Braves at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chris Capuano, P
So, are you wondering about Alex Castellanos? If not, should you be?
The Dodgers’ hottest high-level minor-league hitter is Castellanos, who has a .483 on-base percentage and .757 slugging percentage for Albuquerque this year. His numbers have actually been better on the road, so while you have to take Pacific Coast League stats into account, it’s safe to say he’s been doing some of this on his own.
It’s hard to believe the lopsided Los Angeles lineup couldn’t use a guy like Castellanos, but the situation is a bit complicated. The 25-year-old has spent this year being converted to second base, which is not one of the Dodgers’ trouble spots right now. Mark Ellis has a .730 OPS (111 OPS+) and has been fielding well. You might make a case that Castellanos would provide an offensive boost, though I’m not so sure — but in any case, I’m not sure anyone would be ready for a double-play combo of Castellanos and Dee Gordon.
Castellanos hasn’t played a professional game at third base since 2009 — not even this year, when the Dodgers have had such uncertainty at the position. So I think you can dismiss the idea of him being called up to play there.
Left field, on the other hand, is a different story. Castellanos has spent most of his pro career in the outfield (albeit in right), while Juan Rivera is very quietly off to a start notably worse than the more publicized James Loney. Rivera has a .298 on-base percentage and .314 slugging percentage and provides none of Loney’s defensive value — indeed, Tony Gwynn Jr. comes off the bench at the earliest opportunity to replace Rivera. In the heart of the order, whether batting between or after Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the 33-year-old Rivera is problematic to say the least, and when he comes out, that leaves Gwynn (or, in case of a double switch, a relief pitcher) in the meat of the lineup.
That’s not to say Rivera might not kick it into gear offensively starting tonight, but essentially we saw last summer the best that he can provide, and we know it doesn’t last long. He’s broken a .750 OPS in a full season once since 2006.
Now, we wouldn’t even be having a Rivera conversation had Jerry Sands not had a miserable March, which happens to have been followed by a miserable April (.316 OBP, .318 slugging so far with the Isotopes). Sands reminds us how hit-and-miss the leap from Triple-A stardom to the majors can be.
So the question is, do you call up Castellanos for a role that would push Rivera to the bench, where the latter might be a decent No. 1 pinch-hitter against lefties (not surprisingly, he hits them better than righties)? I think that depends on how you view the Dodgers’ future at second base. If Castellanos truly can learn to hold down that position, that would ultimately make him more valuable to the franchise, which is fairly thin in middle-infield talent. But when would he get to play there? Ellis is signed through the end of 2013, but he turns 35 in June. If he wears down, the Dodgers might need to replace him this summer, but if he pulls a Jamey Carroll, the Dodgers might not need a new second baseman for two years.
Here’s what I might recommend:
Though he’s not quite at Castellanos levels this year, 25-year-old Scott Van Slyke with little fanfare has followed his outstanding 2011 by starting strong in 2012: .443 OBP, .600 slugging and more walks than strikeouts. Try Van Slyke in left field, Rivera on the bench and Adam Kennedy on an outbound train (with Justin Sellers and Jerry Hairston Jr. picking up the infield time taken by Kennedy, whose signing to a guaranteed contract this past winter never made sense). That gives Van Slyke a taste of the majors and the Dodgers hope for increased production in left field and off the bench, while buying time for Castellanos to continue to grow acquainted with second base and for Sands to figure out what’s gone wrong.
Calling up Van Slyke has a pretty good chance of making the Dodgers better in the short term and the long term. What’s not to like?
(Footnote: Castellanos came to the Dodgers in exchange for Rafael Furcal, who is for the time being hale and hearty. Furcal leads the National League with eight doubles and has a .423 OBP and .523 slugging in 72 healthy-for-now plate appearances in 2012.)