Just when it looked like Corey Seager was returning to form, his hamstring jumped up and bit him. This shouldn’t be surprising, seeing as Seager is a #TrueDodger after all.
But seriously, this is a big blow to an offense that has seen Cody Bellinger (as expected) and Alex Verdugo (rookie blues?) tail off a bit in recent weeks. Luckily, Justin Turner and Max Muncy have stepped up, but it was nice to see Seager rounding back into form after missing most of last season after Tommy John surgery.
Seager had been hitting .354/.409/.646 over the last month of action, and he helped to anchor the lineup and the league’s best infield defense.
Typically, a Grade 2 hamstring strain is a four-week injury. Dave Roberts classified it as a “Grade 2-plus” strain, so he might be out a bit longer than that.
The incomparable Jon Weisman posted on Twitter today on how the Dodgers might handle Seager’s absence.
In the wake of Corey Seager's injury, I know it's most likely that the Dodgers will just activate Matt Beaty. I'd be curious to see Gavin Lux, of course. One off-the-wall approach would be to bring back Will Smith, given that Austin Barnes could be a utility guy.— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) June 12, 2019
Let’s take a look at these options in order of most likely to least likely.
Most likely: Matt Beaty is activated
Beaty is currently on a rehab assignment with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. He’s 2-for-7 with two doubles in two games. He’ll likely be ready quite soon, and it might be interesting to see what Beaty can do with an extended look.
Max Muncy’s positional versatility — a phrase no one expected to come with any merit a year ago — allows the Dodgers to play Beaty at first base against right-handed pitching. Before suffering a hip flexor injury, Beaty had a modest .286/.286/.310 batting line, but if you dig a little deeper, you see some encouraging signs.
The average launch angle isn’t great (3.9 degrees), but the hard-hit percentage (44.4 percent) is great. That comes out to an average exit velocity of 89.4 MPH — two MPH better than MLB league-average. He also limits strikeouts (five in 42 plate appearances).
But something that should be under consideration here is David Freese. Freese is hitting .300/.417/.610 in 120 plate appearances this season. He has taken to the Chase Utley role quite well (and is hitting better than Utley ever did as a Dodger). What’s really interesting is Freese is hitting better against right-handed pitching (203 wRC+) than he is against left-handed pitching (147 wRC+). It’s a small sample size for this season, but since joining the Dodgers on Aug. 31, Freese has some pretty even splits.
Freese production at the plate
So, maybe Freese deserves a shot to play more frequently, even against right-handed pitching — at least for as long as he’s productive against them. Maybe a 65/35 split with Beaty to help mitigate the loss of Seager.
Less likely: Will Smith is recalled, Austin Barnes moves to utility role
I’d be all for something like this. In fact, I wrote over at Dodgers Digest (even before Smith was promoted) that he might force the Dodgers’ hand and that having three catchers on the roster wouldn’t be the worst thing. Barnes, Russell Martin and Smith are all capable of playing multiple positions beyond catcher, so it wouldn’t be like carrying three true catchers.
This seems a bit less likely because the Dodgers probably want Smith to continue to improve behind the plate and both Barnes and Martin don’t have the offensive upside that Smith does, but he isn’t about to unseat them, either. Plus, the Freese/Beaty combination might provide more offensive upside than the two Dodger catchers at the moment.
Least likely: Gavin Lux is promoted
Lux might be the Dodgers’ top prospect by midseason and maybe going into 2020. He has taken his hitting to a new level, especially after working with current Dodgers’ hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc. Lux is hitting .303/.358/.514 in his second stint with Double-A Tulsa. His walks and strikeouts are both going in the wrong direction from last season in Tulsa (both 3.1 points), but he’s also hitting for some more pop (.211 ISO). A 33-point drop in BABIP could also explain the lower-than-expected batting average and on-base percentage.
I’m less concerned that Lux could handle the load offensively. Where I’d be most concerned is defensively. He’s had some footwork issues and his arm is just average at shortstop, which has led to more errors than most expected when he was drafted out of high school. It’s also a reason many project him to end up at second base. With Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez around to man shortstop, rushing Lux to the majors for a month or so doesn’t seem likely.
The Dodgers have been built on depth for the last handful of seasons. When they lost Seager last year, the weathered the storm until they traded for Manny Machado. This isn’t the same situation (hopefully). Seager should be back after a bit of an extended absence, and they have enough coverage for the situation, despite him starting to look like his former self. You have to figure the combination of Freese/Beaty can handle things at first base. Bellinger should get hot again, Muncy should continue to perform and if Verdugo doesn’t snap out of his slump, A.J. Pollock could be back before too long.
If there is any team can withstand the loss of its All-Star shortstop playing at the level to which it is accustomed, it’s the Dodgers.