Part-Time Beast Mode?
Words in recent seasons used to describe the Dodger outfield include but certainly aren’t limited to “overcrowded,” “logjam,” and “cramped.” With Matt Kemp surprisingly still on the roster, much of that language figures to be used again as the biggest position of competition this year could be left field.
With the exception of perhaps Yasiel Puig manning right field, the Dodger outfield this upcoming season figures to again feature a flurry of moving parts. Left field, in particular, could feature more movement than any other position for the Dodgers. First, you have Joc Pederson, who figures to receive the lion’s share of opportunities against right-handed pitching on days he isn’t in center. A postseason surge helped Pederson’s prospects to earn more playing time in 2018. He still won’t play against lefties though, as he has a career OPS of just .599 against them.
Then you have the return of Matt Kemp, for now. Everybody seems to be shocked that Friedman and Co. haven’t shipped Kemp out of town yet after acquiring him in a salary inspired trade. It’s been stated over and over just how bad Kemp is defensively nowadays. Thanks to a variety of injuries, he has made an argument for being the worst every-day defensive outfielder in all of baseball the last few seasons. To get an idea of just how bad it has gotten, in 2016, Kemp produced 35 homers and 108 RBI, yet was worth 0.0 WAR overall, largely due to his defense. He was worth -18 defensive runs saved in 2016.
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Still, we shouldn’t forget that April is the month of Beast-Mode. In his career, Kemp is an April Masher, hitting .315/.370/.567 through the month. He struggled a bit last year against them, but Kemp has traditionally hit lefties well. Perhaps Kemp’s defensive struggles can be hidden at times in a part-time role against left-handed pitching and some righties. He could catch a breather late in games by Kike Hernandez, who also can play every outfield position. Kemp also figures to be the team’s primary pinch hitter as it stands on days he isn’t in the field.
Kemp doesn’t figure to be on the team during the dog days of summer. He could still, and sounds like very well could be traded before the season starts. Still, should he remain, a hot-start could help raise his trade value a smidge, making the tall task of dumping some of his salary on a power hungry American League team a bit more feasible.
Thanks to his arm and speed, Andrew Toles figures to get playing time all over the outfield. He also possesses surprising power, as was also on pace to hit around 20 homers last year before a season-ending injury after a breakout 2016. Top offensive prospect Alex Verdugo also figures to receive playing time in left field. Like Toles, Verdugo posses a good arm and the ability to work a count.
If he proves himself against major league pitching, Verdugo could be an interesting option for Dave Roberts as a contact hitter in a lineup that figures to feature a large number of strikeouts. It’s unlikely that he makes the team out of Spring, but let’s remember that Toles also surprisingly worked his way into the lineup after a rash of injuries in 2016. Being young, talented, and highly regarded, if Verdugo hits, he will certainly play too.
All this and we still haven’t gotten to Trayce Thompson, who showed promise for a long stretch in 2016 before succumbing to a devastating back injury that ruined his 2017 season. If he can prove fully recovered, Thompson’s right-handed power and athleticism could make an intriguing option for some playing time in left field.
The Dodgers possess a bevy of minor-league talent (besides Verdugo) capable of one day playing left. Just a few of those names include Starling Heredia, Yusniel Diaz, D.J. Peters, and Jeren Kendall, but they remain multiple years away from the show. Still, as usual, the Dodgers have more outfield depth than they know what to do with. This remains especially true in left, even after the departure of Andre Ethier and Cody Bellinger figuring to stay comfy at first with Adrian Gonzalez being a Met. If the injury bug decides to again strike the Dodger outfield, they appear to have enough talented options to weather most storms.