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Open competition set to begin in left field

MLB.com @kengurnick

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers started 12 players in left field in 2017, and the position appears no more settled as Spring Training begins.

This, despite the fact that a leading contender wasn't one of the 12. That would be Matt Kemp, who is the most intriguing, as well as the most confounding, of the candidates manager Dave Roberts will welcome to camp.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers started 12 players in left field in 2017, and the position appears no more settled as Spring Training begins.

This, despite the fact that a leading contender wasn't one of the 12. That would be Matt Kemp, who is the most intriguing, as well as the most confounding, of the candidates manager Dave Roberts will welcome to camp.

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Of last year's dozen starters, half aren't even on the team anymore. One, Cody Bellinger, is the starting first baseman. The one with the most starts in left last year, Chris Taylor, is the starting center fielder. Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Curtis Granderson and O'Koyea Dickson left as free agents. Scott Van Slyke was traded and Brett Eibner was released.

That leaves right-handed hitters Kemp, Enrique Hernandez and Trayce Thompson, and left-handed hitters Andrew Toles, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo. Kemp has $43.5 million remaining on a contract through 2019 that the Dodgers have unsuccessfully tried to move. Thompson is out of options.

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Aside from Yu Darvish's free agency, Kemp's curious situation has been top of mind for the Dodgers since the trade with the Braves. He has spent that time reshaping a body that was in need of a makeover and winning over his former and new teammates with an upbeat, team-oriented attitude. Even management seems willing to consider the possibility of him breaking with the club, which wasn't the case when he was acquired in a salary swap with Atlanta.

"We want guys that want to win, and Matt definitely fits that mold," Roberts said.

Kemp once was a 40/40-type talent, but that was almost a decade ago, and he remains haunted by high expectations. Even the 19 home runs he hit in an injury-marred 2017 are more than all but Taylor hit last year. His defensive metrics, however, have flipped since his two Gold Glove Award wins. And opposite offensive splits show he prefers to bat against right-handers (.284 vs. .250 in '17), making a traditional platoon tricky.

Next on the intriguing scale is Toles, the Cinderella story of 2016 who went from working in a supermarket to the Dodgers' lineup. But he tore up his right knee last May and, although believed fully healed from major surgery, needs to show that his speed and athleticism are back. Thompson hasn't been the same player since trying to play through two broken vertebrae in '16, but he's also said to be fully healed.

Video: WS2017 Gm1: Hernandez charges in for four-star catch

Hernandez, like Kemp, can punish any left-handed pitcher. His defensive versatility is a huge asset, especially with Taylor in center and Charlie Culberson in Atlanta.

Pederson and Verdugo have their share of question marks as well. Pederson showed in the postseason what he can do, but that was only after he had been demoted to the Minor Leagues. Verdugo's September callup was a learning experience (i.e., he struggled badly). He's only 21 and will need a huge spring to jump ahead of the veterans.

Non-roster outfielders invited to camp are Yusniel Diaz, DJ Peters, Henry Ramos and Travis Taijeron.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Enrique Hernandez, Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson