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Dodgers spring training battles: Infield

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers
Scott Van Slyke and Kiké Hernandez are vying for spot(s) on the major league roster this spring.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — We have extensively gone over nearly every section of the Dodgers roster heading into spring training, breaking down all the outfielders, all the catchers, the starting staff and the bullpen. Now with position players reporting to Camelback Ranch, here is a look at perhaps the most stable of Dodgers position groupings, the infield.

On paper, the four starting Dodgers infielders will probably end up with the top four plate appearance totals on the team, or maybe four of the top five or so depending on if Yasiel Puig can regain his mojo in right field.

Stability is the plan, anyway, which is already getting threatened by the elbow inflammation suffered by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who has been shut down for two weeks before he can even swing a bat again. Still, this injury is considered mild at this point by the team and not considered to spill over into the season.

The starters

In addition to Gonzalez, who has averaged 157 games and 150 starts in his four full seasons with the Dodgers, and who has played in at least 156 games for 11 straight seasons, the regulars are all well-defined heading into the season.

That streak for Gonzalez will likely get snapped in 2017, by design.

"There's going to be times where I'm going to give him some days off to get other guys in there to keep him as fresh as possible,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Corey Seager is the Dodgers’ best position player, and a budding star. He led the Dodgers in games (157), starts (149) and plate appearances (687) as a rookie, and finished third in the MVP voting. Now about to turn 23, Seager outside of only occasional rest would have to get pried out of the lineup by a crowbar.

Justin Turner was fully healthy last season after microfracture surgery on his knee, and obliterated many of his career highs, including games, plate appearances, runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBI, and walks. Now he’s back on a four-year deal and the Dodgers are counting on him as an integral part of the heart of their lineup.

Newcomer Logan Forsythe thrived in a regular role in the last two years in Tampa Bay after four years as a utility man and/or battling injuries, and he’ll get the lion’s share of playing time at second base. He’ll even cover third most days when Turner needs a day off, which brings us to...

Everybody’s favorite

The Dodgers brought back Chase Utley on a one-year, $2 million deal. Even with a reduced role at age 38, the Dodgers value his leadership and clubhouse presence. He is universally loved in the organization.

In addition to his occasional starts at second base, Utley could see time at first base as well should Gonzalez miss time, but he won’t see time at the hot corner.

“To keep Chase where he is most comfortable makes the most sense,” Roberts said.

The short list

The Dodgers probably have room for another infielder on the bench, though more of the utility type with multiple positions is preferred. This helps Kiké Hernandez, who can also play all three outfield spots, but his making the team might have more to do with how his bat looks.

Having a backup shortstop is usually a manager’s favorite security blanket, even if the plan is for Seager to make 150-155 starts this season. This would favor Hernandez or Chris Taylor, with Taylor also able to play second and third base as well if needed.

The Dodgers could also in theory use Forsythe as the backup shortstop, though as the regular second baseman and backup third baseman that might be running him pretty thin. Roberts didn’t rule out the idea of Forsythe backing up shortstop.

"I'd like to get more eyes on him [this spring],” Roberts said. “I know he can play third base, and he's a plus defender at third. And we know he's at second base. To play short in a pinch makes sense. I've seen it.”

Charlie Culberson can also play shortstop, but that he is not on the 40-man roster at the moment adds one small impediment to his case.

Righty bat

Though Utley could see time at first base, ideally the Dodgers want a right-hander to fill in on days Gonzalez won’t start. That’s where Scott Van Slyke slots in, no longer hindered by the redundancy of Darin Ruf also on the roster. But Van Slyke needs to be healthy, something that has eluded him for the better part of the last two seasons.

Van Slyke’s ability to play outfield helps his case, as does his career .262/.366/.479 mark and 138 wRC+ against left-handed pitching.

Rob Segedin also qualifies here as a cornerman, available at all four spots — third base, first base, left field and right field.

Non-roster invitee O`Koyea Dickson in many ways is this year’s Segedin, the slugging minor league journeyman corner man who could potentially hit his way onto the roster at some point. But in terms of the opening day roster, his odds are long.

The prospects

Cody Bellinger has rocketed up the prospect lists, though his immediate path to the majors might be more in the outfield, barring an injury to Gonzalez. Still, Bellinger will get playing time this spring, as he did last year, and will definitely be one to watch.

Another one to keep an eye on is Willie Calhoun, who saw some time in spring games last year but this is his first year in big league camp. Getting these weeks of major league instruction should help him at second base, but it will be Calhoun’s bat that makes the highlights this spring.

Darnell Sweeney saw time in the majors in 2015 though he still retains his rookie status. He has played all over the diamond in his minor league career, so it will be interesting to see where the Dodgers play him. Sweeney last year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley made 54 starts at third base, 39 at second base and 14 in center field, plus one game at shortstop.

The new guy

Cuban signee Jose Miguel Fernandez is also in camp, though after mostly two years of inactivity it will be a while before he can be considered for the roster. No positions have been finalized for Fernandez, but second and third base seem the most likely for the soon-to-be 29-year-old.

"Right now it's just about getting him at-bats. He's missed a lot of playing time,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “We'll ease him into activity, get him at-bats, and see how his body responds.”

Conclusion

The Dodgers are pretty set in the infield, and it’s just a matter of which player(s) will join the big five on the major league roster.