Perhaps no Dodger had a more meteoric rise in 2016 than Andrew Toles. Signed by the Dodgers in September 2015, Toles started the 2016 season at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, then made his way through Double-A and Triple-A, en route to ultimately making his major league debut in July 2016.
There are often players that are deemed “under-the-radar”, but the Dodgers’ Andrew Toles was not one of them. In fact, he wasn’t on any radar. Toles was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays by the GM at the time, Andrew Friedman, in the third round of the 2012 draft. He would later find himself out of baseball due to attitude problems until Friedman reconnected with Toles and signed him to a minor league deal on September 23, 2015.
Andrew Toles started his 2016 season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, where he hit .370 with an on-base percentage above .400. After 22 games he was promoted to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers and hit .314 with 13 stolen bases in 43 games. In his last minor league stop at Triple-A Oklahoma City, Toles hit .321 in 17 games before being promoted to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As a big leaguer last season, Toles batted .314 with an impressive .365 on-base percentage in 115 at-bats. He also hit three home runs, including the most important one of his young career: a game winning grand slam that propelled the Dodgers to surge and eventually capture their fourth straight NL West title.
Coming into the 2017 season, Toles was slated to be one of the left-handed hitting platoon partners in left field. Due to Andre Ethier’s herniated disc injury, however, Toles is the only left-handed hitting left fielder on the Dodgers’ roster, which means he will be getting the majority of starts there.
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Last season, Toles hit primarily towards the bottom of the order, but so far in week one of the 2017 season, he has hit lead off in almost all of the games he has started. Given that this is only Toles’ second season in the major leagues and first official full season, there are still questions in regards to what kind of numbers he will put up.
The two constants for Toles in the minor leagues were that he hit for average and he got on-base. His career minor league batting average is .309 and his career minor league on-base percentage is .348. Toles also has the ability to be a prolific base stealer, as evidenced by his 62 stolen bases in 2013, which was the only minor league season he played more than 100 games in.
Toles is currently sitting with a .250 batting average, but I think he will hit around .270-.280 while getting on-base often. He will probably hit six to eight home runs, with a ceiling of 10 home runs a per season, based on the amount of games he will start. However, his home run total should not be looked at too closely, as his game is not predicated on hitting the ball out of the park.
He only had one stolen base last season and hasn’t attempted any this season, but he is capable of stealing at least 15-20 bases. He is no doubt the Dodgers’ fastest player, but they haven’t seemed to utilize his base stealing skills yet. However, given that he is going to hit lead off many games with Dave Roberts as his manager, I expect the team to start having him be more aggressive on the base paths.
While Andrew Toles certainly isn’t going to be a superstar, he has the potential to be a very useful player for Los Angeles. He can provide a steady average and on-base percentage when starting against right-handed pitchers, while setting the table at the top of the order.
If he hits at the bottom of the order, he can get on and be bunted into scoring position by the pitchers, where a base hit from the top-of-the-order would bring him home. Defensively, he can get to all the routine plays with ease due to his speed and has shown a plus arm in left field.
The Dodgers will be a better team if Toles is the lead off man, able to get on-base, and steal bases. The Dodgers have not had a lead off batter who can steal bases consistently since Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre. The only other current Dodgers who have base stealing potential are Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, but both seem more inclined to move station to station. If Toles can become a consistent lead off hitter and base stealer, then the Dodgers will have an added dimension to their offense in 2017.