While there has been a ton of speculation as to how the Dodgers plan on lining up their outfield crew in 2019, many pundits feel that the club is considering a bonafide right-handed bat to replace the production of Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, especially if progress fizzles in the pursuit of Bryce Harper.
One name that has surfaced even before the seven-player trade with Cincinnati went down is Detroit right fielder Nicholas Castellanos.
According to recent news, though, there is a huge roadblock standing between the Dodgers and the Tigers in terms of completing a deal. Jorge Castillo of The Los Angeles Times has reported that the Tigers want either Alex Verdugo or Keibert Ruiz in a return package, which has seemingly sent the Dodgers looking elsewhere.
The problem is that Castellanos will be eligible to file for free agency after the 2019 season, and it really doesn’t make sense for Los Angeles to ship out one of its Top 3 prospects for a single year of Castellanos’ service. Besides that, everything else appears favorable, in particular his salary. Matt Swartz of MLBTR has Castellanos projected to earn $11.3 million in 2019 after the arbitration dust settles, which is ironically the identical amount that Puig is guesstimated to receive.
Last year, Castellanos slashed .298/.354/.500 with 23 long balls, 89 RBI and a whopping 46 doubles, producing an impressive 4.7 oWAR. In 2017, he hammered 26 homers and 101 RBI but tallied a slightly lower slash line of ..272/.320/.490.
The 26-year-old Florida native broke into the big leagues as a third baseman, but switched full-time to right field after his 2017 campaign. In 2018, he appeared in 156 games with the Tigers, logging 142 games in right field and 14 at DH. Despite him settling down as an everyday outfielder, his defensive metrics are not overly impressive, probably because of his lack of superior range.
Verdugo hit an impressive .329/.391/.472 with 10 homers over 343 AB last year at Triple-A to lead OKC in hitting. Although he’s primarily a center fielder, he can capably handle all three outfield spots. Despite Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger being very capable center fielders, many pundits view Verdugo as the Dodgers’ center fielder of the future. But while he doesn’t even compare any one of those guys in the power department, Verdugo almost never strikes out, and has become known as an on-base machine. Unlike the aforementioned trio, he knows how to shorten up his swing while hitting to all fields. He’s capable of stealing bases in the double-digits, and despite his lack of long balls, Verdugo has the strength to occasionally muscle a ball to the deep part of the yard. In addition to all his other minor league accolades, he was tabbed as having the best outfield arm in the PCL by Baseball America for the 2017 season.
Of course, Verdugo hasn’t quite put up elite numbers during his short stints in the majors. In 2018, he hit .260/.329/.377 when he was on the big league roster, which is definitely serviceable by many standards, yet because of his lack of power, his .705 OPS and 93 OPS+ rank several ticks below the MLB norm. Still, scouts believe that things may begin to click for the left-handed hitter once he’s able to settle down with regular playing time. He’s still ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the entire system, according to MLB Pipeline.
As far as Ruiz goes, the 20-year-old native of Venezuela spent all his time at Double-A Tulsa last year, where he hit .268/.328/.401 with 12 long balls in an extremely pitcher-friendly Texas League. He was named to the club’s 40-man roster in November, which means he’s almost guaranteed big league action in September of 2019. At the moment, he’s ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Los Angeles system and is viewed by many to be the Dodgers’ catcher of the future. We took an in-depth look at the switch-hitting backstop as recently as last March.
As it stands now, considering all the available resources, the Dodgers have Verdugo, Pederson, Taylor, Bellinger, Andrew Toles and Enrique Hernandez at their disposal to assemble a big league outfield for 2019.