The Los Angeles Dodgers have now appeared in back to back World Series but somehow become the butt of baseball jokes galore. 2018 as a whole was something of a circus for the boys in blue, early injuries decimated the left half of their infield, they reloaded with Manny Machado and Brian Dozier at the deadline, they barely outlasted the Rockies for the division crown, nearly fell to the Brewers in the NLCS, and then got run over by the Red Sox in the World Series. If that wasn’t enough, they then unloaded a ton of salary in the form of former franchise frontmen, Yasiel Puig & Matt Kemp (and Alex Wood too I guess) on the Cincinnati Reds shortly there after.
Many thought that this winter would yield a massive signing for LA, something that would conceivably push them over that World Series hump. While we can’t technically rule them out as of me writing this, all signs do seem to point to the Dodgers not luring in Bryce Harper at a mega-millions salary. So instead they’ve settled for more subtle signings and trades to boost the roster.
Someone pitched me the idea of Russell Martin’s reintroduction to Hollywood (the place where he got his start back in 2006), leading to some form of a breakout campaign. I loved it in all honesty, but quite frankly I’m not totally sold on a catcher in his age 36 season really being able to outshine some of the amazing young talent getting their legs beneath them in LA. In a potential shocker of sorts here, I’m actually going to chalk this one up to a pair of youngsters.
It’s pretty much become popular belief at this point that 22 year old Alex Verdugo is going to continue the tradition of breakthrough outfielders carrying them through the regular season. I’m partly in agreement with this. Verdugo has gotten his feet wet in the bigs with small sample sizes over the past couple of seasons, and although the numbers haven’t necessarily been there early any scout can rave about his swing still looking solid and the rest of his tools still being top tier. Once he starts putting the bat on the ball with some real consistency, 2019 will be a major breakthrough for him. Despite his unconventional build, his skill set genuinely projects as a Center Fielder who can pin down the leadoff spot in the batting order. With the signing of All-Star AJ Pollock to man Center and incumbent outfield success stories Cody Bellinger & Joc Pederson clogging up the corners, Verdugo will have to wait his turn to take the field. But with Pederson being dangled as trade bait, and Pollock proving injury-prone in Arizona, we’ll see Verdugo crack the order in no time at all.
On the hill in Dodger Stadium, another youngster with some pre-established big league clout will have my attention in 2019. For Julio Urias, the dawn of his career hasn’t exactly been as glamorous as some projected. A former top-prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system, Urias has struggled mightily to establish his footing in a star-studded LA rotation since he debuted in 2016 at just 19 years old. In 2018 he finally got something of a break, an opportunity to start 15 games for the Dodgers and if you look beyond a pretty average 3.39 ERA you’ll see a startlingly good strikeout to walk ratio. That means even at such a young age, Urias is able to miss big league bats with consistency. Perhaps it’s a bit early to think about handing over Clayton Kershaw’s crown as Dodger-ace, but with a strong 2019 Urias could cement himself as heir.