Many familiar faces as training camp begins

The Dodgers began spring training in earnest on Feb. 21 when pitchers and catchers reported to the club’s spring training facility at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. The Dodgers open Cactus League play on March 5 against the Chicago White Sox.

The Dodgers head into camp with a roster not that different from the squad that finished 82-79 in 2011. National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and NL Most Valuable Player runner-up Matt Kemp are back to lead the team, with new contracts to boot. Kemp signed an eight-year, $160 million contract extension that will keep him in Los Angeles through 2019, while Kershaw avoided salary arbitration with a two-year, $19 million contract.

Kemp and Kershaw are two of 18 players signed to a major league contract for 2012, leading a relatively set Dodgers roster that has 23 of the 25 spots on the opening day roster already decided for all intents and purposes, barring injuries.

The main question for the Dodgers heading into spring training is whether Jerry Sands makes the team. The club wants the 24-year-old outfielder and first baseman to play every day, so Sands would have to beat out Juan Rivera for the starting left field job during spring training, which seems unlikely at least to start since Rivera was re-signed for a guaranteed $4.5 million during the offseason.

Sands hit .253 with four home runs and 25 walks in 61 games in two stints with the Dodgers in 2011, and has 64 home runs in 231 minor league games over the last two seasons. If Sands is able to reach his potential, he would provide the extra power bat that the Dodgers sorely need to compliment Kemp and Andre Ethier in the lineup.

New starting pitchers Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang were signed to backloaded, two-year free agent contracts during the winter, and will seek to replace the production of Hiroki Kuroda, who signed with the New York Yankees.

With five starters under contract, and Rubby De La Rosa on the shelf until July or August as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, there won’t be any competition for a rotation spot during the spring unless somebody gets hurt. Nathan Eovaldi and perhaps Allen Webster are waiting in the wings in the minor leagues should the club need an extra starter.

Six of the seven bullpen spots are all but sewed up, with Josh Lindblom and Blake Hawksworth fighting with non-roster invitees Jamey Wright, John Grabow, and others for the final relief role.

The Dodgers on opening day will likely be largely the same as the team on February 21, which isn’t all that different from the third-place squad from 2011. The Dodgers will hope 2012 brings more of the team that finished last year 25-10 (.714) rather than the one that began 57-69 (.452).

NOTES, QUOTES

   –3B/1B Russ Mitchell, who was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for RHP Todd Coffey, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Class AAA Albuquerque. Mitchell, 27, has hit .151 with four home runs in 40 games in parts of two seasons with the Dodgers. Mitchell was invited to big league camp in spring training as a non-roster invitee.
   –LHP Scott Elbert, RHP Ronald Belisario (currently on the restricted list), RHP Blake Hawksworth, RHP Ramon Troncoso, and C A.J. Ellis are the Dodgers who are out of minor league options heading into spring training. Ellis and Elbert figure to open the season on the opening day roster and Belisario must serve a 25-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy, but for Hawksworth and Troncoso spring training represents a battle to keep their spots on the roster.
   –RHP Zach Lee, the Dodgers’ first-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, was named the top prospect in the organization by MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. Lee, 20, was 9-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 24 starts with Class A Great Lakes in 2011.
   –Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, had a statue of him unveiled by the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame at their Paseo de los Inmortales in La Romana, Dominican Republic on Feb. 10.
   –The UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans baseball teams will play each other on March 13 at Dodger Stadium in the third annual Dodgertown Classic. The Bruins and Trojans will battle at 6:30 p.m. PDT, preceded by UC Irvine and Pepperdine battling at 2 p.m. PDT.

BY THE NUMBERS: 62 — The number of players who will open in big league camp at spring training with the Dodgers, including 21 non-roster invitees. There are 33 pitchers among those 62 players. Pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch on Feb. 21, while position players report on Feb. 27.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Gary Carter played for me with so much respect and enthusiasm for the game he loved. He was a Hall of Famer as a player and as a man. On behalf of the entire Dodger organization, we love him and will miss him.” — Dodgers special advisor to the chairman Tommy Lasorda, on the passing of former Dodger and Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter.

ROSTER REPORT
   PROJECTED ROTATION:
   1. LHP Clayton Kershaw
   2. RHP Chad Billingsley
   3. LHP Ted Lilly
   4. LHP Chris Capuano
   5. RHP Aaron Harang

It is hard not to like any rotation with a 24-year old reigning Cy Young Award winner at the top, and if healthy the starting five should prove to be effective over the course of the season.

The question is whether newcomers Capuano (from the New York Mets) and Harang (from the San Diego Padres), both homer-prone pitchers, can excel outside of home ballparks that suppressed the long ball.

PROJECTED BULLPEN:
   RHP Javy Guerra (closer)
   RHP Kenley Jansen
   RHP Matt Guerrier
   RHP Todd Coffey
   RHP Mike MacDougal
   LHP Scott Elbert
   RHP Blake Hawksworth

While the Dodgers have veterans Guerrier, Coffey, and MacDougal to help bolster the bullpen, the strength comes from homegrown players. Jansen was the unquestioned star in relief for the Dodgers in 2011, setting a major league record with 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings, a remarkable achievement given that Jansen was a catcher as recently as June 2009.

While Jansen seems like the logical long-term choice as closer, the job is Guerra’s to lose until he falters. Guerra saved 21 games with a 2.31 ERA as a rookie in 2011, joining Elbert and RHP Josh Lindblom as pitchers who excelled in the Dodgers’ bullpen after beginning 2011 in the minors.

Hawksworth is out of options and figures to have every opportunity to win that final spot in the pen, with non-roster invitees LHP John Grabow and RHP Jamey Wright also competing for a spot on the active roster.

PROJECTED LINEUP:
   1. SS Dee Gordon
   2. 1B James Loney
   3. CF Matt Kemp
   4. RF Andre Ethier
   5. LF Juan Rivera
   6. 3B Juan Uribe
   7. 2B Mark Ellis
   8. C A.J. Ellis

The keys to the lineup will be whether or not Ethier can rebound from knee surgery that helped contribute to his career-low 11 home runs in 2011, and which Loney will show up.

Loney hit .320 with eight home runs and a .534 slugging percentage after the break, and the Dodgers hope that was real. Needed is sustainable improvement for Loney, who has averaged .281 with 12 home runs and a .411 slugging percentage over the last four years, well below average for an everyday first baseman.

Uribe looks to rebound from a miserable year in 2011, one that saw him hit .204 with four home runs in 77 games and spend two stints on the disabled list with a hip injury that ultimately required sports hernia surgery.

TOP ROOKIES: OF Alfredo Silverio had a breakout year at Class AA Chattanooga in 2011, hitting .306 with 42 doubles, 18 triples, and 16 home runs. OF/2B Alex Castellanos was acquired at the trade deadline last year from the St. Louis Cardinals for SS Rafael Furcal, and had a monster season at Class AA, hitting .320/.386/.573 with 35 doubles, 23 home runs, and 14 stolen bases. If Castellanos can stick at second base his value will rise. Both Silverio and Castellanos were added to the 40-man roster during the offseason.