GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With Cactus League play getting underway Sunday with a 2-1 victory over the A's, the Dodgers don’t have many roster battles to sort through this spring. Despite that, there’s still a lot of intrigue -- for different reasons -- surrounding a few players.
Let’s take a look at 10 players to keep an eye on over the next five weeks:
Kenley Jansen, RHP
Manager Dave Roberts didn’t waste any time this spring, quickly making it known that Kenley Jansen will be the Dodgers’ closer to start the season. Jansen is arguably the best closer in franchise history, but inconsistencies with strike-throwing and velocity over the last few seasons have created some questions about his effectiveness in the ninth inning.
In Jansen's first live batting practice session, Roberts said he looked “exceptional,” citing good velocity. The right-hander will get the first crack at locking down saves, but all eyes will be on him this spring -- and all season.
Tony Gonsolin, RHP
The Dodgers have a surplus of starting pitching this season, a problem that every other team would easily sign up for. But that load of talent could force the club to make some tough decisions at the end of the spring, particularly with Tony Gonsolin, who was really good in 2020 -- posting a 2.29 FIP in nine appearances (eight starts).
Gonsolin (and the next person on this list) will be the focus of the Dodgers this spring, and it’ll be interesting to see what the team decides for Opening Day. The righty will begin as a starter, but it remains to be seen what his role will be when the team heads to Los Angeles.
Dustin May, RHP
Like Gonsolin, the Dodgers will have to figure out which role Dustin May will play at the beginning of the season. His elite velocity could make him a solid multi-inning option in the bullpen, but he could also benefit from continuing his development as a starter.
May flashed 101 mph in his first live BP this spring. The key is to find a way to get hitters to swing and miss, as the right-hander finished in the seventh percentile in whiff percentage last season, per Statcast, a rarity for someone with his velocity.
Chris Taylor, UTIL
Health permitting, Chris Taylor will undoubtedly be on the Opening Day roster as a key member of the team, just as he was last season. But with Kiké Hernández no longer in town, the Dodgers could turn to Taylor to fill the super-utility role this season.
Taylor will play a lot of second base, as well as center field, but the 30-year-old will also see time at shortstop and third base this spring.
Gavin Lux, INF
After hitting at a ridiculous .392 clip in 49 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2019, the former top prospect has struggled to find his way in the Majors thus far. Gavin Lux hit three home runs and finished with a .596 OPS in a somewhat lost 2020 season. But Lux is still just 23 years old and he’ll get plenty of opportunities at second base this spring. Now it’s up to him to bounce back.
Knebel made his return to the mound last season after missing the 2019 season because of Tommy John surgery. The results, however, weren’t pretty, as he posted a 6.08 ERA in 15 appearances. But amidst his struggles, Knebel saw his fastball velocity increase in September. It wasn’t quite where it was in ‘17, but it was close enough to get the Dodgers’ attention this winter.
Alex Vesia, LHP
Alex Vesia made the Marlins’ Opening Day roster last spring and is hoping to accomplish the same in his first camp with the Dodgers. Vesia features an “invisiball”-type fastball, which he throws 73 percent of the time. He’ll be competing with Garrett Cleavinger, Scott Alexander and others for a spot in the bullpen.
Zach McKinstry, UTIL
Zach McKinstry said his goal is to make the Opening Day roster, and a good performance this spring could help him accomplish that. Like Taylor, McKinstry is capable of playing all over the diamond, which helps his case. His best position is believed to be second base, but he is also comfortable playing shortstop, third base and a little bit at corner outfield. There’s an opening for a player like him on the Dodgers' bench, but it’s a matter of him winning that job.
Sheldon Neuse, INF
Sheldon Neuse was acquired from the A’s late in the offseason, but there’s some intrigue with him because of his 27-homer campaign in Triple-A in 2019. Neuse is also capable of playing multiple positions, and that’s his best bet at making the roster. It’ll be interesting to see what he’s capable of doing in his first camp with the Dodgers.
Garrett Cleavinger, LHP
Garrett Cleavinger was acquired from the Phillies in an offseason trade and the left-hander has a chance to make the Opening Day roster with a strong spring. If he doesn’t, he’ll surely make an appearance in the big leagues at some point in 2021.