One of the biggest questions for the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into the 2023 season is the core structure of the outfield. Because we all know that front office boss Andrew Friedman and field skipper Dave Roberts prefer to have plenty of moving pieces, there could be more uncertainty heading into this season than usual as far as the regular playing time goes.
I put together a story last weekend throwing around a few lineup ideas, with the primary lineup having three righty-hitting outfielders. While there’s a good chance that all three of those players could appear simultaneously — especially against lefty pitching — we all know how Roberts feels about mixing it up with lefty batters against right-handed pitchers.
Chris Taylor: Everyday Starter or Super-Utilityman?
The fact that Chris Taylor is one of the streakiest hitters the team has seen in recent years could affect how often he plays regularly. And, although Trayce Thompson deserves all the credit in the world for what he accomplished last year, there are no guarantees about his production in 2023. The same can be said about lefty-hitting non-roster invitee Jason Heyward, who hasn’t hit over .215 for a full season in over two years.
These uncertainties leave Mookie Betts as the only lock for regular playing time, as this year’s Cactus League play could be among the most competitive ever for Opening Day roster spots.
Enter James Outman
We’ve been talking a lot lately about how a group of prospects — both pitchers and position players — will be given a shot at some significant playing time this year, with lefty-hitting outfielder James Outman among those candidates.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Outman made his MLB debut last year when the outfield crew got hammered with injuries. He appeared in four games, going 6-for-13 with two doubles and a homer while showing he could handle defensive duties in both left and right field. Because he had options, he was moved back to the minors when the team became healthy — plus, he was pushed back further on the depth chart when the club dealt for Joey Gallo not long before the summer trade deadline.
The crazy thing was that after Outman’s demotion, he hit better than he did all season in the minors, performing the nearly impossible task of hitting for two cycles. He earned the Pacific Coast League’s Player of the Week in late August and finished the year as a MiLB.com organizational All-Star. For the entire season, he slashed .294/.392/.585 with 31 doubles, 31 homers, 106 RBI and a .978 OPS in 125 games across Double-A and Triple-A.
At 25 years old, Outman’s days as a prospect are numbered, but since he has shown he is a solid option with the bat and the glove, he might be given first dibs at a MLB outfield spot this season. For OKC last year, he was steady on defense, having appeared in 44 games in right field, six games in center, and three games in left. Before his promotion to Triple-A, he was Tulsa’s regular center fielder with 44 starts there.
For what it’s worth, Steamer has Outman hitting .237/.313/..445 with 15 bombs and 46 RBI ovr 92 games during the 2023 campaign.
A lot of what happens could depend on the way Heyward performs during Cactus League, but we could conceivably see Outman on the Opening Day roster with Heyward in a position to potentially emerge as this year’s version of Kevin Pillar later in the season.