GLENDALE, Ariz. — Miguel Vargas might look as if he is on an island as the Dodgers transition him to second base for the first time, all while the rookie hopes to become an everyday major leaguer.
Except that while Vargas has talented veterans that circle him on the field, those established players have taken it upon themselves to be vast oceans of knowledge. Advice and encouragement are available at all times, with all of it just a few steps away in any direction.
From Miguel Rojas to his right at shortstop, Freddie Freeman to his left at first base and the ever-present Mookie Betts behind him in right field, the Dodgers have created a support system around someone they think can be a dynamic young player.
“This clubhouse, I feel like, the mix of veterans are really cool, because we’re coming from different cultures,” Rojas said. “So me playing shortstop next to a guy like Miguel Vargas, who is coming from Cuba, it’s easier for me to translate whatever I need to translate to him and he’s going to understand.”
Veterans have always been the drivetrain of a baseball roster and the Dodgers are loaded with them again. Clayton Kershaw, Betts and Freeman are all available to let the younger players know what it takes to be a champion and what is expected as a member of the Dodgers.
Max Muncy, Julio Urias, Austin Barnes and Chris Taylor all are pushing into the veteran ranks. And a flock of familiar faces have arrived. Rojas, JD Martinez, David Peralta, Jason Heyward and Shelby Miller essentially have seen it all between them.
“It’s great,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the veteran additions. “I think that with veterans, there is one part of it of getting guys to understand your vision and have them be aligned. And the guys we brought in … are guys that were already aligned in philosophies that we value. So that just makes my job much easier and more fun.”
The knee injury that sidelined Gavin Lux for the season made the Dodgers’ on-field presence even more veteran with Rojas set to see more playing time, unless an infielder is added by the front office. The challenge for Roberts will be to get those veterans the proper rest they need while still keeping their on-field skills sharp.
“I think that’s going to be easy,” Roberts said. “I think that each one of those guys … is in a point in their careers where they understand their roles have evolved.
“Yes, it will be fluid at times, but for the most part, they will need to have their rest days and recoveries and I will have to play other guys.”
Heyward is known for one of the all-time veteran leadership moves as a member of the Chicago Cubs. During a rain delay in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, Heyward implored the Cubs to embrace the moment, reminding each player to make an impact on the game. The Cubs returned to the field and finished off the Cleveland Indians to take their long-awaited title.
Looking within yourself has always been Heyward’s mantra. He gave a variation of the theme this week when talking about the 2023 Dodgers.
“You got to understand to be your own biggest critic first,” Heyward said about being an aid for younger players. “You want to go out there and game, play the game the right way. Understand how hard the game is on a day-to-day basis and be real about that.
“As far as speaking up to the group, to me, that’s for the betterment of everyone. You see the potential in the crowd around you. Throughout a 180-day season, it’s about a pick-me-up, you need some encouragement or to be that person at the time to kind of let loose and have some fun. Put it into perspective.”
During camp this week, Rojas saw a player from another position group with a less-than-sound fundamental approach and let them know about it from across the field. The player made the necessary changes and the workout never skipped a beat.
“The additions we have in the clubhouse this year like Peralta, Jayson Heyward and myself, we have experience in different places,” Rojas said. “We can contribute to help guys like Freddie, Austin Barnes, Mookie, Clayton Kershaw and all those guys who have been here so that they can take a little bit of weight off their shoulders and they don’t have to worry as much.”
Betts has been there whenever Vargas might need advice, along with Rojas. After Betts made a stellar defensive play at second base Sunday, Vargas followed with his own at second base Monday.
“The most powerful thing is to lead by your actions,” Roberts said. “And for him to take on a young player, take (Vargas) under his wing, not only does it send a message to our group, but also it makes Mookie better because he is breaking down things fundamentally and things he probably takes for granted, but is making him a better player as well.
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“But man, Mookie is such a great teammate and I’m sure that’s what veterans did for him when he was a young player too.”
And while the typical dynamic is for the veterans to help the youngsters grow, there can be an opposite effect as well where the kids pump energy into the vets.
“You can definitely get a lift from their talents,” Heyward said. “This is a talented group, whether it’s guys potentially making a team or guys that are here, kind of getting their feet wet. I’ve seen a lot of talent (from) pitching, offense and defense, and you see why the organization has had so much success.”