The Los Angeles Dodgers organization has committed to a number of veteran infielders this off-season, including third baseman Casey Blake, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and second baseman Mark Loretta. There are a number of positives that can be taken from those acquisitions, but there are also three negatives: the loss of opportunities for promising young players Chin-Lung Hu, Blake DeWitt, and Tony Abreau.
Hu had a dismal season in Los Angeles in 2008 and he hit just .181/.252/.233 with an ISO of .052 in 116 at-bats. The Dodgers gave up way too quickly on the gifted fielder, who is just 24 years old. He has a solid minor league career line of .299/.344/.422 in more than 2,200 at-bats. Hu also had good bat and strike zone control. He had an overall contact rate of 82.8% and made contact in the strike zone at a rate of 92.9%. Even during his poor season his rates were 8.7 BB% and 19.8 K%, which suggests he was not over-matched. He could stand to get stronger though, with a line-drive rate of just 12%.
DeWitt was not supposed to be anywhere near the Major Leagues in 2008, but he spent just 27 games in the minor leagues. The remainder of his time was spent playing for the Dodgers and filling in admirably at both second base and third base. Despite being rushed, the now 23-year-old infielder hit .264/.344/.383 with an ISO of .120 in 368 at-bats. He posted rates of 10.9 BB% and 18.5 K%. He had a nice eye at the plate and only swung at pitches outside the strike zone 24% of the time. After slumping in June and July, DeWitt improved his game in late August and September and showed that he could make adjustments. The former first-round pick may not have set the world on fire in 2008 but he certainly deserved another shot in 2009.
Abreu missed all of 2008 after undergoing hip surgery in May. In 2007, at the age of 22, he made his MLB debut and hit .271/.309/.404 with an ISO of .133 in 166 at-bats. Abreu maintained that line despite a .301 BABIP. Defensively, he split time between second base, third base and even shortstop.
Of the three veteran signings, the Furcal move makes the most sense, followed by Loretta and then Blake. Furcal is only 31 and still has offensive potential – if he can stay healthy – but he does not utilize his speed like he used to in his prime. You have to worry a little bit about him pulling a Luis Castillo. Loretta, 37, is still a solid contributor and only signed a modest one-year contract. Blake has been consistent in the last few years but at 35 his time is running out and his three-year deal could look pretty bad in 2011.
With the expiration of Loretta’s contract for the 2010 season, DeWitt, Abreu or Hu may have the opportunity to secure another full-time big league gig, but there certainly won’t be room for all three. The Dodgers also have promising shortstop Ivan DeJesus, 21, who hit .324/.419/.423 in 463 Double-A at-bats in 2008.