puig, but here is a summary:
Yasiel Puig lifted his shirt to show #Dodgers FanFest crowd he has lost weight, is in better shape this year. I swear I've typed this before— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) January 28, 2017
Asked Puig what he learned from last year's experience of being demoted to AAA. Said he knows it was "my fault" he was demoted— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) January 28, 2017
#Dodgers Yasiel Puig on being humbled by demotion to minors: "That was not a good experience". BTW - answered questions in English.— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) January 28, 2017
New uniform numbers for several Dodgers — Forsythe is 11, Ruf is 28, Nuño is 58, Kyle Farmer is 65, Jacob Rhame is 67 and Chase De Jong is 70.
Media were mostly in the right field bullpen, sort of the staging area behind the main stage, with players coming around either before or after appearing on stage or going to and from a meet & greet or autograph session. Charley Steiner was walking through and a fan shouted down, “Who’s going to replace Vin?”
“Nobody,” Steiner said with a smile.
“Good answer,” the fan said.
My favorite moment of the day — aside from maybe Rob Segedin carrying his baby around nearly everywhere — was that Grandal said he watched no television during the offseason. “Not even network shows?” I asked him, likely after I probably fainted from shock.
One of the main reasons for Grandal to avoid television was to maintain focus this offseason, and to spend more time with his family, without distraction. He was also able to avoid MLB prognosticators.
"I don't like to see what other people say about our team. I know what our team has. I know what we have in the minor leagues and what can help us,” Grandal said. “It's just a matter of taking that extra step. We have the talent.”