A year can make a big difference. Last February Scott Van Slyke came to the Los Angeles Dodgers spring training camp on the minor league side after having been designated for assignment and clearing waivers earlier in the off-season. Having every major-league team pass on adding a big, strapping right-handed hitter with minor-league options remaining to their 40-man roster may have served as a bit of a wake-call to the Missouri native, who arrived in Arizona in 2013 noticeably leaner and perhaps recommitted to proving himself as a baseball player.
In preparation for the 2014 season, Van Slyke reported early to Camelback Ranch and while there are a number of players competing for bench spots on the Dodgers roster, he appears to be the only one that offers a power bat as an option on the pine, other than the outfielder among the Dodgers starting quartet - Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig - who sits for that particular game. Additionally, the 27-year old is perhaps the most palatable backup to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, especially against a left-handed pitcher - five of his nine career homers have been hit against southpaws, including his new teammate Paul Maholm.
Van Slyke did not make the 25-man roster when the Dodgers broke camp in 2013, but he tore up AAA pitching to the tune of a .397/.503/.733 batting line and the big club purchased his contract in May, after which he rode the shuttle between Albuquerque and Los Angeles several times before making the playoff roster.
But it wasn't an in-game performance that brought attention to Van Slyke in the postseason, instead it was the pre-game standoff he had before Game 6 of the NLCS versus Joe Kelly of the St. Louis Cardinals.
To date, Van Slyke has bookended his career with high-leverage home runs, hitting his first as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning, a three-run shot that turned a 5-3 Dodger deficit into a 6-5 victory over St. Louis. His last homer was a two-run, 11th inning, walkoff blast on September 10, sending the Arizona Diamondbacks to defeat. (The other seven round-trippers he's struck have all been with the bases empty.)
Van Slyke, starting at first base, was part of a record-setting Dodgers lineup on June 1, 2012 that included the most sons of former Major Leaguers ever. Tony Gwynn, Jr. (OF), Iván DeJesús, Jr. (3B), Dee Gordon (SS) and Jerry Hairston, Jr. (2B) also started in this game. This was also the first time four sons of major-leaguers formed an entire starting infield.
Van Slyke was born on July 24, 1986, 281 days after his father, Andy, a rookie, was on-deck watching Jack Clark hit a prodigious and infamous home run at Dodger Stadium to effectively end the 1985 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. The normal human gestation period is 280 days. You do the math.1
Van Slyke is just shy of one year of service time in the major leagues and remains under team control for 2014, where he can expect to earn about the major-league minimum salary of $500,000, pro-rated for the days he is on the 25-man roster. He has one option year remaining.
2013: No profile
2012: No subtitle needed
|2013 - Triple-A
|2013 - MLB
|2014 projections - Age 27 season|
I'll guess that Van Slyke makes the opening day roster, especially with Kemp a candidate to start the season on the disabled list, and that he makes scattered starts at both1B and in the OF corners, hitting .236/.328/.484 with five home runs, two as a pinch-hitter. What's your guess?
1. Hat tip to the members of the TBLA commentariat that first pointed this out ↩