COMMENTARY | Let me preface this by saying I realize it's early March. I realize spring training statistics mean almost nothing when it comes to evaluating players -- especially youngsters. But the Los Angeles Dodgers have a few surprises so far in spring training.
Chad Billingsley is pitching
For all intents and purposes, Chad Billingsley shouldn't be pitching. He should be recovering from Tommy John surgery after partial tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in August. Instead, he received platelet rich plasma injections in his right elbow and, coupled with rehabilitation, is attempting to pitch through the injury.
While his numbers are downright ugly -- a 10.38 earned run average and an unheard of 20.1 hits per nine innings -- it's encouraging and surprising he's even throwing.
However, Billingsley isn't in the clear just yet.
Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness chronicled the trials of those who have attempted the same thing Billingsley is doing. The results aren't pretty.
Guys like Chris Capuano, Jesse Litsch and pat Neshek ultimately succumbed to surgery, but guys like Adam Wainwright and Ervin Santana were able to successfully pitch through the injury. Full disclosure: Wainwright made it six years (2005 through 2010) before needing Tommy John surgery while Santana hasn't pitched nearly as well since being diagnosed with the during the 2009 season.
When completely healthy, Billingsley is the Dodgers' third-best pitcher. If you believe in the odd-year Josh Beckett phenomenon, then maybe he's that guy. But Billingsley's ability, track record and talent speak for themselves. It may be unrealistic to think he can throw 180 innings, but at this point, any positive performance the Dodgers can get from Billingsley is gravy.
Yasiel Puig is really impressing
For a guy who hasn't played much organized baseball in the last two calendar years, Yasiel Puig is lighting it up.
When people aren't raving about his physique, they're raving about his raw talent, which is reminiscent of Matt Kemp.
Puig is no Brian Barden (who is?), but he's making his best case to make the 25-man roster -- something I previously said wouldn't happen (my mind is unchanged). However, it's hard not to get excited at the possibilities.
Puig is tied with Barden for most hits (11) while he leads in at-bats (26), RBIs (six), runs scored (six) and, unfortunately, strikeouts (seven).
When Puig was signed to a seven-year, $42 million deal in July, it caught many by surprise. If Puig keeps up his current pace (or anything close to it), the deal could end up being a bargain.
But let's not kid ourselves. Puig isn't ready for the show. Despite the fantastic performance so far, he would be exposed -- rather easily -- in the majors. He needs more seasoning in the minor leagues before getting his shot in the bigs.
The only way he makes the squad out of spring training is if all three starting outfielders get hurt. That wouldn't be good for the team and, to a lesser extent, Puig.
His time is coming, possibly as soon as this summer. But it'd be nice to see him rack up more than 100 plate appearances in a season before people start engraving his bust in Cooperstown.
Alex Castellanos could actually make the team
Alex Castellanos has done nothing but hit since being acquired by the Dodgers at the trade deadline in 2011.
Castellanos could actually break camp with the team as their fourth outfielder, which would be a nice change of pace from the usual -- an established player well past his prime who really isn't that good and makes the team because of his veteran goodness. I'm looking at you, Garrett Anderson, Reed Johnson, Marcus Thames and Juan Rivera. The fact I could come up with four right away just strengthens that point.
The only thing truly holding Castellanos back from nabbing that spot on the team is his inexperience in center field. The Dodgers don't have great backup center field options (pretty much begins and ends with Skip Schumaker), so if Castellanos could grasp the position, it'd be another point for him.
I went into more detail about this possibility on my blog, but Castellanos' bat is the tool that will carry him. He fits best -- defensively -- in a corner outfield spot, but if he can show even adequate skill in center field, that would help.
Castellanos could even play in the infield in an absolute pinch. He has experience at first, second and third base. The Dodgers don't view him as an infielder, but it's nice to have that ability in a "What if..." moment.
Billingsley and Castellanos have the most immediate impact on the Dodgers, as they should both be on the 25-man roster on April 1. It's nice to have a talent like Puig simmering in the minors and seemingly ready to contribute as soon as a few months from now.
Dustin Nosler has followed the Dodgers from Northern California all his life. He's the founder of Feelin' Kinda Blue, a Dodger blog. He also co-hosts "Dugout Blues," a weekly Dodger podcast. Find him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue.