Dodgers: The Underrated Final Piece to the Outfield Puzzle

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LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Alex Verdugo
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Alex Verdugo /
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The Dodgers have two-thirds of their outfield set for 2018, with left field wide open. It is the team’s biggest hole, but there is someone who can fill that void but isn’t getting much attention.

The Dodgers have every position, but left field set for the upcoming season. Last year, it was their biggest weakness regarding positional players. This season, it is the same story again. The most prominent candidates for the position are Joc Pederson, Kike Hernandez, and the injured Andrew Toles.

Pederson, although coming off an excellent World Series, had a miserable 2017 regular season. One where he was demoted to the minors. And a great World Series doesn’t, and shouldn’t, deter our attention from the fact that he was horrible. Remeber, postseasons are small sample sizes, and anyone can get hot so we should not let 20 plate appearances outweigh 323 other ones.

Kike Hernandez is a platoon payer at best, we all know that and Andrew Toles is coming off torn AC. If he can return to pre-injury form, then there’s no discussion here. But, projecting someone’s return from torn ACLs is always tough to judge because of its severity and freakish nature.

All three pose as huge question marks and not at all dependable at the moment. Yet, they are the most popular options. A player that has seemingly been forgotten and lost in the shuffle who can put all these questions to rest is top prospect, Alex Verdugo.

Verdugo checks in as the Dodgers’ number two prospect, and number 24 overall in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. He is undoubtedly Los Angeles’ best position player prospect. He is next-in-line as the next great Dodger rookie (at least position player-wise) after Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger.

Now while he may not be as highly touted as they were as prospects, he is still an elite one. He is as pure a hitter as you will find down in the minors. He is a career .305/.362/.438 hitter since being drafted in the second round back in 2014.

Last year was his best yet, and it came against the highest competition he’s faced since becoming a professional. He hit .314/.389/.436 while walking (52 times) more than he struck out (50 times). No matter what level of professional bally ou play at, that’s very impressive.

He was a September call-up in 2017, and while he only hit .174 in 17 plate appearances, he was just getting his feet wet. He was a fresh-faced rookie; struggling was allowed. This is probably one reason why he has fallen under-the-radar.

He didn’t rake from Day One as a September call-up like Seager, who hit his way onto the starting lineup for the 2015 playoffs after just 97 at-bats. Nor did he have a fantastic power output like Bellinger. Both of them burst onto the scene while Verdugo looked like a rookie. LA loves its stars, and those two were that from the get-go, while Verdugo struggled. And if you struggle to live up to the hype surrounding you, you will be drowned out in a city full of distractions and stars.

It still doesn’t take away from his talent and potential. He has the chance to make it three Rookie of the Year awards for a franchise that has the most ROY trophies. And while you may not be sold on his bat, even though he has hit everywhere he has gone, he can still hang his hat on his defense.

He isn’t blazing fast, but his instincts, route running and arm are all great. He has played center field for most of his pro career, but because he lacks elite speed and athleticism, scouts and evaluators have him eventually pegged for a spot in right field, where his strong arm will play up. Speaking of which:

He touched 94 miles per hour as a high school pitcher so it’s no surprise that he can rack up the assists. And because right field is locked up, at least for 2018, left field is the best spot for him. Left field is where you usually hide your defenders after first base, but you can still have quality defense played there, so why not put a good defender there?

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The most significant weakness of his game right now is the power department, which he is reportedly working on by bulking up. If he can add a little bit of home run power to his game, at least in the 10-15 range, combining that with his .300+ potential, Los Angeles will have another young weapon to build around for the next 10+ years.

If not and he stays in the single digits but still hits for a high average, walks a lot, strikes out minimally, and plays good defense, they’ll still have a good player on their hands.

While he may not be another unanimous ROY like Seager and Bellinger, they have proven that a rookie can have a tremendous impact on the team. Verdugo can do that. If he can hit .280-.290 with an OBP of .350+, 20+ doubles, a home run here and there, and quality defense, then left field will be filled up too.

Next: Questions the Dodgers must answer in spring training

Whether people realize it or not, he is the missing piece to the outfield puzzle. If he can live up to the hype, the Dodgers will have all non-pitcher positions set and could look to move some of the outfield surpluses in a trade.  With Yelich off the market now, and no obvious free-agent fit, the best case scenario would be Alex Verdugo breaking out in 2018.

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