It’s only fitting that the Tinseltown Dodgers have at least two players on the verge of stardom. Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw and outfielder Matt Kemp can be difference-makers for your fantasy baseball team, but what about the rest of the Dodgers? Los Angeles has a few players worth considering during your 2011 fantasy baseball draft, including outfielder Andre Ethier and shortstop Rafael Furcal. What should you expect from all the Dodgers — and more importantly, where should you pick them in your draft — as fantasy baseball players? Let’s take a look around the baseball diamond with the Dodgers.
In the Dodgers’ Outfield – Center fielder Matt Kemp was taken in the first round in some fantasy baseball drafts last season, but the five-tooler didn’t meet expectations. He blasted 28 homers and stole 19 bases with a .249 batting average. That’s not good enough, considering Kemp batted at least .290 and stole at least 34 bases each of the two previous seasons. He is only 26-years old and should first entering his prime, not having a regression in production. It’s risky to gamble a first round pick again for Kemp, but he remains capable of first-round numbers. Bet on a bounce back season from him and take him in round two. In left field, Andre Ethier was on his way to joining the elite outfielders in the game in 2009 when he smacked 31 homes with 106 RBI and batted .272, but he fell off a bit last season with 23 homers and 82 RBI. An encouraging sign is that he improved his batting average to .292. Don’t sleep on him this season. Jay Gibbons is the weak link in right. The aging outfielder hasn’t been very good since 2005 and basically is taking up space in the Los Angeles lineup. Don’t let him do the same in yours. Fleet-footed Tony Gwynn may see some time filling in for the starters. If any of them go down to injury, he may be worth grabbing in NL-only formats, but don’t worry about drafting him.
In the Dodgers’ Infield – The most valuable fantasy player on the Dodgers’ infield is shortstop Rafael Furcal . His problem is staying on the field (he missed 65 games last season and 126 in 2008). A career .286 hitter, Furcal managed to bat .300, score 66 runs and steal 22 bases last season despite missing stretches of time with injuries. He is the epitome of a high risk, high reward draft pick. On the other hand, you know what you’re going to get with first baseman James Loney – it’s just not what you want from a corner infielder. Over the last three season, he’s averaged only 12 homers with 89 RBI and a respectable .279 batting average. Until he hits for more power, Loney isn’t worth more than a late-round pick or roster fill in. Juan Uribe, who can play just about anywhere on the infield, but should settle at second base, was a fantasy find in 2010. He hit only .248, but slugged 24 homers with 85 RBI. But he stole just one base, which is terrible for an infielder, so don’t be tempted by the power numbers. They’re likely to decline this season, anyway. If you miss out on the top third basemen (and there are only a few), there’s nothing wrong with taking Casey Blake. He’s averaged a not-shabby .267-19-75 over the last three seasons, but keep in mind he is 37-years old. Catcher Rod Barajas isn’t flashy, but he has belted 36 homers and knocked 118 runs the last two seasons combined. That’s good production for a catcher.
The Dodgers’ Rotation – Lefty Clayton Kershaw has the chance to be a very special pitcher as soon as this season. Actually, he pretty good last season with a 13-10 record, 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 212 strikeouts. That’s two seasons in a row with a sub-3.00 ERA and at least 185 strikeouts. Kershaw is just scratching the surface of his potential and is a must-own in all fantasy leagues. Chad Billingsley may not be as talented as Kershaw, but he too has the potential to be an ace. He’s won at least 12 games in three of the last four seasons (he went 16-10 in 2008), but the right-handed hurler has a career ERA and WHIP of 3.55 and 1.38, respectively. His upside and ability to strikeout nearly a batter per inning, however, makes him valuable enough to draft as a middle-of-the-rotation fantasy guy. Lefty Ted Lilly doesn’t have the upside of Billingsley, but he can help bolster your rotation, too. He won seven games with a 3.52 ERA and 0.99 WHIP after being traded to the Dodgers from the Cubs in late July. He should win at least 12 games with strong peripheral stats pitching a full season in Los Angeles. Hiroki Kuroda won’t help you much in any categories, but he won’t kill you either. He’ll win about 12 games with a decent ERA and WHIP, so it’s OK to draft him in the last few rounds of your draft. If nothing else, Jon Garland will eat innings. He has started at least 30 games each of the last three seasons, but that won’t help you when his ERA hasn’t been lower than 3.70 in that span.
In the Dodgers’ Bullpen – If you need any more proof that drafting closers early is risky, consider what happened last season to Jonothan Broxton. The fire-balling reliever was lights out in 2009 with 36 saves, a 2.61 ERA and 0.96 ERA, but he lost his closers job last year before finishing with 22 saves and a 4.04 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. He could go either way in 2011. If you draft Broxton, make sure to keep tabs on Hong-Chin Kuo, who last year closed out 12 games. He finished the season with a 1.20 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched.
Dodgers Prospect Watch – There are no immediate-impact prospects in the Dodgers’ farm system, but shortstop Dee Gordon could be special down the road. The son of former Major League pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon, Dee ranked No. 44 on MLB.com’s Top 50 Prospects for 2011. The speedy infielder won the organization’s Branch Rickey Award as the Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 and could arrive in the Majors in 2012.
Ken Gurnick, “Gordon Blazes Path Onto Top 50 Prospects List,” MLB.com.
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