There was no more fascinating a story on the Dodger farm this past season than the rise of Andrew Toles. Long a talented prospect and character concern, Toles was the model pupil in his career restart with Los Angeles. Toles climbed from the California League all the way to the major league playoff roster, and was a key contributor in the National League Championship Series. Toles’ natural ability and plus carry tools should prevent him from being a flash in the pan, but unknowns still remain as Toles prepares for his second trip through the league.
Toles was re-added to the prospect list upon confirming that he was able to maintain his rookie status despite a question on the days he spent on the active roster. Though he accrued 55 days of major league service time before Sept. 1, he was only on the active roster for 37 days during that time, eight days shy of the 45-day requirement that would have exhausted his rookie status.
Given the amount of playing time he received down the stretch and in the playoffs, Toles already has the feeling on an incumbent starter, but nonetheless faces a crowded outfield picture in 2017 and he’s one of the few roster combatants with options to spare.
What made Toles such an electric figure in the playoffs are a handful of loud tools that proved to be more polished than expected. Toles has one of the better hit tools in the organization, with a lightning-quick bat and smooth plane that keeps the bat head in the hitting zone for a long time. Toles hits from a low crouch and keeps his hands low, allowing him to match plane with the pitch and spray line drives to all fields.
While raw power is not a calling card for Toles, he has enough power for 10-15 home runs annually, and the speed to “manufacture” power on balls in the gaps. Toles is very strong for his size, but is pretty well filled out and isn’t likely to see many gains here.
Toles was an aggressive and eager hitter in the minor leagues, but posted his best walk rate at the major league level (likely aided by hitting so low in the order). He makes easy contact but given his lack of experience in the upper minors, it remains to be seen if he will expand his zone as pitchers make adjustments. This should still not prevent him from producing a solid batting average early in his career, but for development sake, spending more time in the eighth spot while he continues to adjust to the league and the league to him should benefit him.
Eventually though, the Dodgers will likely be tempted to try him at leadoff during his prime, given the plus speed he brings to the basepaths. Toles was not completely turned loose by Los Angeles in the minor leagues, and attempted just two steals at the big league level. His baserunning instincts appear solid, but Toles has spent little time in the upper minors and needs to fine tune his jumps and delivery reads. In his prime, Toles has the speed to steal 40 or more bases, he has a quick twitch sprinter build and should hold his high end speed through his peak seasons.
Toles’ speed was a major asset in the outfield corners for Los Angeles, and might give him a leg up in spring competition. His most memorable defensive play from last season might be his playoff gaffe, but Toles was a rangy and capable defender with an above average throwing arm and elite range in the corners. His routes are still needing polish, but Toles can outrun his mistakes. His bat and speed would fit better in centerfield, but with Joc Pederson providing corner outfield power in center, the Dodgers can afford to give up power in a corner with Toles.
Despite his late-season breakout, Toles is no lock for a starting job in 2017. His options make him an easy candidate to unclog a crowded outfield picture, but it is also tough to suggest that a 25-man roster without Toles is the best roster the Dodgers can put forward. On the contrary, healthy returns from some of the outfielders would allow the Dodgers to play to each player’s strengths and limit Toles’ exposure to tough matchups, so while he might not be an everyday starter, his production can be maximized.
A young 24 (given his time away from baseball), Toles still has room for improvement in refining some of his skills (outfield and pitcher reads, jumps on the basepaths, etc.). Such improvement may only be on the margins, and Toles might never be destined for stardom, but he’s already repaid the Dodgers’ gamble in signing him last season. Beyond on field value, Toles’ electric tools make him a real pleasure to watch and his addition to the Dodger outfield is a net improvement in entertainment value and excitement (now just let him steal bags!)