Spring Training News: The Great Outfield Battle
The Los Angeles Dodgers are experiencing an embarrassment of riches. With so many capable outfielders, they’ve already announced that Cody Bellinger will not play the position at all in 2018. With only so many spots to go around on the opening day roster, something has to give. The Dodgers are forced to choose which mouths they will feed with at-bats, and soon. This is both the best part of the spring, and the ugliest. Competition brings out the best in players – a type of excellence you weren’t aware some possessed. It also means a trip to Oklahoma City for a talented player we may have deep emotional ties to. Let’s examine the log-jam and see if we can forecast what will happen.
The ring leader goes first, and he’s earned it. Kemp is on fire in every sense of the word, hitting his fourth home run of the spring on Sunday. He leads the team in that category, and has struck out just five times in 29 at-bats. Kemp entered camp in superb physical condition, and his performance has followed suit. With a .379 average at press time, he looks positioned to enter the season with a grip on a starting position. Kemp has played left field abundantly during spring training, and figures to be at his natural spot when the season begins.
I have loved Andrew Toles since the beginning. I loved him before I found out that he came from Krogers employee all the way to Dodger Stadium. There’s something about the guy – with the memory of his grand slam in Colorado in 2016 fresh on my mind – that just makes him seem like a winning ballplayer. He puts his head down, he grinds, he does nothing but produce when given the opportunity. My heart broke last season when this happened, and I had concerns about how he would look this spring in his return.
Toles has answered the bell. He’s homered twice, added two doubles, and tripled once. He’s hitting .355 in 31 trips to the plate. Toles has more than given the Dodgers something to think about when they make their final roster selections soon. He can play any spot in the outfield, has a good combination of power and speed, and would be a nice pinch-hitter as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
Barring a complete collapse, it appears Toles will make the club out of spring training.
This is where things get hairy.
Joc Pederson is an easy player to like. How great was it to see him play the role of hero out of nowhere in the 2017 World Series? The joy inside me poured out for him. You get the feeling that Pederson’s teammates love having him around. Things like this aren’t to be sold short – but production trumps everything – especially when you’re in a heated competition for a job.
And Pederson has picked a bad time to have a bad time.
Joc Pederson has the most at-bats of any Dodger in spring at 31, but he is only hitting .161 with 9 K's. Will he be on the Opening Day roster?
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) March 12, 2018
On Monday night at Camelback Ranch, Pederson went 0 for 2 to drop his average to .152 for the spring. His case is helped slightly because of his experience playing centerfield – a job that now may belong solely to Chris Taylor. The fact remains, Pederson hasn’t shown the growth one would hope to follow up a semi-strong postseason. The question asked on our twitter account today becomes very valid: if you’re the Dodgers, do you option Pederson to Oklahoma City to begin the year?
Taylor, Yasiel Puig, and Kike Hernandez give the Dodgers a nice mix of versatility aside from the three aforementioned players discussed above. The unexpected strong play of Kemp and Toles has forced the Dodgers hand. It appears with each passing day that things are cementing themselves, and Pederson could be apart from his teammates for a while when the curtain comes up on the 2018 Dodgers’ opening act.
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