Dodgers News: Center Field is LA’s ‘Biggest Question’ Heading into Spring Training
It’s been a weird offseason for the Dodgers, who mostly sat on the sidelines as other teams dropped hundreds of millions of dollars on the free-agent market. Los Angeles is expecting somewhat of a youth movement, so it made sense to an extent that they wouldn’t spend a ton of money replacing Trea Turner when they expect Miguel Vargas to be the replacement (in the lineup, anyway, with Gavin Lux shifting to shortstop to replace Trea on defense).
Still, as the team heads into spring training this week, there are questions. Every team has questions at this point in the season, which is why The Athletic wrote an article about each team’s biggest question, but it seems like the Dodgers have a few more than usual.
For Fabian Ardaya in that article, though, the biggest question comes down to who will replace Cody Bellinger.
Who is the center fielder? The most proven big-league option is Chris Taylor, who had his worst year as a Dodger in 2022 as he started a four-year, $60 million deal. Trayce Thompson was productive down the stretch, but how much of that is sustainable after years of bouncing on and off rosters? Then there’s James Outman, a top-100 prospect with the tools to succeed, but just 16 big-league plate appearances to his name. All three would probably fit better defensively in a corner, but who winds up in center?
Ardaya’s final sentence might be the most important. He says James Outman, Chris Taylor, and Trayce Thompson all fit defensively better in left field than in center. Whether that’s true of Outman remains to be seen and could be the difference between a starting job and a bench role (or even a Triple-A gig) for the rookie. Someone has to play center field, and prospect analysts are split on how well Outman would do there.
Outman seems likely to get a chance to win the job, because if he’s not going to be a big-league center-fielder, there’s not much point in the Dodgers keeping him. And if he is going to be a big-league center-fielder, now is the time for it to happen.
If Outman fails to win the job, they have a handful of other options who are better suited to left field available. But those should only come into play if and when Outman fails to win the job.
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If Bryan Reynolds isn’t traded before the season starts, then they need to trade for him at the trade deadline.
The Dodgers are looking for someone who gets a good read on the ball, a quick first step followed by a good route and a seemingly effortless catch, combined with a reasonable ability to hit. I don’t think they have anyone on the roster that can consistently do that. Many of the circus catches and layouts we see are just athleticism and speed making up for something lacking. I’d say the Dodgers are going to keep looking until they find someone who can truly handle the job defensively with passable or better offense.
I hope… we all hope, James Outman gets a clear shot at proving he can do the job. This is why we have a farm system; to provide what we need or provide prospects to trade to get what we need. All this scraping and patching implies the team is uncertain and hoping for someone to rise to the occasion. If James can’t do it; you’ll likely see them fall back to a Taylor/Outman platoon first and then eventually a trade. I just hope we don’t settle for a defensive wiz who couldn’t hit sand if he fell off a camel. We’re not trying to replace 2022 Cody; we’re trying to replace the earlier version who was well above average.
Outman has shown he is a good, coachable, hard working athlete who has his head on straight and is still improving. Give him a reasonable runway to prove what he can do! Good luck James!