2020 as a year threw a monkey wrench into various things, including baseball. And in the case of Gavin Lux, this year reminded us that player development is not a linear process.
Lux entered the season as the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year, with 7/2 opening odds from BetOnline in March (the next-best odds were 8/1, by Mackenzie Gore and Brendan Rogers). Lux was ranked the No. 2 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, the third-best prospect by Baseball Prospectus, and No. 4 by Baseball America.
After starting 19 of 23 games after his September call-up and three of five playoff games in 2019, it was reasonable to expect Lux getting regular playing time to start 2020, perhaps following the paths of Joc Pederson and Corey Seager in years past. But Lux had to earn the everyday second base job, something manager Dave Roberts mentioned during regular spring training.
At the very least, it was not a given that Lux would make the original Opening Day roster in March. But we’ll never know, because a pandemic interrupted the season and our lives.
What we do know is once summer camp started, Lux was late to report with undisclosed reasons. Other late reporters to camp — Kenley Jansen and A.J. Pollock, to name a few — eventually shared that they tested positive for COVID-19, a diagnosis that, per the collective bargaining agreement, teams were unable to disclose without consent from players. Lux, after missing a week of workouts, bristled when asked why he was late to camp.
“It’s personal information that I don’t think is anybody’s business,” he said. “I’m here, ready to go, and just focused on moving forward. I’m ready to get playing.”
While behind in camp, Lux struggled at the plate and in the field, particularly throwing, and was ultimately optioned to the alternate training site before the season started. “At this point in time he just wasn’t synced up,” Roberts said at the time.
After a month at the alternate site at USC, Lux was called up for good at the end of August. He started 16 of the Dodgers’ final 28 games, with 13 of those starts coming against right-handers. But he just didn’t hit, going 11-for-63 with a 27.5-percent strikeout rate that was the highest on the team among players with at least 10 plate appearances.
Lux was only active for one of four postseason rounds, and his only game was pinch-hitting in the ninth inning of the final game of the NLDS, with the Dodgers already up nine runs. For the most part, Lux was a spectator in October.
Ratings of Lux’s defense are all over the place. He ranked fourth in MLB with six Defensive Runs Saved at second base despite playing only 143 innings (15 starts) at the position. Ultimate Zone Rating had Lux at -2.0 UZR, ranking 119th among 124 major league second basemen. Kiké Hernández had a similar split, tying for the most DRS (+8) but an even worse UZR (-2.6), so take these short-season numbers with a grain of salt.
It’s reasonable to assume that as a natural shortstop, Lux would be able to hold his own defensively at second base, so the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. He rated as slightly above average (+1) at Total Zone Rating and was exactly average in Outs Above Average.
Stats: .175/.246/.349, 3 HR, 63 wRC+
Game of the year
The Dodgers trailed the Diamondbacks 5-1 in the fifth inning in Phoenix on September 8, with the only run to that point a solo home run by Lux. Still down four runs in the seventh, Lux singled home Cody Bellinger to start a game-tying rally, then in the 10th inning after the Dodgers scored the go-ahead run, Lux slammed a three-run homer. The Dodgers very much needed those insurance runs, since Arizona rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning, but the Dodgers held on to win, 10-9.
The list of Los Angeles Dodgers with a two-homer game at age 22 or younger is short: Don Drysdale (!!), Tommy Davis, Willie Davis (twice), Todd Hollandsworth, Adrian Beltre, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Yasiel Puig, Corey Seager (four times), Cody Bellinger (seven times), and Lux.
Lux has 114 days of major league service time. He’ll make somewhere near the major league minimum salary of $570,500 in 2021. While it might feel like 2020 was a lost year for Lux, especially with no minor league season to continue to develop, he’s still the fifth-youngest player on the 40-man roster, having just turned 23 on Monday. Lux’s future remains bright.