Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Copyrighted by Sarah Morris, 2020
Since I became a Dodger fan, I have been fascinated with utility players. Playing one position in the Major Leagues is difficult, but playing multiple positions well while contributing to the offense is remarkable.
In the past, teams prized having a utility player but did not think it was crucial to winning a world championship. Over the years, teams began to look for versatile players to increase the depth to their teams without increasing the reserve players. Although the Major Leagues have increased the rosters from 25 to 26 players for the 2020 season, the trend of teams valuing versatility of players will continue.
On the 2020 Dodgers, every player but the pitchers and catcher Will Smith can play multiple positions. Yesteryear, frequently pitchers complained that their managers did not use them, an excuse for poor performance. Other than the starters and Kenley Jansen, no Dodger pitchers have a defined role. The Dodger pitching staff has excelled since 2016. If a pitcher objects to the new Dodger way of using him, the organization trades the disgruntled hurler as the Dodgers did with Kenta Maeda when he complained about being used a reliever late in the seasons.
On most Major-League teams, Ross Stripling would be a starter, but on the Dodgers, he typically is a reliever unless a starter gets injured. Whatever role Stripling occupies, he has succeeded. This spring, Stripling has performed magnificently, but he accepts his undefined role. Without an unclear role, Stripling seldom receives much media attention, but he has paid a vital role in the Dodger success since 2016.
Both Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor have been the Dodger utility players. Both routinely make spectacular defensive plays at anywhere they perform while regularly contributing offensively. They have been everyday members of the Dodger lineup at times and have done well.
Neither Hernandez nor Taylor expects to start on Opening Day, but both will see much action in the 2020 season.
Coming off a disappointing 2019 offensive performance, Hernandez has had a fantastic spring. He discovered that his hip was flying open too early, preventing him from reaching the outside pitch and depleting his power. This spring, Hernandez has hit line drives everywhere, including three home runs.
Before coming to the Dodgers, Taylor had not played in the outfield. Now, Taylor looks totally comfortable in the outfield. If Joc Pederson cannot start the regular season and A.J. Pollock’s offensive struggles continue, the Dodgers should play Taylor in left field.
Although Taylor has been slowed with forearm soreness and shoulder bruise, he has performed well when he can play. Now, Taylor is healthy.
Matt Beaty is the new Dodger utility man. Although Beaty cannot play the middle-infield positions, he can play first, third, and outfield positions. This spring, his defense has improved. Last year, Beaty proved he was a clutch hitter, and he has continued his outstanding offense. Surely, Beaty will make the Opening Day roster, particularly when Major League Baseball has increased the roster size to 26 players.
Although utility players rarely catch media headlines, no team can win many games if a star player gets injured without a brilliant utility player. The Dodgers’ success from 2016 to now can be partly contributed to marvelous play by both Hernandez and Taylor.