By David Vassegh
UCLA Quarterback, Brett Hundley is handling his first rivalry week cool and calm. The Redshirt Freshman has had an outstanding first season as the Bruins starting QB, throwing for 2739 yards with a 69% completion percentage. Hundley has thrown 24 TD's to only 9 INT's he added 6 rushing TD's too! Hundley has done more than stabilize the QB position in Westwood, he has become one of the best playmakers in the Pac-12. The best way to describe Hundley is confident, but humble. He didn't seem overwhelmed knowing what is at stake this Saturday at the Rose Bowl against USC for the Pac-12 South Championship.
1. Can Andre Ethier be productive and protect Matt Kemp?
Ethier is a free agent after this season, so that will be more motivation for him. He already plays with a HUGE chip on his shoulder that helps him perform at a high level, but also hurts him some times. Ethier only hit 11 HR and only drove in 62 runs. The Dodgers will need him to be the left handed power protection for Matt Kemp this season. Ethier is coming off knee surgery, and the Dodgers will need him to return to his 2009 stat line: 31 HR 106 RBI and 42 Doubles.
2. Juan Uribe
He was awful last year and probably one of the worst signings in baseball last winter ( 3 years-$21 million). He only played 77 games last year and with only 4 HR and 28 RBI, barely hitting over .200 (.204). The Dodgers options at 3rd Base are thin after Uribe. Adam Kennedy will probably get some time at the hot corner along with second base.
3. Can James Loney be consistent?
Loney was one of the best hitters the 2nd half of 2011 (.320 BA, .380 OBP, 8 HR 34 RBI), but he was very mediocre in the 1st half, hitting just .268 and only 4 HR. Loney in 2010 was one of the best hitting First Baseman in the 1st half (.309 BA, .361 OBP. 6 HR and 61 RBI) and in the 2nd half was one of the worst hitters in baseball hitting just 4 HR and driving in 25 RBI while hitting just .211. Ethier-Kemp-Loney will have to be the guys that drive the Dodgers offense.
4. 2nd Base
Ned Colletti signed Mark Ellis this off season to a 2 yr/$8.25 million so that would tell you that he wants Don Mattingly to play him the most at 2nd Base. He also signed Jerry Hairston who is another utility guy that can play SS and 2B and Adam Kennedy will get some time there as well. This position is made up of utility guys, so it will be up to Don Mattingly to mix and match when guys get hot at the plate. By the way, Ellis only hit .248 and had an abysmal .288 On Base last year where he split time between Oakland and Colorado.
5. Dee Gordon
Can Dee Gordon adjust to a full season in the majors? I think he can and excel. He is one of the fastest players in Major League Baseball. He struggled the first time he was called up last year to replace the injured Rafael Furcal, but after he got sent down and came back up to the majors, you could tell he was a lot more relaxed at the plate and it showed in September. Gordon hit .372 stole 12 bases and his on base % was .388. Gordon will be vital to the Dodgers offense to get on base and create havoc for pitchers as they face Ethier-Kemp-Loney and the rest of the Dodger lineup
Be careful what you ask for! Dodgers fans, media and Colletti were all down on Russ Martin at the end of 2010 with the way he handled the pitching staff and his lack of focus. All fair criticisms of Martin, but what is the alternative? It was Rod Barajas and AJ Ellis last year. This season it will be AJ Ellis and Matt Treanor. Treanor is a lifetime .225 hitter who has been plagued by injuries and Ellis a .262 lifetime hitter in only 87 big league games.
Javy Guerra was a pleasant surprise for the Dodgers last year and a much needed one. Guerra replaced Jonathan Broxton as the Dodgers closer in July and racked up 18 saves with 2.31 ERA. Opponents only hit .218 against him last year. Can he continue that in 2012? If not, the Dodgers have one of the best set up men that pitched in the big leagues last year, Kenley Jansen who will get some chances too along with being the 8th inning guy. Jansen recently told me his favorite athlete is Shaquille O'Neal, so you know he has a good head on his shoulders!
8. Left Field
Don Mattingly pushed for the Dodgers to trade for Juan Rivera, he knew him from their days with the Yankees. Rivera is a notorious 2nd half hitter and the Dodgers got him at the right time, when he heats up. Rivera in his career in the 1st half of the season has only hit .260 with an OBP .312. Compared to his 2nd half numbers in his career: .292 BA and .341 OBP. Last year held true to form too:
1st Half: BA. .243 6 HR and 28 RBI
2nd Half: BA .274 5 HR and 46 RB
If Rivera has a slow start to the season, will it be Jerry Sands that gets the call in LF? Will it be Scott Van Slyke? who some evaluators have told me might be better than Sands. Van Slyke was the "Dodgers Minor League Position Player of the Year" in 2011 and was the Double-A batting champ. If you recognize his last name, it's because his father, Andy Van Slyke had a very good big league career.
I'm not one of those people that goes bananas on signing day as most college football fans do these days. I actually think that too much attention is given to high school kids that haven't proven anything on the college football field.
With that being said, Signing Day 2012 for Jim Mora and his staff was a big win. Not only did he secure one of the most prized high school players in the state of California, Ellis McCarthy, a Defensive Tackle from Monrovia High School as part of the sensational 25 player recruiting class, he got the UCLA fan base excited again. I was at a UCLA Signing Day Party at Barney's Beanery in Westwood and the theme was "Change the Culture" and everything I hear around the UCLA Football offices is Jim Mora is indeed changing the culture with a lot more intensity and he hasn't even conducted one practice!
It was evident at the press conference on Wednesday when Mora was brutally honest and said "Every position is up for competition".
Mora won in recruiting, and he also won over the UCLA fan base in Westwood when he showed up at Barney's Beanery with one of his Assistant Coaches, Demetrice Martin and celebrated the "Changing Culture" of UCLA Football.
Click below to listen to Jim Mora with Petros & Money to tell us how signing day went...
Andrew "Baby" Bynum: Take the bus.
Ben Howland: Save a timeout for the end of close games.
Jim Mora: Recruit a QB!
Phil Jackson: Clean the house before Jeanie gets home from the office.
Jim Buss: Find another hobby and leave my Dad's team alone.
L.A. Kings: Stop promising this is the year you'll win the Stanley Cup.
Paulina Gretzky: Keep tweeting
Kobe Bryant: Don't get married again
Vernon Wells: Hit at least .220 in 2012 and hit at least 16 Doubles.
James Loney: Put together a full season of production.
Frank McCourt: Sell the Dodgers finally!
Happy New Year!
It wasn't a press conference I attended on Saturday, it was an event. The Angels introduced their big free agent signings to not only the media, but the entire Angels family including over 1,000 fans that showed up to cheer their new Halos. Arte Moreno got almost as big of an ovation as Albert Pujols. Moreno joked "I might need a loan from these guys". Make one thing clear, Albert Pujols is in Anaheim because of Arte Moreno. Not only will he be paying the slugger, but it was his idea to bring Pujols to the team. I was told from an Angels executive that Moreno wanted to bring Pujols "for the Angels fans" and he was the one that convinced Pujols to join the Angels. Also, I was told if the Angels struck out in signing Pujols, they would not have attempted to sign Prince Fielder because they specifically wanted what everyone in the organization believes is an iconic player.
I had a chance to be part of a small group to talk to CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols after the press conference click below to hear from CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols.