Virtually taking the place of Scott Schebler on both this list and likely the Dodgers’ plans, Trayce Thompson was the most MLB-ready player acquired by Los Angeles in their part of the Todd Frazier trade. Thompson’s acquisition likely fills the need of a right-handed option to spell lefty dominant starters in the outfield (primarily left and center) that Schebler, as a lefty, could not do. But Thompson has enough athletic tools to eventually carve a larger role on the club. Should Thompson continue his improvement in cutting down whiffs while tapping into his above average raw power, he should be able to establish his name beyond the brother/son of NBA stars Klay and Mychal respectively.
A 25-year-old on opening day with a checkered minor league history with contact issues and a present fourth-outfielder profile may not sound like the tenth best player in the organization, but Thompson has late bloomer traits that warrant your optimism. Thompson was drafted in the second round by the White Sox as a player heavy on athleticism but lacking in baseball skills, and he struggled to marry the two his first two years in professional ball. The first tool not tied strictly to his athleticism to show was his power, but Thompson struggled to make enough contact to tap into it regularly.
Thompson finally broke through last season with significant drops in both his strikeout rate and his walk rate in Triple-A, and the strikeout rate stayed under 20 percent after his big league call up. The slugging and BABIP percentages between 2014 and 2015 at Triple-A stayed largely unchanged, but putting the ball in play more frequently led to a gradual rise in all his counting stats, making him a more useful offensive player.
It’s difficult to decipher just what lead to the improvement in Thompson’s ability to make contact. Looks at swings from previous years show a mixed bag of quality bat speed and extension on fastballs, but also some longer swings and bad guesses on breaking pitches. His set-up at the plate in 2015 was much quieter and Thompson looked more relaxed in the box than in previous highlights, but the swing itself looked largely the same.
When right, Thompson gets good extension at the plate and has power to all fields. His number suggest he was a little more aggressive at the plate last season, but still turned in a quality walk rate at the big league level. It’s quite possible that Thompson just needed more time to develop his plate approach and feel for hitting, but now that he’s comfortable, he can let his natural athleticism take over.
The athleticism is apparent in the field and on the base paths. He’s an above average runner for his size and has the ability to steal 20+ bases a year with enough playing time. He looks comfortable in both left and center field and should be an above average defender in either spot. Thompson is a graceful long strider that eats up ground with each step and can get to top speed quicker than his size would suggest.
Should Thompson exhibit no further improvement, his best case outcome would be the player that matches his Triple-A from last season, being a .260/.310/.440 hitter with above average defense at a few positions. That alone could make him a one to two win player in a bench/platoon role for next season. However, the hope is that his contact improvement allows him to tap more frequently into his plus raw power. He’s had isolated slugging numbers north of .230 at a few stops in his career, including the major leagues last season. If his power follows, Thompson still has starting potential and first division quality in either left or center field.
Despite his readiness, the outfield situation in Los Angeles is still quite crowded, and Thompson has options that put him at a disadvantage against a player like Carl Crawford. His handedness and defensive ability/versatility suggest he would be a valuable member of the final 25 man roster though, so should he hit in spring training, expect the Dodgers to find a way to carry him on the big league roster. Thompson is an exciting player with potential left, so if his athleticism wins out, his ceiling could still exceed our present expectations.