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Roberts earning Dodgers' respect

New manager key to leading club to next level
MLB.com @RichardJustice

PHOENIX -- Dave Roberts began preparing for this day almost from the moment the Los Angeles Dodgers hired him to be their manager three months ago. Within hours, he was contacting players, starting relationships, listening, encouraging.

"His ability to connect with people is really special," said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations.

PHOENIX -- Dave Roberts began preparing for this day almost from the moment the Los Angeles Dodgers hired him to be their manager three months ago. Within hours, he was contacting players, starting relationships, listening, encouraging.

"His ability to connect with people is really special," said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations.

This was a huge selling point for the Dodgers, and one of the things almost everyone says about Roberts, 43. That people instantly like him. That they respect him.

And that's what the Dodgers got Thursday as their full squad -- minus outfielder Yasiel Puig, who had wisdom teeth removed -- took the field for the first time.

Before the workout, Roberts gathered his players for the first time, and rather than lean on prepared remarks or attempt some larger statement, he kept it simple.

"I had to be myself," he said. "When you start trying to think about these opening speeches or addressing the team initially, when you try to be someone you're not, it's not authentic. I think once I made the decision to be myself that's all you can do.

"With a long season, there's ups and there's downs, and there's adversity. It's just conveying to guys that we have to lean on one another, we have to care about one another."

Roberts' theme has been consistent, and probably not much different from what managers in 29 other spring camps are saying about working hard, being a good teammate and putting the team first.

In this case, it's particularly relevant. Roberts' predecessor, Don Mattingly, also one of the game's real good guys, led the Dodgers to three straight first-place finishes in the National League West. But they still haven't been to the World Series since 1988.

So in addition to the hiring of Roberts, Friedman focused on building depth up and down the roster. This camp opens with a glut of outfielders and infielders, plus a starting rotation that will have quality arms stacked all the way to Triple-A.

The Dodgers didn't re-sign right-hander Zack Greinke, who took his 222 2/3 innings and 1.66 ERA to division-rival Arizona. But the rotation still has Clayton Kershaw and a stockpile of veteran arms behind him: Brett Anderson, Scott Kazmir, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alex Wood.

Video: Roberts discusses Ryu's bullpen session, soreness

The Dodgers added Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda and should have Brandon McCarthy back from Tommy John surgery in the second half of the season. Just as impressive is an assortment of power arms at Triple-A.

While the Giants and D-backs got better, the Dodgers will begin the season solid favorites to win a fourth straight division championship.

"I don't think I've ever been in a camp with the depth of pitching we have here right now," Friedman said. "From the established guys to the young guys coming, it's a great group in terms of stuff, pitchability and the timing aspect of it, with the established guys ready now and a really good strong wave coming."

The Dodgers have depth at other positions. For instance, Friedman re-signed two veteran second basemen, Howie Kendrick and Chase Utley. He has seven outfielders competing for three spots.

Video: Ethier, Utley to have prominent roles in 2016

Perhaps the most exciting part of this camp will be watching 21-year-old Corey Seager play shortstop. He's MLB.com's No. 1 prospect and someone the Dodgers see as a cornerstone-type of player.

"I think as we look back on this 2016 team the hallmark of it will be our depth," Friedman said. "Injuries happen. You don't know when. You don't know to whom. But we feel really well covered, essentially everywhere, with quality Major League players. I think Doc [Roberts] and the coaches have done a tremendous job of communicating and continue to do that. There are going to be a lot of different guys who help us win games this year."

Video: Roberts, Friedman thrilled to see Spring Training

Now it's up to Roberts and his coaching staff to make the pieces fit.

"His energy level is off the charts," Friedman said. "The communication skills are tremendous. His ability to connect with people is really special. I think with the message points, he's been consistent, and the expectations of a really talented group and turning them into a highly successful team is something that has really resonated with the players."

That's a theme repeated around the clubhouse. At least nine NL teams appear capable of going to the World Series, and even with all the depth, October will be as uncertain as ever for the Dodgers.

"The excitement is good," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "We're ready to get going. I've said all along [Dave] is going to be a great manager and a great leader. It's always exciting to know you've got a legitimate shot to win the World Series. Winning divisions is great, and as much pride as we take in that, you've got to win a World Series to really be excited."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.

Los Angeles Dodgers