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You remember that guy? You know who I’m talking about. He was a pretty good prospect a few years ago. Damn, what was his name? You know who I’m talking about. Infielder, they tried him out in the outfield for a bit, not much for power but he showed good on-base skills and speed in the minors? No? He was supposed to get called up and then take over as the primary but he struggled at the plate. Who was that? You know him. I know you know him. You’re gonna kick yourself when you hear his name.
How many times have you had that conversation with your friends? So many players, so many can’t miss prospects, so many failures. It happens each and every year. But while most of those guys fade into oblivion and await their time to be recalled when you’re at the bar lamenting some of your worst fantasy picks, others stick around and continue to fight for that missed opportunity to be a major league ball player. Usually you hear their names bandied about during spring training but you know they’re never going to amount to anything. Others, however, fight just hard enough to create some controversy and suddenly we’ve got ourselves another position battle.
The Dodgers’ Dee Gordon is that guy.
Gordon grabbed the fantasy community’s attention early on when he swiped 73 bases at Single-A and then followed it up with another 53 at the Double-A level the following season. He showed moderate plate discipline but thanks to high contact rates, produced excellent on-base numbers. When he got his call-up in 2011, he looked great, batting .304 with 24 stolen bases over just 224 at-bats. He was the Dodgers shortstop of the future and fantasy owners were eager to grab the speedster the following year.
But Gordon struggled at the plate in his first season and also missed a hefty chunk of time with a thumb injury. Sure, he swiped 32 bases, but his inability to draw walks and hit with any consistency left him with a .228/.280/.281 slash line. Things were not looking good. Even with the Dodgers keeping Hanley Ramirez at the hot corner when he first arrived, the prospect of Gordon sticking at short was rapidly fading. Last year he saw some action with Ramirez injured, but he had already lost his luster in the fantasy community. Great speed, no stick, you can’t steal first base, blah blah blah.
But this spring, Gordon is making a little more noise. While the Dodgers have said that Alex Guerrero is supposed to be their starting second baseman, they’re not totally convinced that he, like the rest of the Cuban imports, will be able to hit big league pitching with consistency. The leash is fairly long, but there’s a leash nonetheless. And that leash, though held by Don Mattingly, is now attached to Gordon who is getting time at the keystone this spring. Should Guerrero struggle, Gordon will be right there to swoop on in.
In addition to the time spent working at second, Gordon is also now going to be playing some center field this spring. Now he’s not supplanting a healthy Matt Kemp, by any means, but the Dodgers are working on increasing his versatility so that they can keep him up as an insurance policy. If he lingers in center early on in the year and Guerrero struggles to open the season, then once Kemp comes back, we could be looking at a possible platoon or even a complete take over at the position.
Another example of this is found on the South Side of Chicago (cue the Leroy Brown intro) with catchers Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley. For years, while A.J. Pierzynski was slipping at the plate, all we would hear is, “When are the White Sox bringing up Flowers?” He should solid, developing power in the minors and had a tremendous batting eye, walking almost as many times as he struck out. Unfortunately though, every time he got called-up, he looked lost at the plate. He couldn’t hit his weight, his strikeouts were too high and that delicious plate discipline we saw in the minors was but a distant memory.
But even with all those struggles, the Pale Hose were still going to turn over the starting job to Flowers and he opened the year as the team’s primary backstop. Again he struggled, showing just enough pop to keep you interested but with a slash line so abhorrent, you just could possibly fathom keeping him on your fantasy roster no matter how deep the league was in which you played.
Enter Phegley who never really showed much in the minors, but was considered a superior defensive backstop. Now obviously that does nothing for fantasy owners as a light-hitting catcher has about as much use as a third nipple, but even more aggravating was that the team said that they were turning the starting job over to him. Any hope of Flowers righting the ship and turning around his season were gone.
This season, however, with Phegley showing almost nothing at the plate last year, Flowers will get to compete for the starting job again. Maybe if he learns to hit big league pitching at some point, he’ll grab the job for himself, but at best, we’re probably looking at a platoon situation here. Again, that does little for fantasy owners because, not only does no one want a catcher who sees half the at-bats as the rest of the field at the position, but no one wants one who still can’t hit. This one should finally unfold a little closer to the season, but the presence of Flowers and his “potential upside” are just gumming up the works here.
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