Besides the Dodgers pitching staff, anther place on their roster the Dodgers have a plethora of players is the outfield.
Last Friday, I wrote about the Dodgers’ 26 man roster and where A.J. Pollock fit into that scenario. In addition to Pollock, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, and Alex Verdugo all look to see time roaming the outfield.
The linchpin to all this really is Verdugo. The 23-year-old outfielder first came up to the big leagues in 2017 with the wave of September call-ups. He only appeared in 15 games, gathering only four hits, one of which was a home run.
2018 saw increased playing time, but not by much. He played in 36 major league games, spending the rest of his time in Triple-A Oklahoma City. The batting improved, hitting .260 in the Majors and .329 in OKC. There wasn’t room for him in the Majors yet, since Matt Kemp was back and having his comeback year.
The Kid finally got to the Majors to stay in 2019, breaking spring training with the team. Verdugo opened some eyes, slashing .294/342/.475/.812 with 12 home runs. More than his production with the bat, he showed his versatility on defense, logging games at all three positions in the outfield. He spent 61 games in center, often filling in for the injured Pollock.
But most of what Verdugo brings to the team is the sense of spark, a little ego that is needed sometimes to fire a team up. He often yelled “Don’t let the Kid get hot!” after getting a big hit in a key spot or after one of his home runs. There’s a big consensus among fans that his absence in the lineup hindered the Dodgers last postseason.
The reason that energy wasn’t in the lineup has those same fans worried about the upcoming season. Verdugo played in his last game of the 2019 season on August 4 after suffering an oblique injury. At first, he was only projected to be out about two weeks. He did a rehab stint with the rookie-level Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League. During that time, he was also experiencing back stiffness that turned into a bigger problem. He has been shut down from baseball activities ever since. Alex detailed his frustration on Sportsnet LA:
“Yeah, I think there’s a lot of frustration. But at the end of the day it’s your back. I think anybody who’s had back injuries or something wrong with their back, they understand you use everything with your back. Any activity you do, your back helps you with a lot of it. You kind of do one little thing and you realize the toll it takes on everything else. It is frustrating but at the end of the day all I can do is stay positive and be blessed that I’m going in the right direction.”
The front office says that they’re not worried about Verdugo being able to make it back to day-to-day readiness before the season starts, but management did admit that it was at first unaware with how serious the back injury was.
But, as of this writing, there is less than a month until Spring Training starts and a little over two months until the regular season begins on March 26th. That’s not a lot of time to get yourself ready for the season, if your back is still giving you issues. At this point, while the words said may give to the contrary, it does not seem like Verdugo will be ready to start the season in good health.
The Dodgers are lucky that they are such a deep team that they can absorb the loss of someone who would’ve been a full time starter in right field, and could do so for the foreseeable future. While that is great, it still doesn’t address that spark plug missing from the lineup and on the bench, as Verdugo most likely will be rehabbing elsewhere.
In the end, it probably won’t matter. As stated, this is a deep team, and it is very good. They are projected to have little problem winning the NL West (and after all the nonsense with the Astros and the 2017 World Series, probably have enough fodder for the whole season). It just will matter that The Kid is back and ready for the playoffs in good health.
Time is on his side, even if this injury is taking a long time to heal itself. He most likely will come back stronger than ever and this will have just been a long blip. But it’s definitely sometime to keep an eye on.