It’s only November, and already many fans of the Dodgers have been trying to put together an outfield plan for the upcoming 2018 campaign. We are guilty of it, too—over the last few weeks we have talked about where Chris Taylor fits into next year’s roster strategy, in addition to discussing how Andrew Toles returns from a severed ACL. Anything can happen over the next few months, especially with the Winter Meetings approaching; but based on what we know right now, we decided to attempt to paint a picture of what may lie ahead.
Before we dive headfirst into the big league scene, it may be worth mentioning that the outfield crew at Triple-A Oklahoma City could be one of the most athletic the organization has seen in recent history. Note that I said athletic, and not productive.
Jacob Scavuzzo lettered in four sports at Villa Park High, and earned the Orange County Male Athlete of the Year Award back in 2012. He was heavilty recruited as a wide receiver out of high school, as he logged sub-4.4 times in the forty meters at several showcases. His blend of speed and power, plus the fact that he hits right-handed, make him interesting to consider from a 40-man perspective.
Henry Ramos could be a few ticks away from being considered a four or five-tool player, and he can man each one of the outfield spots in impressive fashion. His arm strength and range are outstanding defensively, and he has adequate power and decent speed to excel at the big league level. After recovering from a serious groin injury last year, Ramos came back to hit a spectacular .351/.396/.546 with eight long balls in 55 games across two levels of the farm. In addition, he’s a switch-hitter, which may give him an advantage over all the other Triple-A farmhands.
Alex Verdugo is an on-base machine, and last year was voted as having the best arm in all of Triple-A by Baseball America. If he hit from the right side of the plate, he’d probably have a legitimate shot of making the Opening Day big league roster.
And we all know what Trayce Thompson can do. His 2016 season gave us a brief glimpse of his abilities at the major league level, and if he can prove to the world that he can finally put his back injury behind him, he may get a chance to prove himself in the bigs one more time.
A lot of what happens at the big league level depends upon how veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez enters camp and progresses through spring training. If he’s healthy and he proves that he can contribute, Andrew Friedman has already said that he’ll get the lion’s share of reps at first base, pushing Cody Bellinger back into a part-time outfield role. But what the management crew will ultimately need to consider when handing out roster spots is whose bat is more productive—Joc Pederson, Tolesy or Gonzalez. If Joc and Toles are swinging circles around Gonzo, it really doesn’t make sense to push Bellinger into the outfield taking time away from Pederson or Toles. So that’s the first big factor to take into consideration.
Next, despite all of the presumed depth in the outfield, the Dodgers could really benefit from a legitimate threat from the right side of the plate. Yasiel Puig did indeed have an admirable 2017 campaign, however, his struggles against southpaw pitching are becoming more pronounced each season. Against right-handed pitching last year, Yasiel hit .288/.355/.554 with a whopping 26 long balls, but hit only a meager .183/.317/.275 with two homers against lefty pitching. If there ever was a true definition of a reverse-split, Puig certainly fits the bill. For all intents and purposes, some may agree to say that he bats left-handed.
So, outside of Puig, that leaves Taylor and Enrique Hernandez as the sole right-handed hitting outfield options. Some have even talked about potentially moving Taylor into second base to provide protection for Logan Forsythe‘s woes against right-handed pitching. It makes a bit of sense, but what is even more intriguing is turning Forsythe into a super-utility type of player, giving his right-handed bat a part-time spot in the outfield—something similar to what we saw from Howie Kendrick in 2016. We may see a maneuver of that nature at some point, unless management has some type of plan to acquire a right-handed hitting outfielder or left-handed hitting second baseman before the beginning of the season.
As far as the aforementioned minor leaguers go, Ramos may have the best chance to see big league action, based on his recent production alone. If you remember, he captured the hearts of fans with his stellar production during Cactus League play last year before his groin injury put him out of commission nearly halfway into the season. Thompson may also be given an opportunity at some point, but he’ll need to establish a longer success rate at the plate before even being considered. Gone are right-handed hitters Scott Van Slyke and Brett Eibner, making the prospective opening for Ramos that much wider.
There could be a good possibility that we see heavy platooning from skipper Dave Roberts next year, especially if the Dodgers are forced to utilize in-house options. Against left-handed pitching, we could see Bellinger at first, Forsythe at second, Yasiel in right, Taylor in center and Hernandez in left. Against righty pitching, and taking into consideration how awful Forsythe has been against opposing right-handers, we could go Gonzo at first, Taylor at second, Yasiel in right, Bellinger in left, and either Pederson or Tolesy in center. Plenty of different combinations exist already. If there’s one roster crunch that has become evident early, it could be a choice between keeping either Toles or Pederson on the 25-man, depending on what happens with Gonzo.
Either way, like we said in the opening paragraph, it’s still really, really early. A big free-agent signing or a significant trade could be on the horizon, in which case the landscape of the 2018 outfield picture will change even more. Whatever the case may be, though, we’ll be here all winter long outlining all the possibilities as they present themselves.
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