Listen closely and you can hear the whispers of people complaining of Matt Kemp’s spring training numbers. Matt Kemp didn’t get a $160m contract for posting great numbers in Spring Training. When asked about Opening Day, Kemp replied, “I will let Beast Mode off its leash.”
If you asked me to describe the Dodgers outfield in 1 word, I’d use: EXCITING. It all starts with two powerhouse outfielders in Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, who have been the backbone of our offense for years. Surround those two All-Stars with Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jerry Hairston, Jr. and you have yourself a decent hitter in Rivera, great defense and speed in Gwynn, with exciting cheer leading from Hairston.
Look a little deeper and you’ll see Jerry Sands, Trent Oeltjen, and Matt Angle waiting in Albuquerque for a chance to contribute this year in the Majors. Let’s briefly go over each role and how things could play out for the Dodgers outfield this year.
Matt ‘Bison’ Kemp
Here you have a 2011 All-Star who was also selected for the Home Run Durby. He was runner up for MVP, a single home run away from the 40/40 club and was very close to the triple crown. If you look up ‘beast mode’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a page that was chewed out, crumbled up into a ball, smashed over the wall of AT&T Park, and now floating somewhere in McCovey Cove.
Status: Kemp just signed an 8-year/$160 million contract, and is only 27 years old. He’ll start the season out batting 3rd, being protected by Andre Ethier. While he does average about 25% strikeout ratio, he still puts up great career numbers.
Andre Ethier started the 2011 season on an absolute tear. He had a 30-game consecutive hit streak going, which ended on May 7th against the Mets.
Fast forward to today and he’s on another tear in spring training. If you ask me, it almost seems like he has his eye on another streak.
Let’s hope this one starts April 5th 2012 and goes well beyond May 7th.
Status: Ethier is coming into his contract year at just under $11 million. I fully expect him to have a great season and force Ned to give him an extension during the season.
Juan Rivera seemed lost last year until he joined the Dodgers before the trade deadline. As a Dodger, he started out as an RBI machine, but by the end of the season faded off to numbers even Juan Uribe would frown upon. This spring he’s off to another hot start and appears to be ready to start the season in LF. He’ll also help out at 1B to give James Loney a break as needed.
Status: Rivera signed a 1-year/$4.5 million contract. I see him getting a majority of the starts in LF as long as he keeps producing the way he has this spring. Watch out for Jerry Sands chomping at the bit to come up and take some of that time away.
Tony Gwynn Jr.
Gwynn Jr. played 23 games last year and was able to provide us with a .300 average, speed and great defense. We’ll see him in LF giving Rivera a break and as a pinch hitter and running later in games.
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Hairston a career .258 hitter was signed for two years to be a super-utility player. However, with Justin Sellers making the team, Hairston will mostly backup the outfield, leaving infield duties to Sellers and Kennedy.
We have three guys on our Triple-A minor-league affiliate in Albuquerque waiting to get a chance to come to the Majors. Both Jerry Sands and Trent Oeltjen spent time with the Dodgers last season and I expect we’ll see them both again this year. As for Matt Angle, we picked him up off waivers from the Orioles. hopefully we’ll see what he can do at some point.