TEMPE — Andrew Toles homered on Wednesday against the Angels and continues to look healthy and recovered from the torn ACL that cost him the final five months of his 2017 season.
Toles is the likely front runner for a roster battle that is becoming increasingly clear is for only one outfield spot.
The Dodgers were conservative in the beginning of camp with Toles after several months of rehab on his right knee, with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman calling it “much more of a feel thing as we go through February and March.”
So far the feeling is good.
Toles has played back-to-back days, four times even, and has played all three outfield spots in Cactus League games. He was in right field on Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, where he was 1-for-3 with a home run to right field. This spring he is 7-for-19 (.368) with two home runs, a triple and a walk.
He’s working his way back into the mix, which isn’t too much of a surprise.
“Andrew has always been a part of the conversation. He broke camp with us last year,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It was an unfortunate injury, he worked hard to get back with his strength and health. He’s having a very good camp.”
The Dodgers’ outfield battle continues to be a little bizarre, with Matt Kemp the $43 million elephant in the room. Every day Kemp is still around lends credence that he will remain, and as of Thursday opening day is a mere three weeks away.
A left-handed batter is still needed to pair with Kemp in left field, and Toles certainly fits the bill. Before his injury last May Toles started all 19 games against right-handed pitchers for the Dodgers and was hitting .271/.314/.458.
“He’s a dynamic player,” general manager Farhan Zaidi said.
Toles is not alone of course, though he offered the quote of the spring last week when asked about avoiding the virus that affected more than two dozen Dodgers teammates. “You have to live by yourself,” Toles said. “You can’t bunk with a bunch of other dudes.”
Joc Pederson, who has made the last three opening day rosters, saw both extremes in 2017. A 2-for-41 slump saw him demoted to the minors in August, but he was able to recover with an extra-base hit barrage in the postseason including three home runs in the World Series.
The streaky Pederson was 1-for-3 on Wednesday though for the spring is jut 4-for-25 (.160) with two doubles and a walk.
“I think Joc is trending in the right direction,” Roberts said. “I don’t know his numbers this spring but he’s doing a pretty good job of staying in the strike zone.”
Alex Verdugo is 8-for-20 (.400) this spring with two home runs and three doubles and has played all three outfield spots. He’s certainly an option to contribute during the season, but I have a hard time seeing him beating Toles for an opening day roster spot.
Roster space is limited, even more so since the Dodgers will likely open the season with 13 pitchers on the active roster, something Roberts reiterated on Wednesday. He cited the versatility of Kiké Hernandez, who played every infield and every outfield position last year, and Chris Taylor, who played five positions, as well as Austin Barnes, who played second and third base in addition to his work behind the plate.
“You can carry a four-man bench when you have guys who do what they can do,” Roberts said.
Eleven of the 12 position player spots are pretty much accounted for, with Yasmani Grandal, Barnes, Cody Bellinger, Logan Forsythe, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Chase Utley, Yasiel Puig, Taylor, Kemp and Hernandez all penciled in.
That leaves just one roster spot available for Toles, Pederson or Verdugo, and it probably kills any chances for the right-handed Trayce Thompson, who is out of options and is looking to rebound from a nightmare 2017.
A lot could happen in these next three weeks. Kemp could be dealt. Seager could open the year on the disabled list which would open up a spot, though that he’s already slated to play shortstop beginning Monday that seems less likely than a week ago.
“You look at the last couple spots in the outfield, these guys are playing well and add a lot of value,” Roberts said.