Sorting Through the Dodger Outfield Mess

Over the winter, we went through every team’s roster in our Depth Chart Discussions. The Dodgers outfield chart was done very early on, before camp had even really begun to get rolling, and so the focus there was as you’d expect it to be. Would Andre Ethier be a platoon outfielder? What could you expect from Matt Kemp, coming off shoulder surgery? Would Carl Crawford even make it back at all?

Valid questions, each and every one, but two full months into the season, they seem now laughably simplistic. Crawford, of all people, has been durable and productive. Ethier has been at odds with manager Don Mattingly. Kemp has been atrocious and is now injured, and all of a sudden Scott Van Slyke and Joc Pederson are names to know just as much as Yasiel Puig.

So with all that’s happened, let’s reset this mess and get you all up to speed, because there’s value to be had here.

In left field, Crawford has been surprisingly effective. He’s owned, rightfully, in basically every single fantasy league, so we won’t spend a great deal of time on him here. He did manage to make it back for Opening Day, and he’s been successful thanks both to improved health and a reworked batting stance. The updated ZiPS projections has him down for 24 steals and 13 homers, and while that’s a far cry from the days of 50-60 bases, that’s a nicely productive player given how much uncertainty he brought into the season.

It’s in center where things have really gone sideways, though. Kemp has been absolutely awful so far, hitting only .251/.305/.335 with two homers while dealing with ongoing concerns about his surgically-repaired left shoulder — which he recently said “he couldn’t fully extend“. It only got worse this week as he left consecutive games thanks to taking a pitch off his right elbow and then straining his left hamstring, landing on the disabled list. There’s probably a good argument to be made here to buy low, but he is just so screwed up at the plate right now that it’s difficult to say with any level of optimism that we’ll be seeing the old Kemp at any point during the remainder of the season.

Ethier spelled Kemp in center on Thursday night, and Skip Schumaker has seen time there as well, but neither are long-term options there. While Don Mattingly says that they might call up someone from Triple-A to spot for Kemp — think Elian Herrera or Tony Gwynn, each fantasy non-entities — most everyone expects prospects Puig or Pederson to make their debuts sooner than later.

That speculation was further fueled when Pederson was not in Thursday’s lineup for Double-A Chattanooga and Puig appeared in center for just the third time all season. It remains to be seen which might come up and when, but both are worthy of a stash in deep NL-only leagues or those leagues with a roster spot for minor leaguers. Puig’s legend grew exponentially after a phenomenal spring that had many clamoring for him to break camp with the team, and it’s only grown after two months in Chattanooga and a line of .309/.386/.590.

But while the team has big plans for him, they’ve also been slowed by an arrest for reckless driving in April and the fact that this very site has an entire category devoted to bat flips, mostly populated by Puig. Last week, Mike Newman checked in here with a detailed look at Puig’s immaturity both on and off the field. Puig will be up at some point this season, and the talent is absolutely there, but he’s still in the minors for a reason.

Pederson is both the youngest player in the Southern League and the reigning Dodger organizational player of the year, and he’s been tearing up Double-A as well at .313/.393/.516. Long term, he probably isn’t a center fielder, though since that’s where he’s been playing for the Lookouts it does make him more likely to be recalled by the Dodgers to help fill in for Kemp.

His ceiling is lower than that of Puig’s, but impressive nonetheless. His line so far this year is nearly identical to what it was in the California League last year, and for a 21-year-old to repeat performance from an offensively-geared league in Double-A is noteworthy. He stole at least 24 bases in each of the last two years while hitting 11 and 18 homers; in just 210 plate appearances this year, he already has 8 homers and 15 steals. In the big leagues, he’s probably more of a solid every day player than an elite star, but his combination of power and speed offers an intriguing package, especially if he has center field eligibility.

In right field, Ethier remains an enigma, putting up what would be by far a career-worst .316 wOBA. He offers nothing on the basepaths and has only four homers, and so he’s been a drag on fantasy rosters. While it’s long been known that he couldn’t hit lefties, he’s not even doing as well against righties as he used to, so he’s a clear sell candidate if only because his name still carries appeal.

Ethier has been losing some playing time to Van Slyke, of all people, who was so lightly thought of over the winter that when the Dodgers DFA’d him, he went completely unclaimed. I feel like that can’t be overstated — no team, not even the Astros or Marlins, would take him for free.

That’s partially because Van Slyke isn’t really a prospect. He’ll be 27 in July and is in his ninth professional season, with most of his minor league damage coming either in leagues he was too old for or in the high-flying PCL.  After putting up an absurd line of .397/.503/.733 in 34 Triple-A games this year, he’s been a considerable surprise so far for the Dodgers, putting up eight extra-base hits (including four homers) in just 34 plate appearances. While the small sample size there is obvious, Van Slyke did lose a considerable amount of weight this winter and substantially change his swing, giving us at least some tangible reason to point to for his success.

Van Slyke is available in most every league, and while he’s not to be looked at as a full-time starter, he is getting an opportunity to play and is showing some power while doing it. He’s also the primary first base backup behind Adrian Gonzalez, so he’s likely to gain eligibility there if he doesn’t already have it in your league.




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and is an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

13 Responses to “Sorting Through the Dodger Outfield Mess”

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  1. LuckyStrikes says:

    Pederson has been great but it does not sound like he’s getting the call over Gwynn, which can’t be anything but a stopgap option. Did not know Pederson was the youngest player in the Southern League…

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  2. Ender says:

    Joc Pederson’s last 10 games: .194/.342/.226 ; Puig is still tearing it up. I’m hoping to see Puig in a few days.

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  3. Skoolboy Jim says:

    What? A professional athlete acting immature? The Dodgers are such a mess that Puig is their only hope. Really, they need a spark, and Puig’s reckless driving will go completely unnoticed in Los Angeles.

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  4. fei says:

    so is it a given puig will be up in the next few days?

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  5. Ender says:

    Am I the only one who suspects that teams sometimes use phantom injuries to allow veterans to either step aside for upcoming talent or just take a break without embarrassing themselves? To save face?

    Jason Heyward had an appendectomy, or were they letting him get out of the show a bit to work out the kinks without demoting him to AAA?

    Doesn’t fit too well with Kemp because they just could have said his shoulder was still ailing.

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    • Dancing Homer says:

      Uh, Kemp’s hamstring is hurt. That’s why he’s on the DL. I don’t see any benefit to “fixing” a poor season by not playing if fully healthy.

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      • Ender says:

        He’s playing terribly but he’s too big a name and paid too much money to demote him to triple A. So, put him on the DL. He saves some face that way.

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      • Tommy Blackjack says:

        replying to Ender. Kemp has been in the Majors too long for him to be sent to the minors without permission. It has nothing to do with his contract or his “name”

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    • majnun says:

      I’m sure teams fake injuries, but heyward and kemp were about the silliest examples you could have come up with

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  6. ed says:

    Kemp for Nelson Cruz: defensible panic move or dumb panic move?

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