At the beginning of the season, hardly anyone imagined that the organizational outfield depth of the Los Angeles Dodgers would be under such high scrutiny.
After all, the trio of Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and AJ Pollock stacked up alongside the best outfield units across the majors. To boot, Chris Taylor and Zach McKinstry were more than capable of providing cover, in addition to playing the infield when needed. Matt Beaty, Edwin Rios, and Luke Raley even supplied a third level of cover.
However, a perfect storm of injuries has hit the team that has made the outfield especially vulnerable, as some feel that the club’s lack of “quality” depth is one of the reasons the squad has lost four of its last five games.
Bellinger has been on the injured list since since April 9 with a hairline fracture in his lower leg, and McKinstry went on the shelf Friday with oblique problems. Betts has missed several games due to an assortment of minor issues, as has Pollock and Taylor.
Regardless, correlated along with outfield depth is bench depth, specifically when it comes to pinch hitting. Entering Saturday’s game against the Padres, the Dodgers have gone 0-for-19 in pinch-hit opportunities this year, including the ABs by Sheldon Neuse and the freshly recalled DJ Peters in Friday evening’s defeat.
Obviously, injuries hitting the outfield this hard are not going to be prevalent over the course of the entire regular season. Still, for as much as front office boss Andrew Friedman and his troops like to stock up on quality player depth, this is one of those situations where the team seems to be handcuffed.
During the winter, we did a series featuring some of the best young outfield prospects in the system that included Andy Pages, Luis Rodriguez, and Jake Vogel. But anyone familiar with the Los Angeles farm knows that all three of these players are multiple years away from making their respective MLB debuts.
Conversely, we also discussed several times the depth of the fringe players and how weak it was when compared to the major league crew and the talented group on the lower levels. The names we threw out at the time were Peters, Beaty, Raley, Matt Davidson, Zach Reks, and Cody Thomas, even before Thomas was traded to Oakland in the deal that brought Neuse to Los Angeles.
Right now, the problem is not bodies, as there are definitely enough players to fill out the roster. Rather, the dilemma is quality players who can produce, particularly when the rest of the team is struggling offensively.
If it gets any worse, one option might be Steven Souza Jr., an outfielder the Dodgers signed a few weeks ago after the Astros cut him towards the end of 2021 spring training. The 31-year-old Souza is trying to re-emerge after a 2019 knee injury nearly put an end to his MLB career. In Grapefruit League play this spring, though, he went just 2-for-21 with 13 punchouts in 27 plate appearances, suggesting that his road back might be a long one, if there even is a road.
Nevertheless, with Taylor listed as day to day with back stiffness, the Dodgers had just three available pinch hitters on Friday night—Neuse, Peters, and catcher Will Smith, who has coincidentally been lingering around the Mendoza Line this year after hitting .289/.401/.579 during 2021’s shortened season. Consequently, Beaty was hitting .091 before he was optioned last week. Rios is currently batting .111.
At the moment, according to MLB Pipeline, the Dodgers have a whopping 13 pitchers on the organizational Top 30 Prospects List, alongside three catchers. On the contrary, there are just five outfielders on the same list, including Pages, Rodriguez, Vogel, Peters, and McKinstry, who is probably considered more of a utility player.