Happy Thanksgiving! In the spirit of the holiday, SoSG presents a cornucopia of Dodger youngsters. Enjoy the bounty!
1. Matt Kemp. In 2008 (.290/.340/.459, 18 HR, -0.1 UZR), it was "He's got potential." In 2009 (.297/.352/.490, 26 HR, 2.6 UZR), it was a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. In 2010, it could be the Year of the Bison. It helps that Kemp seems to be enjoying himself when he plays (which is apparently "disrespectful" when you're a rookie, but evolves into "refreshing" when you've got some hardware).
2. Clayton Kershaw. The perpetrator of the curveball known as Public Enemy No. 1 was 11th in the NL in strikeouts. Kershaw is also mature beyond his 21 years, which bodes well for his maturation as a player. (Pitching in the playoffs in each of his first two years in the majors can't hurt either.) 2010 may or may not be the year he puts it all together, but even the intermediate steps to his reaching his potential have been thrilling.
3. Andre Ethier. Another Silver Slugger recipient, Mr. Miracle and his six walkoff hits filled the Dodgers' drama quotient in 2009. Ethier's chip-on-my-shoulder attitude seems the opposite of Kemp's buoyant demeanor, but it certainly works: Ethier's 31 home runs led the team in 2009. It seems doubtful he'll get as many game-winning opportunities next season — the Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Year flies under no one's radar. But could the Dodger outfield still hit a combined 100 home runs in 2010?
4. Chad Billingsley. As Jon Weisman has discussed, Billingsley's poor outings seem to have gotten more publicity than his good ones ("But you screw one goat..."). Lest we forget, Billingsley will be only 25 years old at the beginning of next season. Although 2009 represented a statistical regression in almost every category for him, he was still 12th in the NL in strikeouts. 2010 represents a fresh, broken leg-free start for Billingsley, and expectations will be lower — not necessarily a bad thing.
5. James Loney. He's been freed for a few years now, and although Loney has been underpowered for a corner infielder, he has been consistent. In 2009 he equaled his 2008 totals for RBIs (90) and home runs (13) while drawing more walks (70, up from 45) and cutting down on his strikeouts (68, down from 85). Loney even entered positive full-season UZR territory for the first time, rating a 1.2. His progress may not be as dramatic as Kemp's or Ethier's, but Loney is becoming a dependable "glue guy" in the Dodgers' lineup.
I really wanted to include Russell Martin on this list, but his rotten 2009 has landed him on the "hold your breath and hope he pulls out of his tailspin" list. Next Thanksgiving, Russell!