For the second straight spring, Andre Ethier has been sidelined by an injury. Last spring, Dre fouled a pitch off of his shin, breaking his leg and forcing him to miss almost the entire regular season. This week, it turns out that his back pain stems from a mild disc herniation, which sounds rather tame next to his injury last year. However, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com made an interesting (and distressing) observation.
Good/bad news — Ethier's disk diagnosis is "mild herniation." That was original diagnosis for Kershaw last year; he missed 2 1/2 months.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) March 21, 2017
Lousy news, right? Considering the number of times the word “surgery” and the name “Kershaw” collided in the same sentence last season. Back injuries are always tough to recover from and difficult to properly diagnose. There is no timeline for Ethier’s return and the Dodgers have only stated that it is unlikely he will be healthy and ready to go come opening day.
There is still a lot of competition going on for what appears to be one last spot in the outfield. Manager Dave Roberts has gone on record on a few occasions this spring, stating that Yasiel Puig will see the bulk of the playing time in right field. With Joc Pederson’s ability and production trending upward over his first few seasons, it stands to reason that Joc will man center, at least on most nights.
Now, it was never a sure bet that Ethier would be the main left fielder, but nobody can deny his ability to get deep
into at bats and force pitchers to throw extra pitches. He has all of the desired characteristics of a polished MLB veteran. Moreover, he has the highest batting average of any outfielder on the spring roster, though he has been limited to only 6 hits in 12 spring at bats.
So now what?
Let’s examine some of the worthy candidates rising up this spring.
Brett Eibner was acquired by the Dodgers earlier in January. The 28 year old spent his 2016 campaign playing for both the Royals and Athletics. He showed sparks of power last season, but finished the year with only 6 homers and a .193 batting average.
This spring, he’s been pretty effective at the plate, batting .306/.405/.639 with two homers. It certainly would have been interesting to see if he could keep up these kinds of numbers through the rest of spring training, but it seems the Dodgers had other arrangements as he is among the latest bunch of roster cuts.
Perhaps Andrew Toles? Certainly!
Toles sputtered for a brief time in the beginning of camp, but he has since found his swing again with a slash line of .316/.316/.421. What’s also impressive is that he has only struck out 4 times in his 38 at bats. While he is also known to be fleet of foot, he has been gunned down in his only 2 stolen base attempts this year. All in all, Toles could find himself as an opening day starter for the first time in his career.
Let’s not forget, Trayce Thompson and Scott Van Slyke have had their injuries mended over the offseason.
Thompson has returned from a back injury that actually required corrective surgery. Since coming back, he’s seen limited at bats this spring as the Dodgers try to ease him back into the everyday fold. In 18 at bats, he’s collected 6 hits, earning a slash of .333/.429/.500.
Van Slyke is also back from two consecutive down years, both attributed at least in part to injury. So far this spring, he’s been a bit inconsistent, only batting .242 in 33 at bats, but he’s only struck out 5 times. He’s a suitable candidate for the spot in left field, but if he remains on this downward trend, his role could be limited to giving Adrian Gonzalez a day off every now and then.
Enrique Hernandez will also be returning to the Dodger roster this season. His first year with the club was remarkable, considering the little exposure he had in the big leagues at that point. His 2016 season, however, was pretty lean at the plate. He was just able to hit .190 in 109 games. His bat still has some pop, swatting 7 homers and matching his previous total in 2015.
One of the Dodgers’ moves during the off season included the acquisition of outfielder Franklin Gutierrez. Last season, the Dodgers were one of the worst teams versus left-handed pitching and the 34 year old veteran was brought aboard to help remedy the situation. The lifetime .280 hitter vs LHP hasn’t had a great spring to this point, though. He’s batting well under the Mendoza line, as he has seen fairly regular at bats thus far. He has dodged the preliminary round of cuts so far and it will be interesting to see how he fits in with the Dodgers’ grand scheme, though Roberts has said Gutierrez should make the opening day roster.
An interesting note worth mentioning- the Dodgers originally signed Gutierrez as an amateur free agent in 2000. The Dodgers later traded Gutierrez for Milton Bradley in ’04. Bradley was later traded to Oakland for Andre Ethier in ’05. Today, the Dodgers have both Ethier AND Gutierrez among the rest of the roster. How wild is that!?
There is still some baseball to be played before opening day, but the roster continues to fluctuate as the competition to make the starting 9 becomes more and more competitive. The spring of 2017 could be one of the most interesting to date.