When new manager Dave Roberts fills out his first lineup card to start the season, no one knows exactly how it will look. It could be similar to last year’s lineup, or, perhaps Roberts will employ a totally different batting order. One question seems to remain from last season though: Who’s going to be batting lead-off?
When the Dodgers traded away Dee Gordon before the 2015 season, many were disappointed, myself included. Others believed that the increased depth the Dodgers got in return could actually benefit the club in the long-run. Nevertheless, one thing that the deal certainly did was create a hole at the top of the lineup. Gordon is one of the best lead-off hitters in the game, and with him gone, the Dodgers were forced to try many different options throughout the year, none of which seemed to work on a full-time basis.
Jimmy Rollins got the first crack at it, but struggled to keep his average up, finishing the year batting .224 with a .285 OBP. Joc Pederson replaced Rollins at the top of the order, and did fairly well initially. However, a prolonged 2nd half slump had him envying Rollins batting average by the end of the season, as Joc would end up at a .210 clip (although his OBP was still decent at .346). The Dodgers mixed and matched other players at the lead-off spot, but no one really filled the role.
With the exception of Corey Seager replacing Rollins at shortstop, the Dodgers lineup will likely be returning most of the starting position players from last season. Moves could still be made, especially in left field, where the yearly trade rumors continue to swirl around Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. Currently, however, it appears as though the Dodgers may be in the same situation with their lead-off hitter as they were in a year ago.
So, we take a look here at six possible options Dave Roberts has at his disposal, and why he could tap each one (at least to start the year) as the 2016 lead-off hitter, listed from least probable to most probable.
6. Kike Hernandez:
Hernandez doesn’t look to be a full-time starter right out of the gate, but he did fill in admirably for the Dodgers last season when he got his starts. He played 2nd base, shortstop, left field, and center field, among other positions. He finished the year batting .307 with a .346 OBP, in just over 200 at-bats. If he can keep up those type of numbers, he could project as a good lead-off candidate. The versatility of Hernandez allows the Dodgers to play him at practically every infield or outfield position, which also gives him the opportunity to get a good amount of at-bats, even as a reserve player.
Kike could find a more full-time role depending on how things go this year. Injuries happen all the time. Players also go in slumps from time to time (just ask Joc Pederson.) And even if none of those things occur, being able to play multiple positions and give multiple starters days off to rest, should allow Hernandez plenty of playing time. Perhaps when he does play, Roberts will like him at the top of the order.
5. Corey Seager:
This could be a long-shot, but the more I think of the other possibilities, the more I think Seager could get a chance to hit lead-off at some point. In his very brief stint with the club last year, Seager showed why so many are praising him as the top prospect in the game. In 113 plate appearances, he hit .337 with a .425 OBP, 4 home runs, and swapped two bags. While no one expects him to keep up those kind of numbers throughout a full season (particularly the high average & OBP) he could very well put up similar numbers given his potential as a hitter.
On the other hand, the Dodgers may not want to put too much pressure on their young star, and some think that batting lower in the order somehow decreases that pressure. Also, Seager could be one of those middle-of-the-order type hitters, who might excel more in the #2 or #3 hole eventually.
4. Carl Crawford:
I know, I know. I hear you already. “Carl Crawford? Don’t you have to actually play to be a lead-off hitter?” Yes, you do. And I know that currently Carl Crawford may be on the outside looking in when it comes to playing time. But as I stated earlier, left field is one spot where we don’t really know what’s going to happen before the start of the season. Many believe that Andre Ethier may be the most appealing player to other teams, and would be the easier guy for the Dodgers to trade. If that were the case, Crawford could find himself with more playing time after all.
Moreover, we don’t know what Dave Roberts has planned with the roster. Although Ethier took full advantage of Crawford’s injury last year to win the job, things were reversed the year before when Crawford played well and won the left field duties. Most assume the job is still Ethier’s to lose, but could there be any open competition if both players are still with the club come opening day? Perhaps.
The biggest knock on Crawford is his inability to stay healthy. But when he has been, he’s actually put up good numbers. In 2013, his first year with the Dodgers, Crawford batted .282 with a .329 OBP and 15 steals. In 2014, his numbers were even better, hitting .300 with a .339 OBP and 23 steals. Crawford has also shown the ability to hit lefties pretty good as well, and is the one player on the team that has very good speed, fitting the conventional model of a lead-off hitter. It may not be a probable scenario right now, but Crawford does remain an option for the Dodgers.