Dodgers spring training: Three questions heading into camp
FEB 07, 2014 3:04a ET
Talk about getting a jump on the competition.
Most spring training camps don't open for several more days, but the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will get a head start, a result of playing their season-opening series March 22 at Sydney, Australia.
For the Dodgers, pitcher and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz., on Saturday and hold their first workout Sunday. Position players join them next Friday.
Most of their offseason issues have been addressed -- paramount were the contracts for pitcher Clayton Kershaw and manager Don Mattingly -- but it doesn't mean there aren't significant concerns for a team that came within two games of reaching the World Series last season.
Here are three questions the Dodgers will have to answer at some point this spring:
1. Who will be their fifth starting pitcher?
The Dodgers have arguably the best top-end rotation in baseball, with Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu forming a dependable 1-2-3 combination. Dan Haren, a free-agent signing, is a reliable No. 4 who's capable of piling up innings and avoiding injuries.
After that? The Dodgers lost out in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes and are still undecided about free-agent Bronson Arroyo, making rehabbing right-hander Josh Beckett their current best option. Beckett made just eight starts last season before shutting down as a result of a nerve problem that caused numbness in his right arm. He's been throwing all winter, but it's unknown how close he is to being full ready to pitch.
Two other candidates, Chad Billingsley and Stephen Fife, are still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and won't be ready to return before this summer, if then. One other potential candidate to watch: Matt Magill, who made six starts last season but had difficulties with his control
2. Is Alexander Guerrero the answer at second base?
The Dodgers sure hope so. Possible fallback Michael Young opted to retire, so for the moment, they're all in with Guerrero. The problem is that the Cuban-born player, who is 26, is a natural shortstop trying to make the transition to the other side of the bag.
The initial plan was to send Guerrero to the Dominican Republic winter league, but two hamstring injuries limited his playing time severely. He's been working out in Arizona, but he needs game activity, and without it, he might not be ready to jump into the big leagues without first starting in the minors.
If that happens, there aren't many options. The Dodgers this week signed Justin Turner, 29, to a minor-league contract and gave him an invitation to camp. He hit .280 in 86 games as a backup for the Mets last season and is a local kid -- born in Long Beach, played at Cal State Fullerton.
After that, there's a steep drop. Dee Gordon is trying to make the switch from shortstop to center fielder/second baseman, and former Angel Chone Figgins, 36, has an invite after not playing last season. Neither is worth getting excited about.
3. Will Matt Kemp return to form after two injury-plagued seasons?
Fingers are crossed.
The good news: Kemp is walking without a limp. The bad news: He hasn't started running yet.
Perhaps no player in camp will be more closely watched. Kemp hasn't played a full season since 2011, but the Dodgers realize their fate may lie in his recovery from an offseason microfracture surgery on his left ankle, which threatened to derail his career. His left shoulder, which also went under the knife for a cleanup procedure, appears fine, and he's been hitting in the batting cage for some time.
No one is going to rush Kemp to be ready for the Australia series -- or even the Dodgers' first game in U.S. on March 30 against the Padres. Patience will be the key because the Dodgers already have a full outfield of Carl Crawford Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig. And the notion of easing the congestion with a trade won't be considered until and unless Kemp proves he can play every day.
But his recent history is not good. Right now, a fully healthy Kemp is something Dodgers can hope for but not guarantee.