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Dodgers position players battling for final few roster spots

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Let’s talk opening day roster for a moment

Los Angeles Dodgers v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

There’s no question we tend to put too much emphasis on the opening day roster and lineup, when in fact it is just one of 162 games on the schedule. The roster changes all year, and the Dodgers used 55 different lineups in 60 games last season, for instance.

But since Thursday marks the first time this spring that the Dodgers are using what could easily be construed as the opening day, or at least regular lineup, and since the April 1 opener at Coors Field is now only two weeks away. Let’s talk about it a little bit.

The final piece of the lineup puzzle this spring was Cody Bellinger, who was held out of games until Tuesday of this week, after offseason shoulder surgery. The plan is for Bellinger to play six innings in center field on Thursday against Arizona, and get three at-bats at the plate, just as he did two days ago.

Here is the Dodgers’ Thursday lineup:

Mookie Betts RF
Corey Seager SS
Justin Turner 3B
Max Muncy 1B
Will Smith C
Cody Bellinger CF
A.J. Pollock LF
Gavin Lux 2B
David Price P

One could quibble that Chris Taylor could be starting the Dodgers’ first game, either in left field or at second base, but given that Dave Roberts said that Lux will get a “runway” at second base and Matt Beaty was in left field in Bellinger’s first game on Tuesday, this feels more likely to be what we might see on April 1.

Taylor will get his starts throughout the season, likely at several different positions, even if he isn’t starting on opening day.

“I feel like my role has always been to play all over the field,” Taylor said a few weeks back. “I think that’s part of my value.”

If Taylor isn’t starting, who joins him on the bench? One of Austin Barnes or Will Smith, whoever isn’t catching that day, will likely be there, except for maybe some games in American League parks if Smith is the designated hitter that day. The Dodgers’ second series of the season is in Oakland, so perhaps that could happen at least in the game that opening day starter Clayton Kershaw faces the A’s.

The question is just how many position players and pitchers the Dodgers will carry. A new rule that was introduced in 2020 was a limit of 13 pitchers at any one time on the 26-man roster, but that was relaxed last year, and will be again this year given the health and safety protocols agreed to by MLB players and owners.

“An easy way to look at it is 13 [pitchers], but that’s not a hard number,” manager Dave Roberts said on Tuesday, while noting there are a few roster decisions still to make.

With the starting eight above, plus Taylor and Barnes, that’s 10 players. If the Dodgers carry 13 pitchers, that leaves 13 position players. There are only five other position players on the 40-man roster still in camp, who are either fighting for two or three spots.

Edwin Ríos seems like the safest bet of the bunch, and has the most power of anyone on the bench, if not the team. He can fill in at third base and first base.

Zach McKinstry is the jack of all trades who fits nicely into the void left by free agent Kiké Hernández. McKinstry has started multiple games at second base, shortstop, center field, and right field this spring, all while going 8-for-23 (.348) with a home run.

“He’s certainly making his case as the versatility piece. I think we’re learning more,” Roberts said. “But we have a lot of good players. We still have some time to make that final decision.”

One of those good players is Beaty, who saw regular playing time in long stretches of 2019, hitting .265/.317/.458, a 102 wRC+ with 19 doubles and nine home runs. Beaty was also second on the team that year in pinch-hitting appearances, a role that was greatly diminished in 2020 with use of the designated hitter. This spring, Beaty has played more right field and left field than he has at first base, after an offseason of working with Dodgers strength coaches.

“We worked hard this offseason, not necessarily trying to add strength, just trying to add explosive movements and being able to get good reads in the outfield and get that good first step,” Beaty explained. “Get out of the box quicker, get down the line and hit doubles and all that stuff, just trying to be a little faster than I have in the past.”

Sheldon Neuse is the new guy, acquired in February from the A’s, maybe the next person up if the Dodgers want a right-handed batter, since Ríos, McKinstry, and Beaty all hit left-handed. Neuse has played third and second base this spring, and could play first base, too. With the specific positional versatility and coming from Oakland, the Max Muncy vibes are strong here, but given the presence of Ríos and Taylor, Neuse might need to start in the minors to fully recreate the Muncy experience.

DJ Peters is the last extra regular outfielder standing in camp, after Zach Reks and Luke Raley were both optioned this week. That Peters can play center field is a plus, as is his increased plate discipline, tying for the team lead this spring with five walks. But Peters also leads in strikeouts this spring, including nine in his last 13 plate appearances.

The six position player non-roster invitees remaining in camp — Matt Davidson, Elliot Soto, Andy Burns, and Rangel Ravelo, plus catchers Tim Federowicz and Stevie Berman — are useful to fill innings during the remaining spring games, but are far enough down the depth chart that it would be hard to see them added to the roster any time soon.

Game info

Teams: Dodgers at D-backs

Location: Salt River Fields

Time: 1:05 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA