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What if the Dodgers go to camp and Tony Gwynn Jr. actually hits?

January 30, 2011 | 12:50 pm

Gwynn_300 Then boys and girls, Tony Gwynn Jr. would likely start in center field.

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The concept is, Gwynn starts in center, Matt Kemp moves to right and Andre Ethier to left.

That’s a lot of movement to make room for the weak-hitting Gwynn, but it does have one tremendous upside -- a strikingly better defensive outfield.

Defense is improved at all three spots, and Ethier would be a major step up in left over Jay Gibbons or Marcus Thames.

This may not be the current No.1 plan, but it is certainly an option the Dodgers will seriously consider this spring.

At baseball’s owners’ meetings in Arizona two weeks ago, General Manager Ned Colletti acknowledged the Dodgers outfield could be realigned if Gwynn shows during camp he’s ready to hit again.

"I wouldn't rule it out," he told ESPN Los Angeles’ Tony Jackson. "It depends on a bunch of factors. That is why you have spring training, to play it out and see what happens. Nothing is etched in stone. It just depends on how everybody performs."

Last season, of course, Gwynn did not hit a lick. He batted a feeble .204 on a poor-hitting Padres team. The Padres were so unimpressed, daddy or no, they did not tender him a contract. To paraphrase Tommy Lasorda about another Padre, Gwynn couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.

"A couple of years ago, he hit pretty well," Colletti said. "He is a very good defensive player who has speed. His playing time at this point will be dictated by how well he hits. If he can get on base enough and hit enough, he could give us added flexibility because he can play all three spots, including center field."

The trouble is, even when Gwynn has hit, he hasn’t hit much. Two years ago, he hit a career-high .270 for the Padres. In parts of the last five seasons, Gwynn has lifetime averages of .244 hitting, .323 on-base and .314 slugging. That’s hard to hide in the lineup. And if he does start, he’s probably bats eighth, which doesn’t do anything to address the team’s need for a No.2 hitter.

Colletti made these comments a few days before the Dodgers signed Thames, who, along with Gibbons, is something of Gwynn’s polar opposite -- can hit but, to put it politely, struggles defensively.

Likewise, ESPN Los Angeles’ Jon Weisman came out somewhat reluctantly in favor of starting Gwynn in center, at least to start the season, before Thames came on board.

But really, Gwynn is 28 and there’s little upside there. Plus, he’s another left-handed bat the Dodgers really don’t need. Gwynn has actually hit slightly worse against right-handers (.240 for his career).

The fact that the Dodgers would have this option on the table also says something about their faith in Kemp to play center.

For now, the first option apparently is the Gibbons-Thames platoon in left, with Kemp and Ethier remaining in center and left. Gwynn remains a late-inning defensive option, the simplest being him taking over in left.

The Dodgers have left themselves with outfield options, just none too exciting.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: The Dodgers can only hope Tony Jr. hits even half as good as his father, Tony Gwynn, pictured here. Credit: Kent C. Horner / Associated Press