Dodgers Position by Position Breakdown: Right Field

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Yasiel Puig /

The 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day lineup appears to be set. Barring an injury or an unexpected Spring Training trade, the infield is set in stone.

The infield will be Cody Bellinger at first base, Logan Forsythe at second, Corey Seager at shortstop and Justin Turner at third, with either Yasmani Grandal or Austin Barnes behind the plate.  The starting outfield on March 29 against the San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, is one big hodgepodge.  Except for right field.

There are currently six players vying for the starting left field job, and any of two or three players could start in center, depending on whether the Dodgers trade Forsythe to create cap space, thus moving Chris Taylor from center to second.

But, for the first time since 2014, right field belongs to one man, and one man only: Yasiel Puig.

It seems like just yesterday, but also a million years ago, that Puigmania was all the rage in Southern California. Here was this 22-year-old kid from Cuba (who happens to share my birthday, along with Johnny Bench, Larry Bird, and Terrell Owens) who was all the rage in baseball.

He was signed to a seven-year, $42 million contract that seemed to be a steal after he exploded onto the scene in June 2013 and finished the season with 19 home runs and 42 RBIs in only 104 games. When projected out to a 162-game schedule, those numbers would be nearly 30 home runs and 65 RBIs, solid numbers for any first-year Major League right fielder.

Then came 2014. Despite playing 44 more games than the previous year, he hit three fewer home runs and his batting average dipped from .319 to .296. Sophomore slump? Could have been.

Those 2014 numbers were very respectable, but there was something else to this Puig character. His “act” began to wear thin on management and players alike. He was late to workouts. He missed team meetings. He missed team busses.

By the end of 2015, players were beginning to make known their thoughts and ideas regarding Puig’s stay with the team. Andy Van Slyke intimated that even Clayton Kershaw had his opinions about Puig.

But, that was then. This is now. Yasiel Puig seemingly has had a change of heart and a change in tactics, thanks in large part to Adrian Gonzalez.

His growth in maturation last year reminds us of a young fella by the name of Sammy Sosa, who said at the time that he owed his turnaround to the mentoring of Mark Grace.

Puig was the de facto starter in right field at the beginning of each spring from 2015-17. But, management also has been open to trading the mercurial outfielder during each of the past three seasons.

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In fact, the Dodgers offered Puig to the Boston Red Sox just last summer.

Because Puig chose to not opt into arbitration after 2018, he has one year remaining on his contract before he hits free agency. Quite often, players turn free agent years into monstrous campaigns that will set them up for free agency.

Puig will be entering his age-28 season in 2019, prime real estate for a pending free agent, so expect big things from him in 2018.

According to Baseball Reference, Puig’s projected numbers for 2018 are 22 home runs and 67 RBIs with a .261/.336/.460 slash line. If Dave Roberts chooses to keep him in the eighth spot in the lineup, those are exceptional numbers. Should Roberts choose to bat him fifth, he’ll need to be pushing 30 home runs and 85 RBIs with closer to a .275/.350/.490 slash line.

But what if those big things don’t come to fruition for Puig? What if he gets bored in right field? What if the “Wild Horse” becomes a carnival pony?

The Dodgers don’t appear to have many viable options to replace him full time. Names like Kike Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson and rookie Alex Verdugo would be bandied about as possible right field alternatives should Puig suffer from personal issues or injury. (No, Matt Kemp’s name and “right field” will never appear in the same sentence together ever again).

The last we heard of Hernandez, he was clobbering the Cubs for three home runs and seven RBIs in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series to lead the Dodgers into the World Series. Hernandez then went a pedestrian 3-for-13 with one RBI in the World Series.

In a modest four-year career, Hernandez has never reached 300 at-bats, has batted higher than .248 once, and has averaged seven home runs and 23 RBIs per season. Being so defensively versatile, Hernandez would appear to be better suited for a bench role than an everyday role.

Pederson will be the lead dog in the conversation for starting left fielder throughout the spring. In fact, there’s a great chance the job will be his to lose after his 6-for-18, three-home run, five-RBI World Series performance. Could he play right field if Puig went down? In a nutshell, yes. Would that be the best course of action for the Dodgers? In another nutshell, no.

Thompson was well on his way to becoming a regular in a Major League lineup with 13 home runs in 262 at-bats in 2016 until two back fractures cost him the second half of the season and limited him to 55 plate appearances in 2017.

Had he been healthy, he more than likely would have received most of the at-bats in left field when Andrew Toles went down for the season May 9.

So, that leaves Verdugo as the most likely replacement for Puig. The 22-year-old, sweet-swinging lefty is the Dodgers second-ranked prospect and the No. 33-ranked prospect in all of baseball, according to

With a 70 arm on the 20/80 scale, Verdugo is a natural right fielder. He only hit six home runs in 433 at-bats for AAA Oklahoma City last season, but it’s his .314/.389/.436 slash line that makes him an intriguing option and a good bet to be the Dodgers third straight Rookie of the Year if he can find a full-time outfield job.

In those 433 minor league at-bats, Verdugo drew 52 walks while striking out only 50 times. His 4-for-23 performance in a September call-up last season should have no bearing on his projected abilities if he were able to get a full-time gig out of Spring Training.

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So, who will it be in right field for the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 29?

Smart money says a guy named Puig.