James Outman is doing a heck of a job this spring to make his case for a coveted spot on the Dodgers’ opening day roster. In 29 Cactus League at-bats this spring, Outman has collected nine hits (.310 batting average). Four of Outman’s hits were extra-base hits, and two of those were impressive home runs. The rookie has struck out eight times with four walks, good for a .400 on-base percentage. Unfortunately for Outman, the roster decision may not be decided by his strong spring performance, but rather the minor league options he has remaining.
Outman splashed onto the scene when he debuted with the Dodgers briefly last July, hitting a home run in his first at-bat in Dodger Blue.
Outman finished the 2022 season hot. He slashed .462/.563/.846/1.409 with one big-league home run in 16 plate appearances. In Triple-A Oklahoma City, the 25-year old California native hit 15 home runs and OPS’d 1.018 in 212 at-bats. He also hit for the cycle twice within a week.
In Friday’s 9-7 win over the Chicago Cubs, Outman went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He left four men on base in the spring matinee. While Outman looks ready, some more seasoning in the minors to start the season won’t hurt if it means retaining needed players.
Considering the huge loss of Gavin Lux, who suffered a season-ending injury in the third game of spring training, it would be understandable that the Dodgers would like to hold on to as many players as they can. The Dodgers’ roster also already has David Peralta and Jason Heyward, two left-handed-hitting outfielders, slated to open the season on the roster.
Outfielder Trayce Thompson has no options remaining. The Dodgers would have to put Thompson on waivers if he’s not on the Dodgers’ opening day 26-man roster.
Thompson returned to the Dodgers lineup Friday after representing Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic. The 32-year-old utility outfielder had a memorable performance in the WBC with two extra-base hits against Team USA, including a home run vs. Adam Wainwright. Thompson only has one hit in 13 at-bats in Cactus League play this spring and hit .214/.353/.500 overall in the WBC.
If the roster decision was up to Dodgers’ pitcher Daniel Hudson, Outman would have a spot since he compared Outman to The Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, himself per Bill Plunkett of the OC Register. Outman took Hudson, Evan Phillips and Caleb Ferguson deep during one spring training batting practice at Camelback Ranch earlier in the week.
Daniel Hudson: “My second time facing hitters in 8 months and they’ve got me facing Babe Ruth.”— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) March 13, 2023
Dave Roberts admitted that Outman is “big league ready,” but roster decisions may not end up reflecting his readiness because of his valuable remaining options.
Dave Roberts said James Outman is "big league ready", but also added "how we shake out is a different question." #Dodgers— David Vassegh (@THEREAL_DV) March 11, 2023
Outman has two option years remaining with his rookie status still intact because of his call-up in 2022. There’s no way Thompson isn’t on the opening day roster, and it looks as though Jason Heyward (7-for-33) is a shoe-in along with free agent signee David Peralta (1-for-14).
To make things even messier, Chris Taylor has really been struggling at the plate this spring. He’s 3-for-33 (.091) with 14 strikeouts and no extra-base hits.
Outman has looked major-league ready this spring, but he still might start the season in Triple-A. Like Taylor, Outman strikes out at a high rate. He had a 27-percent strikeout rate in the minors, and struck out in seven of his 16 major league plate appearances in between tearing the cover off the ball.
Nevertheless, if the other outfielders not named Mookie Betts don’t figure it out at the plate, we’ll see Outman join the Dodgers outfield sooner rather than later.