If two of the biggest surprises in MLB one month into the season are the two players the Dodgers were choosing between in their center field conundrum, then that must mean LA knows how to pick 'em.
This offseason, the Dodgers surprised many observers by drawing a line in the sand and finally ending their expensive relationship with Cody Bellinger, deeming 2022 to have been the kind of breaking point that 2021 wasn't.
After a season where he hit a can't-believe-your-eyes .165 with a .542 OPS in 95 games, then blasted a clutch postseason home run to extend LA's ill-fated series with the Atlanta Braves, Bellinger was rewarded with a $17 million, one-year deal to avoid arbitration.
Unfortunately, he didn't get any closer to figuring out his troublesome shoulder and returning to MVP form in 2022, finally departing after a difficult non-tender this offseason in favor of a one-year, $17.5 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.
In Bellinger's stead, the Dodgers decided to roll with top prospect James Outman, who shined in limited big-league duty in 2022 and raked in the upper minors, but remained largely off the national radar (and lacked top-100 pedigree).
Turns out, the joke's on ... well, everyone. Outman earned April Rookie of the Month honors and finished second in a poll of MLB executives for the honor of "biggest surprise." Bellinger? He also received a vote, while ex-Dodger Joey Gallo earned two. Max Muncy also received a single tally.
So, how you feeling, Dodgers fans? Excited the rest of the world is stuck with their stunned faces on over Outman's production? Bummed the Bellinger breakout didn't come on our watch? Bothered by Joey Gallo turning the bright lights off and destroying baseballs in Minnesota? There's a lot to juggle, but the most important thing is the Dodgers get to tuck another player development success feather in their collective cap.
The "Most Impressive Rookie" section of the survey might actually make Dodgers fans feel better, considering everyone knows how desperately MLB's scouts and talent evaluators want Corbin Carroll of the Diamondbacks to earn his plaudits this year. Among the anonymous people surveyed, the two finished nearly neck and neck; Carroll received nine votes, while Outman grabbed eight.
Outman got the style points, though, considering he didn't have nearly the same shine league-wide entering the season:
"An NL executive pointed out that Outman 'has outperformed nearly everyone else on the Dodgers roster,' while an AL executive noted that unlike Carroll, who was No. 3 on MLB Pipeline’s 2022 Top 100, Outman wasn’t even in the top five on the Dodgers’ prospect list entering this season. '[Outman] was conspicuously absent from top 100 lists, but he was a scout darling,' the exec said. 'He can run, hit bombs, take walks, and play a decent center field.'"- Mark Feinsand, MLB.com
After April, he's become everyone else's darling, too. As long as he keeps it up, the Dodgers will be more than content to see Bellinger perform adequately on a fatter contract elsewhere.