PHOENIX — There are only eight days of exhibition games remaining and camp breaks in Arizona on Saturday, so let’s take a look at the projected opening day roster.
For the most part this has been a relatively uneventful camp, and most of the decisions were made long ago. The starting rotation for now remains intact, there are at least 11 locks among position players, so we are basically down to probably one outfield decision and a small handful of relief pitcher choices.
There are 38 players remaining in Dodgers big league camp at Camelback Ranch, but it’s effectively 36 with Julio Urias on the 60-day disabled list and Tom Koehler out with a strained capsule in his right shoulder.
“He’s out of a sling and I’m resistant to say a timetable for his return,” manager Dave Roberts said on Saturday of Koehler, who still hasn’t picked up a baseball since suffering the injury.
There are 11 more cuts that need to happen to get to the opening day 25-man roster.
While the starting rotation is set and in order, the bullpen is anything but beyond Kenley Jansen and a small handful of others.
“It’s a little more fuzzy. It’s a good thing as far as opportunities. We’ve got time to continue to evaluate, whether we carry seven or eight [relievers],” Roberts said. “There are opportunities for some guys to step up.”
The Dodgers have slow-played Jansen this spring, not wanting to tax him during exhibition games especially when short-stint relievers don’t need the full six weeks of camp to prepare for the regular season. There is also the idea of planning to pitch well into October, and to plan for that.
Tony Cingrani and Josh Fields have been on that deliberately slow program as well, which make them both roster locks for me.
“The most important thing this season was to go a little bit slower, and just ease into it. It’s going to be a long season. We’re going to be throwing a lot again this year,” Fields said. “They’ve done a great job of saving bullets for the guys who will pitch so long.”
Ross Stripling is part of the starting pitching depth but also led the team with 69⅓ relief innings a year ago. His versatility likely earns him a spot on the team as well.
Dylan Baker is still in camp but was slowed by lat tightness for a few weeks. He throws hard but has a checkered injury history and is more of a project, not really under consideration for an opening day roster spot.
That leaves seven pitchers fighting for three or four bullpen spots — Scott Alexander, Pedro Baez, J.T. Chargois, Wilmer Font, Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore and Pat Venditte.
The Dodgers will likely carry at least two lefties so that bodes well for at least one of Alexander or Liberatore. Both have struggled a bit this spring. Alexander is a one-pitch pitcher — who was very effective with that one pitch last year — but walks a lot. Liberatore is back after an elbow strain cost him the bulk of 2017 and has allowed three home runs in Cactus League play.
The wild card here is Venditte, who was a long shot as a non-roster invitee but has impressed in camp. He offers a unique option of pitching with both hands.
From the right side Baez is the incumbent and Garcia is back after essentially two missed seasons. Chargois was a waiver claim from the Twins in late February and has impressed with his fastball/slider combo.
“[Chargois’s] got a good way about him. There’s a big-time compete in there,” Roberts said. “Obviously the arm is live. It’s a really plus slider. We’re still getting to know each other but I like his mound presence.”
Font’s best role is as a starter — he led the PCL in strikeouts and was the league’s pitcher of the year in 2017 — but there is no room in the Dodgers’ rotation and he is out of options.
We know the Dodgers will carry 13 pitchers quite a bit this season. They have done this more than half the time over the last two seasons. But Roberts mentioning the club might carry only seven relievers instead of eight to open the year opens things up a bit on the position player side.
Eleven slots are locked in barring injury and I think both catcher Rocky Gale and infielder Donovan Solano are both on the outside looking in. That leaves six players for one or two spots — Kyle Farmer, Jake Peter, Andrew Toles, Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson and Alex Verdugo.
I still maintain that Toles has the advantage here, so he’s in for me.
Thompson is out of options but I’m not sure he’s shown enough to secure a roster spot. The Dodgers could try to trade him or they could try to sneak him through waivers and keep Thompson as depth in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Peter provides a left-handed bat who can play all over the infield. He will reach the majors this season, but I think for now he’s more Chase Utley insurance and will start the season in the minors.
If the Dodgers do choose to carry only 12 pitchers, that opens up an opportunity for either an extra outfielder in Pederson or Verdugo, or a third catcher in Farmer, who has impressed with the bat and would open up Yasmani Grandal or Austin Barnes to be deployed more often off the bench when they aren’t starting.
Pederson in addition to working on his swing is also trying to bounce back from a down year defensively. Verdugo seems like a long shot given the alternatives but has also impressed in camp.
“I try not to think about it like that. At the end of the day we are competing with each other but we’re also on the same team,” Verdugo said. “I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in the position to be the starting left fielder or a starting outfielder. From there it’s out of my control what happens.”
Ultimately I think the Dodgers go with 12 pitchers out of the gate, and Farmer gets the extra bench spot. Here is my guess at the opening day roster.
Opening day roster guess
This is different than what I thought a week ago, and could certainly change over the next few days. But for now, it’ll have to do.