When it comes to developing top prospects into Major League stars, the Dodgers organization has fared pretty well in the last few years. Players like Corey Seager, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, Julio Urias, and Will Smith are just some examples of highly touted prospects who have not only lived up to high expectations but in some cases, exceeded them.
Given their success developing young players, it’s easy to see how some might assume every top prospect is going to pan out for the Dodgers. That, of course, is not the case. Many times, even the most talented prospect is going to need time to come into their own and excel at the Major League level.
Gavin Lux has been a prime example of that process this year.
A Brief History
Lux was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round back in 2016. He worked his way up through the minor league system fairly quickly, putting up good numbers as he went along. He had a phenomenal 2019 year, where he batted a combined .347/.421/.607 with a 1.028 OPS over stints in AA and AAA. As he continued to produce, his stock rose, and he was soon not only the Dodgers’ top prospect but a top five prospect in all MLB. Lux was certainly coveted by many teams, but the Dodgers made him close to untouchable in any trade talks as he continued to tear it up in the minors.
The club called Lux up for his first time in 2019, and he got 82 plate appearances (PA) that year. He hit .240/.305/.400 with two home runs and got a taste of postseason baseball in the NLDS. With that experience under his belt, many felt that Lux would come into the 2020 season as the starting second baseman. But after a late arrival to training camp, he struggled to get it going and didn’t appear to be “synched-up,” as Dave Roberts put it.
The Dodgers sent him to the alternate training site to continue to work on his swing as the condensed 2020 season began. He eventually made his debut in late August and got 69 PA, slashing .175/.246/.349 on the year. He never hit his stride and ended up getting only one at-bat in the postseason.
Struggles This Year
After a pretty successful spring training, Lux earned the starting second base duties to begin this year. He had a horrid first month, hitting only .179 with two extra base hits in April. He turned things around a bit in May and batted .286 with five home runs, including two grand slams. But since then, his offensive struggles have persisted, and he’s currently hitting .231/.314/.358 on the year. His .672 OPS and 0.44 BB/K rate is the lowest on the team among qualified players.
This year, Lux is swinging at balls outside the strike zone more than he has in his career (28%) which may be a reason why he’s not hitting the ball hard very frequently. His hard hit rate is only 29.6% this year, far lower than his 38.6% and 52.9% marks in 2020 and 2019. In other words, he’s not waiting for his pitch and is chasing way too much.
Another area of concern with Lux this year is his inability to hit left-handed pitching (LHP.) He’s hitting .145/.241/.174 on the year against lefties, and for his career, is now only .132/.216/.187 with a meager .402 OPS. To put that in perspective, Joc Pederson has a career .593 OPS vs LHP (almost 200 points higher than Lux) and the Dodgers wouldn’t let him near a lefty doing his tenure with the team. To put it in more perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s .150 lifetime Avg against LHP is 18 points better than Lux.
To be fair, we are talking about a very young player, who’s still in the middle of his first full season. With that said, Lux does have about a full season’s worth of time under his belt now (454 career PA), and the offensive numbers just haven’t been there yet. There’s still plenty of time for him to improve, but the Dodgers are going to have to decide whether they can afford to let him continue to struggle in the middle of a division race and into the playoffs.
Playing Time Could be Limited
Since Corey Seager went down with a hand injury back in May, Lux has filled in at shortstop and shuffled between there and second base for most of the year. He’s basically been a full-time starter and in the lineup pretty much on a daily basis. His 303 PA on the year is fifth most on the team. That playing time may change, however, as Seager is expected back soon and Lux continues to struggle.
When, or if, the Dodgers ever get fully healthy, you could argue that there’s really no room for Lux in the lineup. At least not as the full-time starter that he’s been throughout the year.
Think about the most ideal Dodgers lineup when everyone is healthy. The batting order may fluctuate a bit depending on your preference, but it may look something like the following:
- Betts RF
- Seager SS
- Turner 3B
- Muncy 1B
- Smith C
- Bellinger CF
- Taylor 2B
- Pollock LF
Again, this is assuming everyone is healthy. But if that’s the case, where does Lux fit in? Who would he replace here? Cody Bellinger is struggling mightily so far this year, but it’s hard to imagine that the 2019 MVP won’t eventually get it together and at least move somewhat closer to his normal self offensively. It’s hard to see a realistic scenario where Taylor gets moved to center field to replace Bellinger just to start Lux at second base.
Lux almost certainly won’t start against lefties, but you could argue that he should be in there vs right-handed pitching (RHP) over A.J. Pollock. After all, Pollock has always hit lefties far better than right-handers and has pretty average numbers against righties over his career (.790 OPS). But this year he’s improved, posting a .817 OPS against RHP, which is considerably better than what Lux is doing so far. Pollock is coming off a year where he hit 16 home runs in only 196 AB, and after a slow start this season, he’s caught fire recently. If that type of production continues, it’s unlikely that Lux would replace him in any lineup, regardless of who’s pitching.
So, where does that leave Gavin Lux? Well, for one, no matter what his playing time will look like going forward, he needs to improve offensively. Whatever adjustments that need to be made, need to be made soon. If not, we may be looking at a scenario where Lux is relegated to a bench role down the stretch. And that may not be such a bad thing. Perhaps, less pressure on the young, 23-year-old will benefit him long-term.
The Dodgers have been somewhat spoiled by their prospects over the last few years, with many of them turning into Rookies of the Year, MVPs, All-Stars, and big game postseason pitchers. That’s not always going to happen. Patience is needed with many former top prospects, and to be candid, even then not all of them are going to pan out.
The jury is still out on Lux and will be for some time. Nonetheless, he needs to start improving his case, because the verdict doesn’t look good so far.