The answer is yes, although there’s a slim chance he’ll be among the 25 players suited up for Opening Day.
As it stands now, assuming Andre Ethier comes away from a bout of back spasms unscathed, the primary outfield crew for the Dodgers‘ big league squad will consist of Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson, along with the 34-year-old Ethier. And according to our latest projections, newcomer Franklin Gutierrez warrants a spot based on his contract alone, while utility man Scott Van Slyke sneaks on the 25-man primarily for his ability to effectively provide cover at first base.
As specified by Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, outfielder Trayce Thompson is set to make his 2017 Cactus League debut against the Angels on Saturday afternoon. This will be a huge step for Thompson, who has been out since last July with a back injury which included two fractures. The 25-year-old native of Los Angeles has been gradually eased back into baseball activities this spring, but look for Thompson to get more opportunities with a little less than three weeks remaining in Cactus League play.
Thompson is among a second tier of outfielders that also includes Andrew Toles, Rob Segedin and Brett Eibner, which will likely begin the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City because of the overwhelming amount of big league depth in the Dodgers’ system.
During April and May of the 2016 campaign, Thompson hit an admirable .280/.341/.576 with an impressive nine home runs over that short span. However, at the moment his injury struck late in the summer, his overall average sat at .225/.302/.436, although he still was able to post 13 home runs, 32 RBI and 32 runs scored before being placed on the disabled list.
In terms of his general skill set, though, there’s no question that Thompson is among the best in the organization. His range and glove work are both outstanding, and while he’s not typically recognized for his arm strength, he’s certainly more than capable, likely being ranked only a small tick or two behind the cannon of Puig. And that’s not even taking into account his speed on the basepaths, an aspect of the game that the Dodgers may sorely lack heading into the beginning of the regular season. But perhaps most importantly, Thompson can effectively man all three outfield spots, a plus when considering that there’s not a very comfortable backup option for Pederson in center, except for maybe Toles.
While the right-handed hitting Thompson appears to be set to start at OKC in April, he may be one of the first to get the call in the event of an injury, or if Gutierrez happens to under-perform for an extended period of time on either offense or defense.
In any event, the club ultimately needs to determine the best option, and eventually may have to choose between Gutierrez and Thompson for one spot on the 25-man roster, if the full compliment of outfielders is 100% healthy late in the spring and heading into summer.
Should offense based on certain pitching matchups trump the ability to make run saving catches in the deep outfield alleys? Should experience outshine the unseasoned? Should leadership outclass energy and youth? These questions facing the management crew of the Dodgers will seemingly grow with intensity as the season progresses.
In the meantime, the prospective outfield crew shaping up for Oklahoma City may quite easily be the best that the Pacific Coast League has seen in a long, long time.
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)