Baseball preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Despite finishing with a record above .500, the Los Angeles Dodgers finished in fourth place in the National League West last season. In an effort to improve their performance in 2008, the Dodgers hired Joe Torre as their manager.

Torre is regarded as one of the most successful managers in baseball history. By hiring him, the Dodgers immediately become one of the top teams in the NL West.


But Torre won't be able to win the division on his own. He'll need several young players to step up and have big seasons in 2008. Matt Kemp is expected to see a lot more action this season and the 23-year-old outfielder could become one of the best hitters in the league. If he receives more playing time as anticipated, then first baseman James Loney will also see a jump in his stats.

The Dodgers are loaded with fantasy talent. Although I didn't mention him as one of the most valuable fantasy performers, new center fielder Andruw Jones could rebound from a down year in 2007. Although he had 26 home runs and 94 RBIs, Jones only hit .222 in 154 games. He'll need to improve his batting average in 2008, but he should still be a solid outfielder that is worth drafting in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft.


Los Angeles Dodgers

2007 record: 82-80 (4th in NL West)

Key additions: CF Andruw Jones, RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Key losses: LF Luis Gonzalez, LHP Randy Wolf, LHP Mark Hendrickson, LHP David Wells

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Russell Martin, C – In his second season, Martin showed that he is one of the best catchers in the major leagues. He hit .293 with 19 home runs and 87 RBIs last year. Martin also demonstrated his speed by stealing 21 bases in 2007. Torre has said that Martin won't be overused this season – he appeared in 151 games last year – so his numbers may drop slightly since he'll be playing in fewer games. But Martin's numbers could also increase because he won't be wearing down late in the season. Martin will be gone by the fifth round in most draft formats, so grab him early.

2. Jeff Kent, 2B – Although he'll turn 40 in less than a week, Kent remains one of the top second basemen in the majors. He's no longer the fantasy superstar that he was throughout his younger years, but Kent will still hit around .290 with 15-20 home runs and 70-80 RBIs. It'd be a good idea to select Kent in the middle rounds.

3. Rafael Furcal, SS – It wasn't a spectacular season for Furcal in 2007. After four consecutive seasons with at least 12 home runs, he only hit six last year. Furcal's batting average (.270) was a career low and he only had 47 RBIs, which was his lowest total since 2001. If Furcal can recover this season, then he'll hit around .285 with 10-15 home runs and 30-40 stolen bases. He'll also score 100-110 runs, so he's worthy of being drafted somewhere between the sixth and ninth round.


4. Juan Pierre, LF – If you require outfielders to hit at least one home run in order to be on your fantasy team, then don't pick Pierre. He didn't hit any home runs in 2007 and has only 12 in his eight-year career. However, he's one of the top speed threats in the majors and will steal between 55-65 bases in 2008. Pierre has been first or second in stolen bases in every season since 2001. He'll also score close to 100 runs, so it would be good to grab him around the 12th or 13th round of your draft.

5. Takashi Saito, RHP – Saito is not very valuable in keeper leagues because the third-year reliever is already 38 years old. However, he's still one of the top closers in the National League and should pick up 40-45 saves in 2008. Last season, Saito collected 39 saves with a 1.40 ERA. He should be drafted around the seventh round, but could drop further if the top closers are still available.

Hidden gems:

1. Matt Kemp, RF – Kemp hit .342 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs in 98 games last season. This year, he'll likely be the starting right fielder, so Kemp should improve in all major statistical categories. He should be near the league leaders in batting average and could pick up 20-25 home runs and 70-80 RBIs.

2. James Loney, 1B – While most baseball analysts think Kemp is headed for a big season, Loney could surprise a lot of people and also put together an impressive season. He didn't have a lot of power in the minors, but Loney hit 15 home runs in 96 games last year. If he sees an increase in playing time in 2008, then Loney could hit over .300 with 20-25 home runs and 85-95 RBIs. Take him around the 12th round if he's available.

3. Chad Billingsley, RHP – Billingsley made 20 starts in 2007 and appeared in 43 games total. He finished the season with a 12-5 record and 3.31 ERA. Billingsley struck out 141 hitters in 147 innings pitched. He'll be in the rotation to start the season and could win 15 games. Billingsley should strike out 160-170 hitters if he remains in the rotation for the entire season. However, he's experienced some groin pain already in spring training, so you'll have to monitor his progress before you draft him.