Every Spring Training, there is an abundance of players proclaiming to be in the best shape of their lives. This year, Dee Gordon of the Los Angeles Dodgers is among the first to make that proclamation, announcing that he has gained significant weight – and presumably, strength – while not sacrificing his best skill: Speed. Speaking with Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, Gordon had this to say:
“I just want to be stronger. I was nervous that it would slow me down, but I played in Puerto Rico and I saw that nothing happened to my speed. That was a relief. And I'm hitting the ball with more authority."
Hitting and getting on base were major issues for Gordon last season. In 104 plate appearances with the Dodgers in 2013, Gordon managed a meager slash line of .234/.314/.298, effectively rendering his plus-speed useless. If Gordon has indeed improved his hitting, he could represent a nightmare on the basepaths for opposing pitchers and defenses. But, as manager Don Mattingly pointed out, Gordon has yet to prove that he can get on base with any sort of regularity.
"You know his speed can play," said Mattingly. "Can he make the everyday play and get on consistently to let his speed play? Inconsistency has been the biggest thing."
Offense is not Gordon’s only concern. If Gordon had been serviceable at shortstop last year, he may have seen more playing time than the 38 games he played at the big league level. The advanced metrics rated Gordon poorly, earning him a UZR/150 of -17.4. Despite this, Gordon remains confident in his chances of earning the starting job at second base:
"I feel like I can be a good shortstop, but I can play a great second base," he said. "If they let me play, they'll have a good second baseman and a great hitter at the bottom of the order to set the table at the top."
Gordon has done well by committing to prepare this offseason. On Twitter, Gordon referenced the fact that his father, Tom “Flash” Gordon, had bought him a personal batting cage for hitting work. Gordon also spent a good deal of time playing in the Dominican Winter League and in Puerto Rico, ostensibly honing his skills at the keystone position while also working on his hitting deficiencies.
Perhaps the Dodgers still believe that Gordon can be a productive major leaguer. One of the biggest questions (one that still remains unanswered) was why the team was willing to let Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto leave on reasonable free-agent deals elsewhere when there was so much infield uncertainty. If Gordon is as improved as he says he is, the Dodgers may have had that answer all along. Of course, they may not be too sure of themselves given the number of candidates expected to be competing for playing time.
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