2018 finish: 92-71, lost in World Series to the Red Sox
SI's 2019 Prediction: 100-62, First in NL West
Key additions: OF A.J. Pollock, RP Joe Kelly, C Russell Martin
Key departures: SS/3B Manny Machado, OF Yasiel Puig, OF Matt Kemp, C Yasmani Grandal, SP Alex Wood, 2B Brian Dozier
1. LF Joc Pederson
2. 3B Justin Turner
3. SS Corey Seager
4. 1B Max Muncy
5. CF A.J. Pollock
6. RF Cody Bellinger
7. 2B Enrique Hernández
8. C Austin Barnes
C Russell Martin
1B/3B David Freese
UTIL Chris Taylor
OF Alex Verdugo
1. LHP Hyun-jin Ryu
2. RHP Ross Stripling
3. RHP Kenta Maeda
4. RHP Walker Buehler
5. LHP Julio Urías
RHP Kenley Jansen (closer)
RHP Joe Kelly
RHP Pedro Baez
LHP Scott Alexander
RHP Dylan Floro
LHP Caleb Ferguson
RHP Yimi Garcia
RHP Kevin Quackenbush
Injured List: LHP Clayton Kershaw, LHP Rich Hill, LHP Tony Cingrani
Movin' On Up!: Julio Urías is still just 22 years old despite years of hype and a frightening anterior-capsule injury that some thought may derail his career. Now, with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill entering the season on the injured list, the young lefty will kick off the year in the starting rotation after an excellent spring that saw him strike out 11 hitters in 11 ⅔ innings pitched with just three walks. He may return to the bullpen as a long man once Kershaw and Hill return, but manager Dave Roberts will want him on the mound plenty in 2019.
Sell!: Chris Taylor remains a key part of the Dodgers’ plans because of his versatility, but he notably regressed in 2018 and lost the starting second baseman job to Enrique Hernandez. Taylor led the National League with 178 strikeouts last season and struck out in 35% of his plate appearances in spring training through Sunday.
Appreciate This Man! Justin Turner is the evergreen answer to this question, butMax Muncy may incorrectly be a regression nominee for some. The Dodgers’ breakout star of 2018 is far more than an overnight fad. Muncy was second to the Rangers’ Joey Gallo in barrels per batted ball event and led baseball in isolated power (.319) for players with at least 400 plate appearances (Mike Trout finished with .316). The strikeout rate (33%) is still a bit high, but he helps offset that with a 16.4% walk rate. He is a three-true-outcome player and will often sit against lefties, but Muncy has a surgical eye of the strike zone and smokes the ball whenever he makes contact. He’s the real deal.
A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan: For the two-year period 2016-17, Corey Seager was the third-best player in the National League behind Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant. Seager was a good defensive shortstop and a .300 hitter who drew walks and hit for power. It’s a credit to the depth the Dodgers have built—some of which they used to trade for Manny Machado—that the team lost an MVP candidate and still won the NL West for a sixth straight time. Seager, who missed the last five months with a torn right ulnar collateral ligament that required Tommy John surgery, is back and expected to be the Opening Day starter at shortstop. The Dodgers mostly stayed out of the free-agent market this winter in part because they knew they had one of the best players in the game coming back. A healthy Seager returning is like signing a five-win player, except Seager will make just $4 million this year.
MLB.TV Rating: 9.1
By jettisoning Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp and acquiring A.J. Pollock from Arizona, there’s some feeling that the Dodgers are morphing into the New England Patriots of baseball (without the 'bet against us' shirts): a team of bland personality with mechanical brilliance and wide respect across the sport. The Dodgers are the truest arbiters of contemporary baseball: their best hitters have launch angle swings, their relief pitchers throw smoke and they’ll likely pound a weak NL West into submission. There are warning signs, however; the Dodgers inexplicably play at Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Colorado in April—all but guaranteeing several postponement and injury risks in inclement weather. Ultimately, team president Andrew Friedman has built a dominant franchise flush with cash and a deep farm system. That World Series title remains elusive, but L.A. is one of the best franchises across professional sports.
Keep an Eye Out for...: Catcher is the team’s biggest question mark now that Yasmani Grandal left for Milwaukee, so don’t be surprised if prized prospect Keibert Ruiz arrives if veteran Russell Martin and the light-hitting Austin Barnes struggle to start the season. Last year featured the arrival of Walker Buehler and 2019 may deliver lanky 21-year-old Dustin May, who impressed in spring and is envisioned as a future staple in the rotation.
A rival scout analyzes the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into the 2019 season
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
How many games they're going to come in first place by, really. They’re that good. This is a very talented team, and the thing that's scary is, they have pitching on the way. I haven't seen a lot of their young guys, but just talking around, I've heard their Triple-A rotation has a chance to be better than a few teams' major league rotations, so that's kind of scary, considering what they have in their major league rotation. Really, no question, you always used to say with the Dodgers, "Well, if Clayton Kershaw's healthy," but now with the pitching they have, with the strides that Walker Buehler's made, and Hyun-jin Ryu, they're deep, so I don't think they're really dependent on Kershaw being a key element for them anymore, because they have so much now-pitching and pitching on the way.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
Tough one, Maybe Joc Pederson, who could be expendable with Alex Verdugo coming.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
Kiké Hernandez. What a talent this guy is. He can play everywhere, he's got power, he's got instincts, great guy in the clubhouse, so, he's really a key player for them. Not a lot of people know. He's an everyday player, but he plays multiple positions, so that's also key.
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
Does Walker Buehler count? I saw this guy last year and if he wins the Cy Young this year, I wouldn't be surprised. I saw him down the stretch, and it's great stuff, there's makeup there, he needs to refine his command a little bit, but, wow. This guy, for me, he's got some of the best stuff in the league. It's going to be fun to watch him.
Which player gets the most out of his talent?
Justin Turner. Everyone kind of had him as a journeyman type of player, and he made himself into a good hitter. He’s just a great story. The scout who found him and brought him over—now he's the middle of the lineup, one of their best hitters. He's not a guy who gets great bat speed or huge power, but he's made himself into an above-average major league player.
Which player gets the least out of their talent?
Cody Bellinger has such a high ceiling. He's got a chance to be an MVP, a you-would-never-trade-this-guy, but he's going to have to start making some adjustments. I love Bellinger, so I hate to say anything negative about him.
Who has the best instincts/ baseball IQ?
Kiké Hernandez. He's got a great feel for instincts on both sides of the ball.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
Bellinger. It's an uppercut, but he's got big-time power.
Name the guy (or guys) on this team you would never want in your clubhouse?
They got rid of that guy! Yasiel Puig. It's a pretty good clubhouse.
Whose effort could use a jolt?
Nobody I see on there now. They got rid of Puig because his effort was all over the place.
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
Dustin May's got a chance at some point to really impact that club. How the Orioles didn't get him in the Manny Machado trade, I mean, they got good players, but the Dodgers wanted to keep him so badly. This guy's got tremendous stuff. He's not going to start the year in the big leagues, but at some point during the season, he's got a chance to impact them, either out of the bullpen or in the rotation.
Is the current manager one you would hire to run your club?
Mostly everything is scripted for Dave Roberts. He’s a really good guy, but everything is kind of handed down from the front office and he follows it. He's consistent, so I think that's one thing the players do appreciate. The one thing you hear about the players is that they're not 100% happy with the platoon situation, but he doesn’t jump around, he stays the course and is consistent with it, so they kind of know going in what they're getting into. You just wonder how unhappy guys were, especially down the stretch. It's not easy at all. But if he didn’t follow what the front office sent down, then he wouldn’t be there.
What is the ceiling for this team this year? What about the next three years?
If they don't go to the World Series, it'd be a huge disappointment. They're the best team in the National League. They don't have a lot of depth position player-wise in the minors, but they have pitching depth they can trade, and get guys at the trade deadline. It's a very talented roster. A.J. Pollock was a great addition, and you've got Chris Taylor and Hernandez on the team — any other team would be lucky to have one guy on the roster who can play multiple positions like that, and they've got two of those guys.
As for the next three seasons, the outlook is scary good. They're in a great position, with the pitching they have. Their big league team's good, and their farm system's good.
Emptying the notebook:
Last year I thought there was too much platooning. It’s going to be hard to keep some guys happy when you do that, but they made it work ... I thought Joe Kelly was a good addition to their bullpen. One thing with Kershaw is, as he ages, there's a decline in velocity, but he's more of a pitcher now — he commands the ball … As for their catching, Austin Barnes and Russell Martin are okay. They have a catcher [Keibert Ruiz] coming in the minor leagues who's got a chance to be pretty good, obviously it's not Yasmani Grandal, so they did lose a little bit there, but they've got some guys coming. It’s obviously a drop-off, but it's not a huge drop-off.