Matt Kemp’s injury reveals sad state of Dodgers center field depth

MattKempSueFalsone

Matt Kemp admitted to being hurt yesterday. No, not in connection to his ongoing lead shoulder issues, but rather having tweaked his hamstring chasing Mike Trout‘s double in center field.

Kemp suffered the injury in the seventh inning chasing down Mike Trout’s leadoff double.

“He felt it going into that gap. He kind of pulled up and knew out there,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He couldn’t go harder, and didn’t want to make it worse.”

Kemp remained in the game for two more batters but then was removed on a double switch after talking with trainer Nancy Patterson Flynn. Kemp first told right fielder Andre Ethier.

“Two years ago I probably would have stayed in the game, but ‘Dre told me to be safe,” Kemp said. “Maybe I’ll miss a couple of days or whatever, and not miss a month like I did last year.”

What the Dodgers will do isn’t known until the MRI comes back, but they’re thinking DL.

“It’s not as bad as last year, but I could feel it grab,” Kemp said. “When it feels like that you have to take it easy because it could get worse.”

It is unknown until the MRI results whether or not Kemp will need to be placed on the disabled list, but Mattingly guessed he might be without his center fielder for a little while.

“I shouldn’t say it, but any time you get a strained hamstring it’s usualy a DL stint,” Mattingly said. “Stan (Conte, director of medical services) did say it was mild, and hopefully he caught himself. We’ll see.”

Kemp, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Wednesday and is hitting .251/.305/.335 with two home runs in 51 games, wasn’t sure whether or not he would land on the DL.

“We’ll see tomorrow, and go from there,” Kemp said. “I’ll have to take it day by day and see how it feels.”

So that doesn’t sound promising.

As you would expect, the reaction to this was quick. While there were an unsurprising amount of morons cheering that he was hurt, there was also a ton of legit speculation about who could be called up to replace him (sometimes the two intertwined).

The assumption so far has been that since the Dodgers have two rather high-profile outfield prospects, the team has an easy shoo-in with one of the two to replace Kemp in center. However, a closer look shows that’s not the case.

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Carl Crawford

For all his speed, he has played 4% of his career games in center. Really, that should say it all as a potential replacement for Kemp. However, if you need more evidence, as Jonah Keri points out, he personally really DOESN’T want to play center. Like … at all. Then again, he only wrote a book on the Rays, so what would he know?

Also, he’s made of glass.

Yasiel Puig

He was the name most mentioned. Heck, it was even assumed.

Of course, the problem is that he’s not a center fielder. He’s not playing there in AA, neither Baseball America nor Baseball Prospectus project him at center, and while I feel he has the speed to cover ground there, he profiles much better in right where he doesn’t have to deal with as many complex reads off the bat. He’s a prototypical right fielder to me.

The excitement is because of his .309/.386/.590/.976 line against his first taste of advanced pitching in AA, along with his physical maturity and All-Star upside, but I’m not sure there’s much sense in discussing him as a replacement since the organization and scouts don’t see him in center long-term.

Joc Pederson

So who is playing center for the Chattanooga Lookouts in AA, right? Joc Pederson.

Besides that fact, though, the same problem with Puig exists for Joc. I personally think he profiles best as a left fielder because of his solid-average speed and an average arm. Baseball America thinks might be able to stay in center because of his athleticism and work ethic (note: not tools), whereas Baseball Prospectus sees him a clear left fielder.

Even if you bypass the question about position, remember that Joc just turned 21 in April. Like Puig, this is his first taste of advanced pitching, and he’s excelling as well (.313/.393/.516/.908), but I think he could use more time to develop. The team would probably agree after they made the mistake of forcing the issue with a green Dee Gordon, though Joc is nowhere near as raw.

Skip Schumaker

You know how everybody hates on Kemp for his hitting and defense? Well, tell them to enjoy .231/.320/.286/.606 with a platoon split and bad defense in center (-10 runs).

Tony Gwynn Jr.

His career batting line in the MLB (.244/.312/.318/.630) is worse than 2013 Matt Kemp, and he’s currently hitting .288/.359/.360/.719 in AAA, which is not good with the Albuqurque Isotopes.

The upside here is that he’s a plus-plus center fielder, but his hitting actually figures to get worse as a regular, not better.

Still, he’s a legit candidate, and I don’t think the 40-man roster spot should be an issue since Shawn Tolleson can easily be moved.

Matt Angle

A seven-year minor-league vet who got a cup of coffee with Baltimore in 2011 and hit .177/.293/.266/.559. He’s currently hitting .293/.378/.440/.818 in AAA and was worse last year.

I wouldn’t expect much hitting from him, and I’m honestly not sure of his defensive profile, but the metrics weren’t kind to him in 2011 (like horrific -50 runs in center). Don’t think he’s a legit option (I hope).

Elian Herrera

Elian Herrera has been with the team in 2013 and was with the team last year as well, when he hit .251/.340/.332/.671. He’s currently struggling a bit in AAA, with a .304/.364/.403/.767 line, but he posted a .901 OPS there last year.

In addition to being on the 40-man roster, he showed a non-horrific defensive profile in center last year, so he might be a legit option, as scary as that is.

Alfredo Amezaga

Over parts of nine seasons in the MLB, he has a .247/.307/.333/.640 line. Is this starting to look like a trend yet? Fortunately, he profiled as a plus-plus center fielder and has a .330/.397/.478/.875 line in AAA.

The catch, of course, is that he hasn’t played in the MLB since 2011, and hasn’t played center in the MLB since 2009.

Andre Ethier/Scott Van Slyke/Alex Castellanos

Time to stop using the Internet.

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So … yeah.

Essentially, it boils down to either moving a non-center fielder into center field, calling up a 21-year-old minor-leaguer getting his first taste of advanced pitching, or choosing from the bountiful cornucopia of replacement level options.

With that considered, you can see why the team needs Matt Kemp back on track no matter what you think the best way to accomplish that is. It’s basically the only real option for the same reason the Dodgers currently have five utility infielders on their roster: incredible foresight.

Reality struck last night, and it’s a reality where the Dodgers have nobody but Matt Kemp that projects to play center field at even a mediocre level, much less the production they’re used to getting at the position.

Fun.

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