A trio of Dodgers outfielders could make their major league debut in 2021, thanks to a longer season and moving slightly up the depth chart this year.
DJ Peters and Luke Raley were added to the 40-man roster in November 2019 — Raley with the Twins before getting traded back to the Dodgers three months later — and Zach Reks was added last November. All three have played in three of the Dodgers’ first four games thus far in Cactus League play, and all three have batted five times.
Any game action is welcome after a 2020 with no minor league season. Peters and Raley were at the alternate training site at USC, but played in zero games once the season started. The Dodgers’ longest game so far this spring was seven innings, and shortened games will likely continue through March 13, per MLB’s health and safety protocols.
“It’s just a difficult year for these guys being at the alternate site, and not really playing competitive baseball against another team,” manager Dave Roberts said Wednesday. “Once we start playing seven-, nine-inning games, I can give them more at-bats.”
Those at-bats could come in the regular season for a few reasons. For one, the season is longer. The Dodgers got through 60 games last year with essentially 14 position players, who took a nearly Ivoryesque 99.35 percent of the plate appearances. They had 17 position players play for them, and 16 players actually batted, but over 162 games a team usually needs more in reserve. The Dodgers averaged 23.6 position players from 2015-19, never using less than 22 in a single season.
Right now there are 18 position players on the 40-man roster, which is one of the reasons I thought back in January that the Dodgers needed to add more than only Justin Turner on offense this winter.
There’s playing time to be had in the outfield. A.J. Pollock last played more than 113 games in a season in 2015. Cody Bellinger is coming off shoulder surgery and won’t see Cactus League game action for another week and a half or so.
“If you look at the major league roster, outfield is probably where we don’t have as much depth,” Roberts said. “There’s certainly some opportunities with Kiké and Joc being gone.”
Kiké Hernández and Joc Pederson both left as free agents in the offseason. They accounted for 34 outfield starts between them last year, over half of the Dodgers’ games. Those starts won’t all necessarily be available in 2021, because there is no designated hitter and if, for instance, Gavin Lux gets his runway at second base, that could mean more outfield time for Chris Taylor.
Positional versatility is a must for the Dodgers. It’s helped Taylor be one of the most valuable players on the team the last four years. Zach McKinstry has started games at second base, shortstop, and center field this spring, and figures to get ample time in the majors this year. Matt Beaty has played corner outfield in addition to his corner infield spots.
Raley and Reks have played some first base in the minors, in addition to their outfield work. Peters has taken extra reps at first base this spring, trying to add to his toolbox. Anything to get playing time.
“I want to be ready and just want to be in the lineup,” Peters said Tuesday. “However I could get in the lineup, if that’s in the outfield or first base, wherever that may be, I definitely want to make sure I get my work in there.”