(Photo Credit: mlb.com)
After a seemingly endless seven years in the Chicago White Sox farm system, Dodgers’ rookie Trayce Thompson is finally living his dream as a starting outfielder, and if his early performances are any indication of the future, may conceivably stick to the big league, 25-man roster over the long haul.
With both Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke on the 15-day disabled list suffering back problems, Thompson was the easy choice for the starting nod in left field. Even when lefty-killer Enrique Hernandez is inserted into the outfield lineup to get his share of hacks, Thompson can be shifted to any of the three outfield spots, as his defense is undoubtedly the strongest point of his game.
In his first six years on the farm, Thompson’s batting average consistently hovered near or slightly just above the Mendoza Line. In 2015, however, while with the Charlotte Knights, Thompson hit .260/.304/.441 with 13 home runs and 23 doubles over 380 at-bats, finally earning him a promotion to the bigs. In 135 plate appearances with the White Sox that same season, he slashed .295/.363/.533, and with management assuming those numbers were at his ceiling, decided to market Thompson thinking his value would never be higher.
The Dodgers acquired Thompson in a three-team deal with the Reds and White Sox last December that also netted second baseman Micah Johnson and hard-throwing righty Frankie Montas. Third baseman Todd Frazier landed in Chicago, while Los Angeles sent infielder Jose Peraza, infielder Brandon Dixon and outfielder Scott Schebler to Cincinnati.
With the Dodgers’ overwhelming number of injuries at the onset of the regular season, management selected Thompson as a member of the 25-man roster after being featured heavily in the everyday outfield rotation during Cactus League play.
So far in 2016, the 25-year-old is hitting .462/.500/.615 over 14 plate appearances — numbers that are impossible to maintain, but are still eye opening based on his past performances with the bat. On top of that, he’s shown flashes of a brilliant glove and an adequate arm in every outfield spot he’s played.
Yet with Steamer having him at .236/.290/.404 for 2016, and PECOTA projecting a line of .228/.296/.394, many who have followed Thompson closely over the years wonder if his true offensive numbers will eventually regress to those which were predicted.
John Sickels of minorleagueball.com recently published an excellent piece which asks the same questions, saying that his scouting report on Thompson pretty much remains unchanged perennially.
“I write the same thing about this guy every year, with good reason: his strengths and weaknesses don’t seem to change. He’s an excellent athlete with power and speed. He can kill a mistake pitch. And he is a first-rate defensive outfielder. All still true. His problems also remain the same: his swing mechanics are troublesome, he strikes out a lot, and he has a hard time keeping his batting average anywhere close to respectability,” Sickels wrote.
“Trayce Thompson had the best year of his professional life in 2015, making adjustments to his swing and cutting way back on the strikeouts that plagued him. As a result he had a good year in Triple-A then hit very, very well against big league pitching in 44 games with the White Sox, much better than could have been expected based on his track record. The tools for him to do this have always been there, but the refinement wasn’t. The question: was this a permanent change, or will he slip back into old patterns?”
With Crawford and Van Slyke presumably out for a minimum of two weeks, Thompson is expected to play every day, which ultimately will be viewed as his audition for a permanent spot on the 25-man roster. Despite Crawford’s frequency of injuries and declining numbers, Thompson will still need to produce to maintain a roster spot. The sabermetric projections and pundits who know him well expect a backslide in his offensive statistics, but Thompson himself is very confident in his own abilities.
“I always knew I could play at this level,” Thompson told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I still have to prove myself. These are new coaches, and this is a new organization. I still have to prove to them I can play.”
Regardless of how the season plays out for Trayce, he’s not sitting on the farm any longer waiting for that precious opportunity for a shot in The Show, and he’s certain to display his very best effort in an attempt to create a name for himself in the MLB — something that many enthusiastic farmhands can only dream about.