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Drew Avans made an impression in spring training with the Dodgers

“I think he’ll play in the big leagues,” Dave Roberts said of the centerfielder

Los Angeles Dodgers Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — During spring training, no Dodgers player appeared in more games than outfielder Drew Avans, a non-roster invitee entering his age-27 season who was not sent to the minors until the final cuts of spring training. He’ll start his third consecutive season for Triple-A Oklahoma City, though he made an impression with the major league staff.

“He’s a heady baseball player. He’s a gritty baseball player. He’s talented. He knows who he is as a baseball player,” Dave Roberts said Monday. “For me, as a manager, it’s nice that a guy is very dependable.”

In his four minor league seasons, Avans has 32 home runs, never more than 10 in a season. He’s never hit 20 doubles, though last year in Triple-A did hit 12 triples to go with 17 doubles.

“He’s not a big guy, he’s not going to put up huge power numbers,” Oklahoma City play-by-play broadcaster Alex Freedman said in an interview with True Blue LA in January. “But he’s a guy that can make things happen. He can get on base, and once that happens, the ability to steal bases as well.”

Even without the power, Avans was an above-average offensive player each year in the minors, including hitting .275/.388/.438 with 112 wRC+ in Triple-A in 2021, then .282/.379/.426 with a 106 wRC+ last year. In 2022, he reached base in 50 straight games, a streak that ended when he crashed into the centerfield wall trying to play on defense. Avans had to be carted off the field, and ended up missing a week and a half.

Speed and defense are the strength of Avans’ game. He’s a centerfielder who occasionally plays the corner spots. This spring, he played all three outfield spots. Though he led the Dodgers in games played, he started none of his 24 games. He filled in wherever needed, usually after a regular left the game.

“When I prepare each day, you know, I go go about and I am going to start. When I don’t see my name on the lineup card to start, I just start the next step,” Avans said “Right now, like the fourth or fifth inning is when I start trying to get really loose, because that’s usually about the time that I get told what my situation is for the day.”

Avans played two games in the Freeway Series against the Angels, playing the final two innings in center field on Sunday at Dodger Stadium and finishing Tuesday’s game at Angel Stadium as the designated hitter.

Avans made a nice sliding catch to rob Angels catcher Logan O’Hoppe to start the eighth inning Sunday, the first play of Avans’ first-ever game played in a major league stadium.

While the announced attendance Sunday night at Dodger Stadium of 37,192 seemed high — MLB counts tickets sold as official attendance — the crowd that was in attendance was by far the largest Avans has experienced. Oklahoma City averaged 5,476 fans per game in 2022, for instance.

“It was fantastic. I just remember running out and thinking ‘I’m in center field at Dodger Stadium right now.’ I was just enjoying the moment,” Avans said. “Seeing all the fans and stuff going crazy if you make a play or something ... just to hear the roar of when a play is made, that is fun.”

In four minor league seasons, Avans has 103 stolen bases, swiping them at an 81.7-percent clip. This spring training, Avans stole three bases in three attempts.

Beginning this year in MLB, pitchers are only allowed two pickoffs or mound disengagements per batter when someone is on base. A third attempt can be made, but if unsuccessful a balk will be called. That situation can be gamed for an advantage by “a heady player,” as Roberts described Avans. That rule was introduced in Triple-A for 2022, and after stealing 19 bases in 90 games with Oklahoma City in 2021, Avans stole 40 bases in 119 games last year.

“They really don’t have that much time to hold runners. So when the clock’s winding down maybe I can take an extra step,” Avans said. “Even if it doesn’t result in a stolen base, first to third or first to home, if that ball touches the fence or something like that expect to score so just trying to take like these little these little new rules and these advantages into my favor.”

Capitalizing on advantages is a strength for Avans. You might remember from spring training this year when he had a bunt single, which earned praise from Rick Monday on the SportsNet LA broadcast. The infield was back in that situation, Avans said, so he pounced.

“If I see something I’m going to take advantage of it,” Avans said.

“The best thing I can say about Drew is — to borrow a line from manager Travis Barbary,” Freedman said, “And that’s simply, ‘We’re a better team when he’s playing, when he’s in center field, when he’s in the lineup.’”

Avans’ play got him noticed this spring, but whether he makes the majors is another matter. He struck out in 39.5 percent of his spring training plate appearances, while hitting .200/.342/.300. Speed and defense might be his best path to the majors, though he says the Dodgers haven’t given any specific requirements to make the next step, other than to “play good baseball.”

If Avans does make it to the majors, he’ll extend a very specific and rare streak for the Dodgers, who drafted the outfielder in 2018 out of Southeastern Louisiana University in the 33rd round, a round that no longer exists. Zach McKinstry was drafted by the Dodgers in the 33rd round in 2016, and has played parts of three seasons in the majors. Brett de Geus was the Dodgers’ 33rd-rounder in 2017, and pitched in the majors for Arizona and Texas in 2021.

Avans would make three straight Dodgers 33rd-round picks that made it to the majors.

“The thing for him is just, keep performing and force our hand,” Roberts said. “But I think he’ll play in the big leagues.”