PHOENIX — A few days into camp at Camelback Ranch, and the Dodgers’ outfield situation is essentially what we thought it was before spring training started — a pair of regulars plus some mixing and matching likely in left field.
The wild card in all of this is Yasiel Puig, who was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City for a month last season and then returned in a reduced role. But this year, the Dodgers thus far have described Puig more as a solution than a problem.
“We expect him to get a lot of at-bats out there in right field,” manager Dave Roberts said on Wednesday. “If you look at his skill set defensively, there might not be a better right fielder in the game. The adjustments he made to his swing last season, all good things.
"With Yasiel's skill set, he's shown he can hit right-handed pitching. And obviously he hits left-handed pitching. The more he's out there, the better for the Dodgers. The only thing for us, is continuing to look at the at-bat quality. It's important.”
In his career, Puig doesn’t have much of a platoon split at all, hitting .282/.370/.476 against lefties and .289/.358/.470 against righties. But in the last two seasons he has hit just .256/.316/.394 against right-handed pitchers compared to .267/.338/.497 against southpaws.
Once Puig returned from Oklahoma City in 2016, he started just one game against a right-handed pitcher in September and October.
But his playing time figures to go up in 2017. Puig showed up to camp on Friday morning, wielding a bat covered in barbed wire.
Roberts was asked this morning if right field was Puig’s to lose.
"We expect him to be out there the majority of the time. Yasiel put in a lot of work this winter with his swing, the swing mechanics, and obviously the body. He looks great,” Roberts said. “I think even after last year he grew a lot. I think he just wants to go out there and play. If he goes out there and plays well, he'll be out there.”
The Dodgers could theoretically platoon in all three outfield spots, but with Puig in right field and Joc Pederson expected to man center field on most days, that leaves only left field open for split duty.
Franklin Gutierrez and Andre Ethier seem like logical platoon partners, but several others are in the mix for outfield playing time as well, including Andrew Toles, Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson, Kiké Hernandez and Brett Eibner, among those on the 40-man roster.
"You look at the depth chart and you look at the roster, those guys understand. There are only so many spots out there. But again, it's not as much, 'Here's our opening day roster.' It's easier to say in my position, but I've been a player before. There's a lot of anticipation and hope to break camp with the big club. I get it,” Roberts said. “As an organization, what's going to make us the best team over 162 games, we're not going to break camp with eight [outfielders].
“It will be fun to see how it plays out. It will play out it always does.”