MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Dodgers' outfield depth already tested

With Ethier down, LA needs Puig, Crawford more than ever

Dodgers' outfield depth already tested

Dave Roberts knew there were going to be major ongoing challenges when he accepted the Dodgers' managerial job and everything that goes with big-market expectations.

What he couldn't have imagined was that there would be so many challenges so soon.

Media covering the Dodgers this spring would have felt just as comfortable covering developments at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Seemingly every day, they've been handling injury reports, none more serious than the broken leg suffered last Friday by Andre Ethier that presumably will have him sidelined until June.

Ethier, in a familiar pattern, emerged from the shadows last season to deliver in a big way. Putting together his best performance in five years, he had a .294/.366/.486 slash line, repeatedly bailing out his team with clutch hits and solid defense.

Seemingly a man without a position when the season began, Ethier was the Dodgers' most productive and dependable outfielder. Now he's unavailable, and Roberts will search for answers from other sources.

Depth never is an issue here; the Dodgers in recent seasons have collected outfielders of all sizes, shapes and temperaments. The problem has been keeping them healthy, happy and productive.

The best-case scenario for Roberts involves Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford. These are gifted athletes capable of doing big things. Neither did much in 2015, their seasons unhinged by injuries.

Puig missed 79 days with a lingering hamstring issue and never was close to 100 percent. Crawford lost 84 days to a strained oblique. Ethier did a remarkable job of essentially replacing both players.

Now it's up to Puig and Crawford to return the favor, to their team. Without their input, the offense will be missing essential power/speed components.

The Dodgers' leadoff men in 2015 ranked last in the Majors in batting average (.233) and 12th in the National League in on-base percentage (.319) and runs scored (93). Numbers along those lines will give Roberts headaches and make it difficult to produce a fourth consecutive NL West title, with the Giants and D-backs having loaded up with offseason acquisitions.

Puig's outstanding game

One of the manager's problems is that his best leadoff man is 43 years old and hasn't played a game since 2008. That would be David Ray Roberts.

Roberts is known largely for one postseason stolen base for the Red Sox against the Yankees 12 seasons ago, but he was much more than a one-trick pony. He was an elite catalyst for back-to-back division champion Padres teams (2005-06) after helping lift Boston's beloved "Idiots" to the Promised Land.

Roberts delivered his career year in 2006. He hit .293 with a .360 on-base percentage as one-third of a superb San Diego outfield, with Mike Cameron in center and Brian Giles in right.

The manager, Bruce Bochy, was calling Roberts his most valuable player when Doc's season was interrupted by a collision with the base of the left-field wall at Angel Stadium on June 17. He missed three weeks with a knee injury, returning to fuel the Padres' drive to the NL West title.

Roberts was 34 that season. Crawford is 34 now.

If Crawford, in a potential left-field platoon with underrated Scott Van Slyke, can reward the Dodgers with the energy and consistency Roberts gave the Padres, Los Angeles' leadoff issues might be resolved.

A four-time American League stolen-base king with the Rays, also leading four times in triples, Crawford can still motor. There are few better baserunners in the game

Last season, Dodgers leadoff men stole 11 bases (in 20 attempts). Eleven steals used to be an average month for Crawford -- or Roberts, who claimed 49 bags in 55 attempts in '06.

A franchise that once had Jackie Robinson, Maury Wills and Davey Lopes burning up the base paths has slowed to a crawl. The Dodgers were last in the league in stolen base success rate (63.4 percent) while stealing 59 bases last season. The D-backs had 132 steals, the Giants 93.

Only the Tigers were more ineffective than the Dodgers in taking the extra base -- going first to third, second to home or first to home.

Puig and Joc Pederson have the speed to make things happen on the bases, but neither was effective last season.

A master of the craft who benefitted from Wills' mentoring, Roberts had 118 steals in 143 attempts (82.5 percent) in his three seasons (2002-04) with the Dodgers. As part of that Robinson/Wills/Lopes heritage, he'll do everything in his power to revive intelligent aggression on the bases.

The rest is up to Crawford, Puig and Pederson, superb athletes capable of forming a quality outfield in Ethier's absence.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.