Matt Kemp‘s frustration was apparent as he rounded second base in the first inning of last night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Fears of the worst were confirmed as Kemp destroyed a bat in frustration: the Dodgers’ star expects to return to the disabled list, and he could miss more than two weeks this time around.
The Dodgers are without question a star driven team, with players like Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier holding up an otherwise unimpressive roster. Yesterday’s lineup following Kemp’s departure read like something one would expect at an Albuquerque Isotopes contest. With Kemp out for multiple weeks, the Dodgers will turn to the ‘Topes best, Alex Castellanos. The 25-year-old will replace Kemp on the roster according to Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein.
Castellanos has been riding a hot streak since his promotion to Double-A to open 2011. He put up a .411 wOBA with the Cardinals’ Double-A Springfield squad before his inclusion in the Rafael Furcal trade. With the Dodgers, he improved all three triple-slash categories en route to a .439 wOBA for Double-A Chattanooga. Then he destroyed the Arizona Fall League with three homers and a .828 slugging percentage in eight games. Finally, his Triple-A performance this season forced the Dodgers’ hands: 17 extra-base hits in 21 games and a .361/.465/.711 line.
Given the Dodgers’ other options — Tony Gwynn Jr, Elian Herrera, Scott Van Slyke — going for the unproven but promising Castellanos is an easy choice. Neither of the former trio is projected for a wOBA above .306, a full 70 points below Kemp’s projected mark. Nobody expects Castellanos to come up and be Kemp, but if he can be even an average hitter it will be a huge improvement over the current roster.
Going from Albuquerque to Los Angeles will deflate his massive .349 Triple-A ISO, but Castellanos has shown patience (walk rate over 10% since the trade) as well. The question will be if he can make enough contact for it to count. He flirted with 25% strikeout rates in the low minors and with the Cardinals in Double-A, but again he seemed to make a big improvement following the trade, striking out in only 16.8% of plate appearances with Chattanooga and 20.4% with Albuquerque.
The Dodgers went 9-5 in Kemp’s absence thanks to tremendous pitching and defense — the team’s 3.14 ERA sits just behind the Nationals for the best in baseball. But Ted Lilly is on the DL and a .271 BABIP allowed seems destined to rise. The Dodgers will need to squeeze some extra punch out of a light lineup to survive their star’s absence. At 25 years old and just 21 games into his Triple-A career, Alex Castellanos is no guarantee to provide that punch. But with how well he has played in the last calendar year and the Dodgers’ extreme need for an impact bat (or even an average bat), it’s a gamble well worth making.