While the Dodgers have had a slow offseason overall, one area in which they’ve really gone crazy is “minor-league contracts for outfielders.” Take a look at these list items pasted from LA’s official transactions page, chock-full of guys who dream of becoming LA’s starting center-fielder:
- 12/07/22 Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent RF Jason Heyward to a minor league contract.
- 12/10/22 Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent CF James Jones to a minor league contract.
- 12/17/22 Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent CF Steven Duggar to a minor league contract.
- 12/17/22 Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent CF Bradley Zimmer to a minor league contract.
- 01/09/23 Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent CF Anderson Miller to a minor league contract.
Heyward is listed as a right-fielder on the transactions page, but he’s played center and LA is pretty much set in right, so we’re counting him as a center-field option. In addition to those five players, Los Angeles also has Trayce Thompson, Chris Taylor, and James Outman as internal options to replace Cody Bellinger in center field.
So let’s look at each of these eight guys and figure out who has the best shot at getting key CF innings early in the 2023 season.
Anderson Miller and James Jones
Let’s start with the least likely guys first. Miller made it as high as Triple-A with the Royals but spent 2022 in the independent Atlantic League, where he posted a .732 OPS. Jones made it to the big leagues in 2014-15 with the Mariners and posted a .564 OPS in 359 plate appearances. He then switched to pitching with the Rangers organization, where he did pretty well in 2019 but not as well since. And now, apparently, he’s back to being an outfielder. He has six minor-league plate appearances in the last seven years.
It’s possible one of these guys might be a miracle project for the Dodgers, but it’s much more likely we’ll rarely think of them after today.
Steven Duggar and Bradley Zimmer
Both Duggar and Zimmer have spent time in the big leagues. Duggar has a 79 OPS+ in 846 PA over the last five years, and Zimmer has a 71 OPS+ in 975 PA over the last six. Both guys bat left and throw right, and both are decent defensive center fielders. Zimmer is a year older, but otherwise they’re basically the same person.
Like with Miller and Jones, unless the Dodgers have a miracle to work with one of these guys, they seem like minor-league depth until they opt out of their deals at some point. The only difference is a miracle is at least theoretically more likely with these two guys, since they’ve actually been legitimate big-leaguers at some point.
Of the five outfielders LA signed, Heyward seems like the most likely to actually make the team. Unlike the other four, Heyward actually has a history of being a successful big-leaguer, even though he didn’t live up to his early promise during his huge contract with the Cubs. Heyward remains an outstanding athlete, and his defense has mostly stayed solid even as his offense has struggled. He also is the most likely for a Dodgers-style career revival, simply because it wouldn’t take a full-on miracle but simply a very impressive renaissance.
Taylor has played center field, and he plays it pretty well. He’s probably better in left field, and a lot of his value comes from his ability to play all over the diamond. If he hits like he did in 2022, though, he won’t have much value anywhere. We can only hope a fully healthy Taylor will bounce back in 2023, at which point he’d be valuable at any position.
Thompson is a solid defensive outfielder, but like Taylor, he’s probably better suited to left field. And also like Taylor, his ultimate defensive value will be determined by whether he can hit. Unlike Taylor, Thompson was very good in 2022, but even amid his very-good-ness, he struck out way too often, suggesting holes in his swing that could make success unsustainable.
Outman has the athleticism to play center field at a high level; like Taylor and Thompson, his overall playing time will be determined by his ability to hit the ball. Outman had a very loud debut in 2022, going 6-for-13 with a 1.409 OPS in four games. Of course, he also struck out in his other seven at-bats, so there’s some swing-and-miss in his game.
Still, Outman is a good defender and his very well in the minors last year, so it seems likely he’ll get a good opportunity to play center for LA.
Overall, we’d guess Outman gets the opportunity to earn the starting CF job, with Thompson and Taylor available as platoon options if Outman struggles against lefties. The x-factor is Heyward, who could force his way into playing time with a great spring, but there could be room for both Heyward and Outman, depending on how Taylor and Thompson perform. Manager Dave Roberts would certainly love to deal with the “problem” of having too many outfielders performing well.
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