After coming within two games of reaching the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers had a simple plan going into the offseason: keep their roster intact and make a couple of additions.
They re-signed key free agents Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill.
Now if they can just stay healthy in 2017 and have youngsters Corey Seager and Julio Urias continue to mature, the Dodgers could be well positioned to challenge the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out in the NL Championship Series.
Here are some things to watch as the Dodgers open spring training in Glendale:
The team upgraded at second base by acquiring Logan Forsythe from Tampa Bay. He figures to take over the leadoff spot as a right-handed hitter. They acquired 1B/OF Darin Ruf from Philadelphia, along with OF Brett Eibner from Oakland and LHP Vidal Nuno from Seattle. Gone are veteran INF/OF Howie Kendrick, C Carlos Ruiz, RHP Louis Coleman, RHP Jose De Leon (who went to Tampa Bay for Forsythe) and RHP Carlos Frias. Veteran 2B Chase Utley, who mentored SS Corey Seager and provided strong clubhouse leadership, became a free agent. He remains unsigned and the Dodgers have stayed in touch with him.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Keep an eye on 1B/OF Cody Bellinger, who’s been invited to big-league camp. The son of former Yankee Clay Bellinger hit 23 home runs in Double-A last year and he’s shown elite athleticism to handle defense at first base and in center field. With veteran Adrian Gonzalez locked in at first, Bellinger’s abilities could pave the way for him to make an impact in the outfield. The team spent $16 million to land RHP Yadier Alvarez in an international signing binge two years ago. The Cuban debuted in Single-A last year when he topped 100 mph.
After injuries decimated the starting rotation last season, including the loss of ace Clayton Kershaw for 10 weeks with a herniated disc in his back, the Dodgers are well-stocked. They re-signed left-hander Hill, who is set to be a solid No. 2 starter. Right-hander Kenta Maeda and left-hander Urias, whose innings were closely managed last season, round out the top four. The fifth spot is up for grabs among veteran starters Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and youngsters Alex Wood, Brock Stewart and Ross Striping. Kazmir, McCarthy, Ryu and Wood are all making comebacks from injuries. The team used 15 different starters last year. Jansen, a first-time All-Star last year, is back to anchor the bullpen.
The Dodgers have a deep corps of outfielders, making it a contest for at-bats. They added Ruf to a group of right-handed hitters that includes Yasiel Puig, Kike Hernandez, Trayce Thompson, Scott Van Slyke, along with left-handers Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Andrew Toles. Puig will be watched closely to see if he maintains the commitment to preparation he showed after returning in September from a demotion to the minors. Thompson is still recovering from a back injury last season. Manager Dave Roberts and the front office have shown a penchant for using platoons and matchup-driven lineups, which means some veterans won’t be getting as many at-bats as they’d like.
This season will be the first since 1949 without Vin Scully behind the microphone. The Hall of Fame broadcaster retired after his 67th season with the team last year. Stepping into the booth full-time will be 29-year-old Joe Davis, who grew up in Michigan as a Cubs fan. Unlike Scully, who worked alone on the air, Davis will team with Nomar Garciaparra and Orel Hershiser as he did for road games last year. Davis has experience calling MLB, college football and college basketball for Fox Sports.