Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. For some reason, I feel like that’s the best description of my expectations for the Dodgers’ infield this season.
Unproven: Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis.
While Gordon saw significant playing time down the stretch last season, he still has only logged 56 games and 224 at-bats at the major league level. The good news is that he hit .304 with 24 steals. The bad news is that he walked just seven times, something that will need to improve for Gordon to grow into an elite lead-off man.
The second inexperienced member of the Dodger infield this season is A.J. Ellis, a player most people probably know little about. Compared to the 23-year-old Gordon, Ellis is 30 years old, but has logged just 206 Major League at-bats.
The good news about Ellis is that he has a career .360 on-base percentage, including a .271 average last season. While that isn’t going to blow anyone away, consider that Ellis’ on base percentage was more than 100 points higher than that of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro last season. Look for Ellis to be an unsung hero if the Dodgers are able to surprise some people this season.
Under-Achieving: James Loney and Juan Uribe
If there is one guy on the entire Dodgers’ roster I think is ready to make a big jump this season, it’s Loney. Now put aside the fact that I’ve been saying that for a few years now, and remember that this is the guy who was a far bigger prospect than both Kemp and Ethier just five years ago.
You’ll also have to put away the fact that since becoming a full-time starter midway through 2007, Loney has logged an average above .289 just once, and has never had more than 15 homeruns. It was 2007 when the hope was born, however.
In 96 games, Loney hit .331 with 15 homeruns – two more than he has ever hit in any full season since. The hope of 2012 lies in what he did in the last half of 2011, when he famously hit .320 with eight of his 12 homeruns, including a .532 slugging percentage.
If that James Loney shows up, the infield starts looking a lot better.
Unfortunately for Juan Uribe, the hope isn’t quite as overflowing.
Uribe is notorious among Dodger fans for slugging a combined 50 homeruns in the 2009 and 2010 seasons for the Giants, garnering him a massive three year, $21 million contract from Ned Coletti.
To show his thanks, Uribe dropped his average from .248 in 2010 to .204 last season, hit just 12 homeruns and played in only 77 games before getting injured. While the Dodgers don’t need Uribe to hit .300, they are paying him to hit 20-25 homeruns in hopes that he can offer some lineup protection to Ethier and Kemp.
If (and that if cannot be typed large enough) Uribe is able to stay healthy all season, the averages show he’s capable of knocking some balls out of the park, and while that might not justify the large contract, it could justify keeping his job.
Mediocre: Mark Ellis
When a team needs hitting, it’s never inspiring to sign a guy described as a “great fielder.” For a second baseman, we all know exactly what that means.
Ellis has hit over .276 exactly twice in his nine year career, most recently in 2010 when he hit .291 for the Oakland A’s. While the 34-year-old Ellis isn’t getting any younger, a bottom of the order hitter in the .270 range isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Reserves: Juan Rivera, Jerry Hairston, Josh Fields and Justin Sellers
While Rivera figures to play primarily as the third outfielder this season, he will get the occasional start at first base to spell Loney. Outside of him, however, the rest of the bench looks pretty bleak.
Hairston, who should serve as the primary backup at second base, shortstop and third base is very similar to Mark Ellis. He hit .270 in 120 games last season for Milwaukee and Washington, so like Ellis, he’ll be boringly dependable.
Fields, on the other hand, is listed as the third first baseman on the roster right now, which is surprising since he last played more than 13 major league games in 2009 when he hit .222 for the White Sox.
Sellers is the wild card in the group, as the only player of the lot likely to be here in 12 months. At age 26, Sellers hit just .203 in the majors last season, but has hit a promising .300 in spring training this season. The problem for Sellers is that he’s likely to find himself on the outside looking in to begin the year, as management gets him regular at-bats in the minor leagues.
Throughout all of this, one thing the Dodgers can expect is a pretty solid defensive group. Other than Uribe and maybe Gordon, the other three are more than competent defensively. While both Ellis’s are above average fielders, Loney remains one of the top defensive first baseman in baseball.
In summary, this group of five isn’t going to win or lose the Dodgers any championships. They’ll hit and field alright, but the real muscle will need to come from the pitching staff and outfield.