Last season the Dodgers had some of the most talented utility players in the major leagues, including seasoned veterans Skip Schumaker, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Nick Punto. Those three were reliable options whose versatility helped carry the Dodgers through various injuries throughout the season, while also serving as valuable substitutes late in games. All three took on important roles for the Dodgers last season, earning several starts or late-inning opportunities to help the team on their way to an NLCS appearance.
Few Dodgers fans expected much from such an unproven bench this year after all three of their proven veterans left as free agents or for retirement. For the most part their lack of faith in the Dodgers bench has been justified so far.
However, one of the lone bright spots among an otherwise gloomy set of reserves would have to be utility infielder Justin Turner.
The Cal State Fullerton alum has made the most of his opportunity as a Dodger, producing at a consistent level when the Dodgers need it most. Often times it seems Turner comes up with a clutch hit or a key defensive play to help the team rally or stop their opponents from getting something started on the offensive end.
While Turner initially assumed the role of a utility player to start the season, he has filled in nicely at third base during the absence of Juan Uribe due to injury. Uribe was a key contributor on the offensive end early on in the year for L.A., but Turner has stepped into that role admirably.
So far this season Turner is hitting .290 with three home runs and 18 runs batted in, almost matching Uribe’s total (.303/4/18) in 14 fewer at bats. The former Mets infielder is certainly not putting up all-star numbers, but he’s providing the team with consistency in a position of need for now.
The 29 year-old has kept the Dodgers afloat as a majority of the more talented and high-priced players have struggled to live up to their big contracts.
Upon Uribe’s return it is likely that Turner will find assume his role as a backup infielder, where he will be asked to play second base and shortstop along with third base. Having an option like Turner off the bench makes Don Mattingly’s job much easier, knowing he doesn’t have to overplay any of the veteran infielders on the roster.
Resting Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe will be key for the veterans’ health if the Dodgers make a playoff run, and Turner allows for them to sit while the team does not suffer a noticeable drop off on the field.
In a year of underperforming and mediocre play overall for the Dodgers, they must be pleasantly surprised with this offseason free agent pickup.
If the Dodgers are going to have any sort of postseason success this season, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp will need to play up to their abilities consistently.
However, if the team even wants to reach the postseason, they will continue to rely on having a solid bench, one that is solidified by Justin Turner’s presence.