Bad news: The Los Angeles Dodgers plan to cut payroll relatively significantly in 2023, after a record-approaching 2022 team dominated the regular season before coming up small in October.
Good news: The Los Angeles Dodgers have an unfathomably good farm system lurking below the surface, and many of its key components are ready to contribute at the big-league level immediately.
The Dodgers’ current active depth chart includes very few positions that are fully solidified. Big-ticket shortstop Trea Turner is currently not involved in the proceedings, and there’s at least a decent chance that Andrew Friedman not only moves on from Turner, but backfills his role with Gavin Lux as the de facto starter at shortstop. Justin Turner has also been foisted off the roster, and if he does return to LA, the price point will have to be significantly reduced. Cody Bellinger is gone gone. Max Muncy and Chris Taylor? Both will be around in 2023, but in what capacity?
The Dodgers’ rotation is unsettled in a way that should make fans … uncomfortable (until either Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom signs on, of course). The Dodgers’ offense? Also unsettled, but very satisfying, considering how many top prospects should get an opportunity to contribute. Right away.
At this moment, amid so much turmoil, it’s not difficult to envision James Outman sliding into Cody Bellinger’s role, Miguel Vargas taking over for JT, and Michael Busch getting immediate playing time at second base (especially if Lux moves to short). Expect Ryan Pepiot to be a swingman come April, too — with Bobby Miller ready to join him after another month or so of Triple-A seasoning.
Dodgers top prospects Ryan Pepiot, Michael Busch, Miguel Vargas, James Outman deserve Opening Day roster spots
Vargas and Outman both mashed in the big leagues in 2023 in limited opportunities … and we do mean limited.
Outman’s summer cameo included 13 at-bats, six hits, and a dinger in Colorado; Vargas got 47 at-bats, which only allowed him the time to slow down and diminish his star somewhat, hitting .170 with a single homer. The slide didn’t keep him off the postseason roster, however — even if Dave Roberts still deemed Austin Barnes to be a better pinch-hitting option.
It’s silly but true to think those two players, who combined for 60 at-bats last season, currently qualify as the “more experienced” members of the Dodgers top prospect charge (alongside Pepiot, who posted a 3.47 ERA in nine MLB outings, with 42 Ks and, ugh, 27 walks in 36.1 innings). Both potential offensive stars have seen their paths clear this offseason, and while Pepiot didn’t show ace upside in 2022, the rotation is even thinner now than the one he departed. He’ll get every chance to contribute early.
Busch is the only member of this group to not get a big-league chance yet, but as he passes the age of 25 with the middle infield picture unsettled, the Dodgers can’t afford to bury him any longer. The UNC product smacked a remarkable 32 homers in his 2022 breakout, with 21 of them coming in 111 games at Triple-A. With the real Max Muncy experiencing a post-injury backslide, the slate has been primed for Busch to fill his role at a bargain.
By midsummer, this list could include both Miller and Diego Cartaya, an upset pick who’s gaining steam. When Opening Day rolls around, though, expect a four-man infusion of youth, with Busch picking up Lux’s second base glove and Pepiot learning a better bender from Verlander.