LOS ANGELES -- The latest chapter in the Scott Van Slyke story was the most fun to read, and his feel-good story could prove instructive for the Dodgers going forward.
Van Slyke showed his worth on both sides of the ball on Monday. He threw out Christian Yelich at the plate to end the seventh inning to keep the game tied. It was his third outfield assist of the season, tied for the team lead, which is even more impressive because Van Slyke has only played 105 of 275 defensive innings in the outfield this season.
Van Slyke also singled in the seventh inning, then alertly advanced to second base on an error in left field by Yelich. Then, down a run in the ninth inning with two runners on, Van Slyke hit a three-run home run to give the Dodgers a walk-off win.
There has been much talk this season about finding playing time for Alex Guerrero and Justin Turner, both of whom have been very productive reserves in their own right, part of the best bench in baseball and one of the deepest Dodgers teams in quite some time. But Van Slyke has been just as important and just as deserving of playing time, hitting .340/.396/.574 with five doubles and two home runs in 53 plate appearances this season.
Van Slyke is thought of as a lefty-masher, and rightfully so with his .268/.368/.517 career mark against southpaws. But all three of his hits — a single and double in addition to the walk-off home run — on Monday came against right-handers. Van Slyke is hitting .361/.368/.667 against right-handers this season and in his career has hit .270/.338/.459 against them.
Van Slyke is good enough to be an everyday player for just about any team in baseball.
Making just $522,500 this season and with four years of salary arbitration looming before he is eligible for free agency, Van Slyke is one of the most valuable commodities in baseball — a cost-controlled (i.e. relatively cheap) starting-level player. So don't be surprised when other teams try to poach Van Slyke when the Dodgers start asking around for pitching help.
But it wasn't always this way.
In December 2012 the Dodgers traded for Skip Schumaker and needed room on the 40-man roster. They designated Van Slyke, then 26, for assignment. The other 29 MLB teams had a chance to claim Van Slyke on waivers, but none did. The Dodgers were able to keep him, and sent him outright to Triple-A.
"It definitely was a kick in my butt. Coming up here I only had like 50 at-bats, I thought that I still had a chance to come back in spring and show them what I had," Van Slyke said back in June 2013. "It definitely made me realize how quickly things can turn around in this game, that you have to be on your A-game. You always need to have good at-bats."
Having good at-bats is just what Van Slyke has done ever since. He worked hard that offseason and came into camp in the literal best shape of his life, and has been a big part of the Dodgers bench for three seasons.
Since getting sent outright to the minors, Van Slyke has hit .284/.373/.510 with 26 doubles and 20 home runs in 451 major league plate appearances, a 148 OPS+. Among all major league players with at least 200 plate appearances from 2013-2015, only eight have a higher OPS+ than Van Slyke.
Van Slyke took control of his career and made himself into a tremendously valuable player.
It gives a little bit of a different perspective on the aggression of the new Dodgers' front office in claiming or trading for players freshly discarded by other organizations. Since the season began, the Dodgers have claimed or traded for seven players who were designated for assignment by other teams — Ryan Webb, Ryan Dennick, Daniel Corcino, Xavier Cedeno, Eury De La Rosa, Andy Wilkins and Matt West — and have been able to keep five of them.
Maybe one of them can be the next Van Slyke, making their way up from the fringes of the roster to an integral part of a winning team. Maybe not, but it's hard to blame the Dodgers for trying.