Going into this past off-season the Los Angeles Dodgers had major question marks about who their everyday second baseman would be for the 2014 season. Not that it was a huge need because they have former and future All-Stars playing 5 of the other 7 positions, but finding someone who can play second base is not as easy as it sounds. Robinson Cano was deemed the logical replacement by most experts considering the Dodgers big spending ways. But that rumor was quickly put to bed in late October when general manager Ned Colletti signed Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to a 4 year 28 million dollar contract.
Guerrero, a former All-Star shortstop in Cubans highest baseball league seemed a certainty to transition to second base and be the Dodgers opening day start for the 2014 season. The goal was for Guerrero to use the Dominican Winter League and MLB’s spring training to get accustomed to the position change. However, a left hamstring injury significantly reduced his availability over the winter and lingered into spring training which limited him to only a handful of games at the new position heading into the season. Once again, the Ned Colletti was left searching for answers.
Enter Dee Gordon, who had been going through a position switch of his own throughout the winter and during spring training. His defense has always been a weakness and the ability to get on base consistently was something Gordon did not show at the MLB level in 2012 or 2013 (combined .231 BA). However, his game changing speed has always been on display including his struggling season of 2012/2013 when he still stole 42 bases in just under 400 at bats. But we have seen Dee Gordon hit before, in fact he is a much better hitter than people want to admit he is. As a rookie in 2011, 23 year old Dee Gordon caught fantasy owners by storm when he hit over .300 and stole 24 bases in just 52 big league games. He is a career .300 hitter in the minor leagues as his consistently shown the ability to at least be able to draw a walk from time to time.
Fast-forward to 2014, Dee Gordon is hitting a robust .347 and leading all of baseball in stolen bases with 12. He is doing all of that while be shuffled around the batting order and learning a new defensive position on the fly. Dee Gordon’s talents have never been in question, he has always made above average contact, always sported good batting averages and he has always shown the elite, game changing, one of a kind dynamic speed that few can bring on the base paths. His main problem was that he was forced to the major leagues before he was ready. Gordon, even after his successful debut in 2011 still had plenty to work on as a young hitter trying to translate minor league success and skills to the big leagues consistently.
2012 was almost a lost year for Dee Gordon as he was forced into a role that he just was not quite ready for. Early success in the big leagues does not always mean a young player is ready and Dee Gordon was not ready. His weaknesses as a hitter were exposed and it happens to every single young hitter. Quite frankly, his struggles should have been expected and could have been prevented. How Gordon would react to these pitching adjustments over time is what would define the type of hitter that he could be. So Dee Gordon went back to the minors and started working on his craft. In 92 games at Triple-A in 2013 Gordon hit .297 with 49 stolen bases and a career high of 51 walks. Dee Gordon learned something through his up and down struggle with hanging on to his spot in the big leagues. He learned how to be more patient as a player. Instead of trying to get a hit and score on every single pitch Dee Gordon learned how to work the count. He also became more patient with the process and started hitting more balls on the ground to the left side. With his speed that is all he has to do, just make contact and hit the ball the other way.
Well, the results have been hard to deny. I know it is still the first month of the season so let’s throw out the stats and just look at who he has become as a player. He is more mature with his approach to the game and is learning how to use his skills to his advantage. The improvements that he has made with his swing are easy to see for even the average fan. Dee Gordon is starting to show that his success in the minor leagues and in his rookie season were not just any flash in the pan. Keep in mind that in 2011 this is a player who was such a highly regarded prospect coming up that he was rated above guys like Jean Segura, Billy Hamilton and Jason Kipnis. Now prospect rankings are not everything and they are rarely accurate. But the point is that Dee Gordon has always had the talent to be an All-Star caliber infielder. It has just taken him a little longer to grow into that player that scouts knew he could become.
So do not just assume that big money free agent Alexander Guerrero just comes up and replaces him at any point in 2014. That seems to be the general consensus among "fantasy baseball experts". Even though Guerrero’s start in the minor leagues has been nothing short of amazing, 14-33, 9 extra base hits in 10 games, 7 walks, 1 strikeout. It is going to take time for him to learn the new position. Plus, the more Dee Gordon hits the more Alexander Guerrero may be learning another new position as soon as this summer. Juan Uribe cannot hold down third base forever can he? I think we see a Dodger infield that includes Dee Gordon, Hanley Ramirez and Alexander Guerrero by the end of the season. All three might not start every night but going forward that has to be in the back of Don Mattingly’s mind. Hanley Ramirez is not going anywhere and they are not going to move Dee Gordon when he has shown that he can at least be an adequate defender at 2B and an even bigger asset as a lead-off hitter. Check out my projections for him below.
*2014 Projections: .283/3 home runs/51 rbis/87 runs/67 steals
These types of numbers are very reachable with a full seasons worth of at bats, something that Dee Gordon is going to get in 2014. These numbers put him in line with a better season than most projected for Billy Hamilton when he was easily ranked a top 75 player most places a month ago. Add on the fact that Dee Gordon can deliver these numbers at one of baseball’s most shallow positions and you have an easy top 50 overall player who could challenge Robinson Cano and Jason Kipnis for being labeled fantasy baseball’s best second baseman. I bet you can get him for a lot cheaper than that in your fantasy league, and like Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly, you will have solved your second base problems with the addition of Dee Gordon.