All it really takes is for things to go right and those three occupy the respective outfield slots for the duration. But we know what we know. Specifically, that Carl Crawford is fragile and his performance since signing his $142 million dollar contract has been decidedly underwhelming. We know that Matt Kemp is coming off October labrum surgery not to mention repair of a “minor debridement” of the rotator cuff, which sounds like couples counseling in his shoulder. And we know that Andre Ethier mashes in April, becomes enigmatic, and all the while he can’t hit left handed pitchers. It’s not particularly confidence inspiring when you read that two of the three outfielders are currently focused on getting ready for Opening Day but not necessarily Spring Training. This, it seems, makes their outfield depth chart particularly important heading into the season.
Carl Crawford is the obvious candidate to start the season in left field. For his career, his average season has been roughly .292/.332/.441, with 99 runs, 14 home runs, and 50 stolen bases. His last two seasons have been low-lighted by hamstring issues, wrist surgery, and Tommy John surgery while he amassed a .260/292/.419 line with Boston, ultimately being dealt to Los Angeles in the great quarter-billion coastal salary transfer of 2012. He’s apparently lost 10 pounds (no word if he’s a best shaper), and he’s started a throwing program roughly a month ago and is reportedly on track for Opening Day.
Crawford, 31, could certainly be a good source of steals and runs, but the investment by fantasy owners should probably be pretty low due to his recent history. There aren’t likely many prognosticators who think Crawford will appear in more than 135 games, and if there’s any recurrence of hamstring issues, his main weapon will be limited. ZiPS is thinking 430 plate appearances, 11 home runs, and 21 stolen bases while hitting .269, and that’s probably something you can get out of a guy like Will Venable. But with Crawford, you just have to decide if you’re going to make a play on potential or if you want to let him be someone else’s problem. I’d probably go with the latter.
I’m not going to spend any time here on Matt Kemp because I’m not a physician and I think it’s probably obvious what his potential is. His 2012 was riddled with constant hamstring issues which clearly impacted his production and then there’s the surgeries described above. ZiPS is thinking 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases, which is pretty nice — but then it’s hard to ignore the 39 HR/40 SB from 2011. If you’re tempted, go with ZiPS.
Andre Ethier’s name has been mentioned in the same sentence as the word “platoon” more than once this off-season due to his struggles versus left handed pitchers. He hit just four home runs off lefties in 2012 and put together a .222/.276/.330 slash line. If he were a wizard in right field, that might be something you could tolerate, but he’s been anywhere from “decent” to “downright awful” in terms of UZR over the five seasons, so you could certainly see where they might opt for a right handed bat when the situation presented itself.
In line to fill in a platoon role with Ethier is some mixture of Yasiel Puig, Alex Castellanos, Elian Herrera, and/or Jerry Hairston Jr. My understanding is that the organization would much prefer to use Castellanos around the infield when duty calls, and I’m not sure they want to rely on a slap-hitting Herrera in a platoon. This leaves Hairston and Puig. Hairston hit .293/.365/.435 versus left handed pitchers in 2012, but that’s actually well above his .258/.324/.374 career average and he doesn’t bring much in the way of power to the table. Puig is certainly the most intriguing of the bunch, but with fewer than 100 minor league plate appearances under his belt, it seems extremely unlikely that they don’t start him somewhere on the farm. If he puts up truly eye-popping stats at AA and Ethier continues to prove lefties are his kryptonite…well… maybe?
Should Crawford or Kemp come up lame at some point in the season, remaining hands on deck include Skip Schumaker, who is probably the primary backup to Kemp in center, Jeremy Moore, and Tony Gwynn. Schumaker doesn’t bring much of anything to the table offensively but has the dual qualification at second and outfield, should that matter to you. Gwynn is already 30 and DFA’d last August, although he does have an invite to Spring, but it’s probably just precautionary as they evaluate Crawford and Kemp.
Moore might be the most interesting of the bunch. He had a decent track record of power/speed in the Anaheim farm system although he appears to have a propensity to swing and miss and any decent batting average has been associated with an unsustainable BABIP. He’s been invited to Spring Training and while it seems more likely they’d let him season in AAA, he could be a candidate to fill in if injury strikes as he probably has more power and speed than any other aforementioned player, and he’s known as a plus defender in center.
If the Dodgers get into a real pinch in the outfield due to injuries and platoon issues, don’t discount the possibility that they’d put Castellanos out there because he doesn’t have as empty a bat as Schumaker and Gwynn, and his positional flexibility makes it likely that he’ll be able to make his presence worthwhile in other ways. Both Castellanos and Moore could be worth fliers in deeper leagues given their double digit power/speed potential and certainly in dynasty leagues.
Early Depth Chart (although this is pretty fluid!):
Left Field: Crawford/Hairston/Schumaker
Center Field: Kemp/Schumaker/Moore/Gwynn
Right Field: Ethier/Hairston/Castellanos