On July 30, 2021, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals. Los Angeles sent Washington their two top prospects, catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray, outfielder Donovan Casey and right-hander Gerardo Carrillo. This was a blockbuster trade made with the mind set of the Dodgers trying to repeat as World Series champions.
The end result? A six-game series loss to the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. Devastating free agent departures followed the playoff loss, as Scherzer (New York Mets), Corey Seager (Texas Rangers) and Corey Knebel (Philadelphia Phillies) all found new homes. Meanwhile, franchise royalty Clayton Kershaw and reliever Joe Kelly remain on the open market during the MLB lockout.
Even with the nightmare offseason the franchise is currently enduring, the Dodgers are still an NL contender, but they’re not as stacked as they’ve been in recent years. They need a handful of players to kick it into another gear. Here are three players the Dodgers need to pick up the pace in 2022.
Related: MLB offseason power rankings
Tony Gonsolin can make a difference for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff
Starting pitching has traditionally been an area of strength for the Dodgers, but several questions exist regarding that aspect of their ballclub. Scherzer is gone, Kershaw may very well be gone and Trevor Bauer could potentially never take the hill again. Will Dustin May make a full return from an elbow injury? Can David Price be a frequent member of the rotation? Will Gonsolin take the next step? Do the Dodgers feel they can right free agent signee Andrew Heaney’s MLB career?
Sticking with the last question, the 27-year-old right-hander has shown plenty of promise. He has pitched efficiently, logged strikeouts at a high rate and been a steady force. The issue is Gonsolin has never been a consistent member of manager Dave Roberts’ rotation and the skipper didn’t feel comfortable giving the former a true start last postseason.
- Tony Gonsolin stats (2021): 3.23 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 65 strikeouts across 55.2 innings (15 appearances, 13 starts)
Gonsolin will at least have the chance to make the 2022 rotation. To earn that nod, he needs to keep more runners off the basepaths. In keeping more runners off the basepaths, Roberts can leave Gonsolin in the game through the fifth inning (he never made a six-inning start in 2021) and the right-hander can go to work with his slider and split-fingered fastball.
Gonsolin is a prime breakout candidate for the Dodgers. He could be a welcome enhancement to a rotation that includes Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and a healthy May. It’s not a matter of the Dodgers finding carbon copies of Scherzer and Kershaw. It’s about finding starting pitchers they can rely on to pitch into the seventh inning and start in the postseason.
Gavin Lux has to make a jump for the Los Angeles Dodgers
Three years ago, Lux was one of MLB’s best infield prospects and seemed like an eventual starter in the Dodgers’ infield. While he received considerable playing time last season and has received reps in the big leagues since 2019, the second baseman has underwhelmed.
Across 102 regular-season appearances last season, Lux put together a yawning campaign. He struggled to get on base by means of base hits, posed a minimal threat in the batter’s box and was unable to hit his weight in the postseason. Lux held his own at varying positions in 2021 and could start around the infield in 2022, as Trea Turner likely moves back to shortstop with Seager gone and Justin Turner, 37, is coming off a gruesome hamstring injury.
- Gavin Lux stats (2021): .242/.328/.364, seven home runs and 46 RBIs across 335 at-bats
Lux’ offensive makeup lends itself to a contact hitter who hits at the top or bottom of an order. The Dodgers need players who can frequently get on base through both working the count and slapping pitches through the infield. Lux doing as such either sets the table for the middle of the order or creates an opportunity for the ensuing batter to bunt him into scoring position.
Los Angeles has preserved the bulk of its prospect capital in recent memory, which is coming in handy at the moment. At the same time, Lux has to build on 2021 and help make up for the offense the team has lost.
Cody Bellinger has to be an elite hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers
Multiple players have to step up for the Dodgers, but if Bellinger doesn’t hit at an All-Star level, this team isn’t going to win the NL, anyway.
There are few perceived MLB stars who could have their best season removed from their baseball card and then be an at-best moderate performer. Bellinger is one of those players. He has five seasons at the big-league level under his belt (2017-21). A word or phrase for those campaigns in order would be as follows: eye-opening, regressive, wow, ouch and incredulous. At his best, Bellinger is a formidable hitter from the left side. When off his game, Bellinger barely cracks an MLB lineup. It’s that erratic.
The Dodgers need some form of Bellinger that is a continual and high-level threat to come through with a clutch hit. One could argue that the Dodgers don’t have an elite offense anymore. While a great all-around player, Mookie Betts is a volatile hitter. As previously alluded to, Justin Turner is coming off a rough injury. Lux and other young hitters will be asked to hold down substantial or at least larger roles.
Bellinger can’t be predictable, which means being more disciplined. He needs to be more of a line-drive hitter than a mere home run threat and get on base by working the count, which he has done well in the past. A rejuvenated Bellinger is an essential free agent signing for the Dodgers.