Coming to the Dodgers from the White Sox this past offseason, outfielder Trayce Thompson will look to prove his late-season success in Chicago was no fluke.
In a family of basketball players, Trayce Thompson is a bit of a black sheep. His father, Mychal, is a former number one overall draft pick and two time NBA champion for the LA Lakers. Both of his older brothers are professional basketball players, his brother Klay being one half of the famous “splash brothers,” who together form perhaps the greatest backcourt in NBA history. Now, after moving back home to Southern California, Trayce Thompson is out to prove that he chose the right career path and make it as a Major League baseball player.
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Thompson started off last season playing for the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights. In 104 games for the Knights, Trayce Thompson slashed .260/.304/.441 with 13 home runs. That was enough to earn him a call up to the Major League squad in early August when the team needed an extra outfielder. Trayce proceeded to make the most of this opportunity, putting up a slash line of .295/.363/.533 with 5 home runs in 44 games.
Ok, it’s a small sample size but those are some decent numbers. Thompson benefitted from a pretty high BABIP of .340 in those games, which is above his career average, but his speed on the bases might suggests that such a number may be at least somewhat sustainable. Even without the high BABIP, his numbers would probably adjust to something like his Triple-A stat-line, which is still pretty good production at the Major League level for a guy that can also play a good centerfield.
2016 Role and Steamer Projections
Thompson is part of a bubble of players that may or may not make the Dodgers opening day roster. He looked really good in the first few games of the Spring, but since then his offensive production has tailed off to the point where he currently sports a slash line of .184/.231/.388 after 20 games. This puts Thompson in a tough spot. With guys like Enrique Hernandez, Scott Van Slyke, and Alex Guerrero able to deputize, the Dodgers don’t really need another outfielder, even after the recent Andre Ethier injury. His best shot to make the roster is if Alex Guerrero gets traded, which isn’t unlikely, or someone else gets hurt. If Thompson is able to make the roster, he will likely spend some time platooning with Joc Pederson in centerfield.
Steamer projects Thompson to slash .234/.288/.403 with 4 home runs in 32 games for the Dodgers in 2016. This would mean that last season’s success was a flash in the pan and that Trayce will revert to the mediocre offensive player he has been throughout most of his minor league career. I suspect that this will not be the case. Thompson was drafted by the White Sox as an uber athletic but raw talent and guys like that oftentimes take longer to develop. He could easily outperform his projection, but at 25 years old, the time is now for Trayce Thompson to either sink or swim as a Major League baseball player.
What Could Go Wrong?
I think the worst thing that could happen to Trayce Thompson is if he gets inconsistent at-bats and is buried on the Dodger bench. With so many guys on the roster that can play the outfield, that could seriously happen. If he’s not going to play regularly, it might be better for his development if he starts the season out with Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he would be guaranteed regular plate appearances.. Thompson is at a crucial stage in his career in which he must step up and prove to the baseball world that he belongs. Putting up mediocre numbers in a small sample size of Major League games could very well hinder his chances of that happening.
What Could Go Right?
If Trayce Thompson is used as a utility outfielder for the Dodgers in 2016, spending time at all three spots, he should get the at-bats he needs to prove himself. If this happens, Dodger fans might find out that they have a real player on their hands. Remember how Justin Turner‘s Dodger career began – from a 29-year-old non-roster invitee, to utility infielder, to starting third baseman? Thompson has a leg up on Turner in that he’s both younger and more athletic. If he can prove himself in a utility role, like Turner did, he could very well find himself starting in left field for the Dodgers next season. Apart from contributing to the annual outfield logjam, his success would be a welcome surprise for a Dodger organization looking to get younger. His power/speed combination has the potential to be devastating, so if he can put it all together, the sky is the limit.