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Dodgers roster outlook: Three players set to split time in the outfield

Despite all the focus on their off-season roster turnover, and despite all the talk of newcomers and open leagues coming in the spring, the Dodgers’ Opening Day team seems surprisingly settled with Cactus League games just getting started.

Their starting rotation is crystal clear. Their infield also seems to be in place.

Playtime in the outfield is up for grabs, but probably only between five players who have broken away from the pack.

Even the bullpen lacks a lot of preseason intrigue, with the group’s core and narrower role unlikely to be fulfilled — or so the Dodgers said — by camp’s end.

Although manager Dave Roberts claimed that “things still need to be determined”, he was quick to add: “I think our guys understand the landscape of our roster and how it could potentially shake out.”

Translation: The Dodgers have a good idea of ​​the plays they will go into the season; right now they’re more focused on figuring out how to fit.

The outfield appeared to be the most open league area in the spring, with only Mookie Betts’ spot in right field fully cemented.

Roberts has indicated that Chris Taylor, David Peralta and Trayce Thompson will likely split most of the playing time in the other two positions, able to form right-handed and left-handed platoons unless one of them emerges as an everyday weapon. .

Dodgers left fielder Chris Taylor (3), first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) and center fielder Trayce Thompson (25) take the field for an exhibition Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The fifth spot is also starting to take hold, with Jason Heyward staying clear of other minor league signings Steven Duggar and Bradley Zimmer for the first few weeks, as well as prospect James Outman.

Dodgers brass is pleased with Heyward’s off-season swing change, in which he’s lowered his hands, flattened his batpad, and simplified his mechanics.

Heyward has yet to appear in a Cactus League game, but the 33-year-old former All-Star has looked sharp in live batting practice. Last week, he hit a home run against Tony Gonsolin. Then, Sunday morning, he drove a sharp single the other way, prompting an encouraging nod from Roberts who looked close.

“If you have the last year and a half like I had,” Heyward said with a straight face about his 2021 and 2022 lows with the Chicago Cubs, “you would expect changes to be made in the off-season.”

The Dodgers’ infield plans seem even clearer.

Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy will be the primary first and third basemen. Gavin Lux and Miguel Vargas will form a new middle infield duo at shortstop and second base. JD Martinez, meanwhile, gets the most starts at the designated hitter.

That leaves Miguel Rojas as the team’s utility infielder — a role the 34-year veteran embraces after being a daily shortstop for the Miami Marlins in recent years.

“I just want to be part of the puzzle,” Rojas said.

He may not be an insignificant piece either, as Roberts said on Sunday his goal is to keep Rojas “relevant” with regular playing time in one of four infield positions, perhaps even leaving the field when necessary.

“He’s already gotten an openness to just being on the ballpark and helping out in any way he can,” said Roberts. So now it’s up to me to figure out how to give guys the day off to keep Miguel engaged. Because I think he’s very additive.

With a defined rotation of Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Noah Syndergaard, the only big open-ended question is who will start opening day.

“We’ll give you one soon,” Roberts said jokingly last week. “I think you guys have a pretty good idea.”

And in the bullpen, the Dodgers have again said they don’t feel the need to pick a close this spring — the same plan they had last year before trading for Craig Kimbrel ahead of opening day.

“To think that spring training is a competition for that role, I just don’t believe it,” Roberts said at the start of camp. “Do I think we will have a close at some point? I saw that… But I also saw that we didn’t have a dedicated closing.”

Of course, with so much time left before the start of the season on March 30, things can always change.

Players get injured or get out of shape. And while spring games may not provide the most compelling evidence, managers and front office executives are always evaluating.

For now, however, most of the jockeying is further down the organization’s depth chart.

Young pitchers like Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone, Michael Grove and Bobby Miller are trying to position themselves for possible big league-call-ups this season.

Zimmer, Duggar and Outman could play a role in the outfield if injuries or poor performances arise.

And a final bullpen spot would be up for grabs between Caleb Ferguson, Victor González, Phil Bickford and others.

In that way, it’s like normal spring camp for the Dodgers — who, for all their off-season changes, are already envisioning how their roster will take shape.

“We have a lot of good players and things are always changing, so obviously we have to be open to that,” said Roberts. But, he added, “We have a good idea of ​​how it’s going to shake out.”