The fourth chapter of my team profile and projection is looking at the men beyond the diamond stationed in the outfield. However, when it’s come to an outfield, one of the three major components that I wrote about has been traded. AJ Pollock, a near .900 OPS bat for the Dodgers last year and near full time left fielder, has been traded to the White Sox for All-Star reliever Craig Kimbrel. So instead of posting the 800-word preview, I wrote for the White Sox’s new right fielder, I’m going to explore the gap and think of ways Roberts might use left field in this upcoming season.
The obvious choice for this gap would be Chris Taylor. Fresh off a career season in which he committed his future to the Dodgers, Taylor knows the position and is a positive defender in every position he plays. While his biggest strength is the ability to play anywhere, he might be taking on a more full-time role in this lineup. If you want to read what I wrote about Chris Taylor earlier in my projection series, you can check that out here.
Gavin Lux who I penciled in as a full time infielder (Infield preview) did spend a chunk of last season learning the outfield ropes and even got a few appearances in centre field in significant playoff games. Our last memory of Lux in the outfield was at the start of a horrible inning for Walker Buehler where he committed an error by missing a catch deep in centre field. While he does have have the speed and range for an outfield spot, his arm and penchant for errors makes him a slightly worrisome prospect for this spot.
For Lux, Taylor solidifying the space in left field would be a benefit for him. The competition for second base would then be him and Max Muncy who we believe is filling in for spots at third base and will be used a s a DH often. I said the most important thing for Lux would be consistency in the field and more plate appearances. Pollock leaving opens up a bat in the lineup and clears away some of the competition for the infield spots as well.
The third option for this spot is the non roster invitees to the Spring Training camp. Jake Lamb and Kevin Pillar were both picked up and have performed to reasonable levels in the training camp to be offered minor league contracts. Lamb who has spent most of his time in the infield has really impressed with the bat this spring slashing a 1.046 OPS. Pillar is more suitable for the consistency of his outfield appearances. While his bat has been much weaker, .461 OPS. He’s shown his capability with the glove with a few excellent plays in the outfield.
I could have done an entire projections piece on Cody. I’ve been dreading writing this, I really really have. I have absolutely no idea what Cody Bellinger can do anymore. With a Rookie of the Year award in 2017 and an MVP just a year separated in 2019, Bellinger looked set to be the face of the franchise that we all thought Yasiel Puig could be back in the early 2010s.
Lightning fast reflexes, amazing power from an unorthodox swing, a million dollar smile, and funny appearances on Jimmy Kimmel, he had everything. 2020 seemed like an expected down year from someone in the highs of winning an MVP so early in their career. 2021 however, was a disaster. Elite batters aim for a .300/.400/.500 season, Cody himself went one better and hit .300/.400/.600 in 2019.
In 2021 Bellinger delivered a .100/.200/.300 season. What went wrong? Consistent small injuries kept him down for a long tie. Every setback gave us a different batting stance and another chance to think, “will this stance work for him?” They wouldn’t.
Even in his brilliant first three seasons, Bellinger had one stain on the skeptics’ record, “he never shows up in the postseason!” they jeered. To an extent they were right. In 2019 his .300/.400/.500 slash nose dived into a .200/.200/.200 with two walks and seven strikeouts. What would we see with a massively depleted team heading into the playoffs, short on pitchers and short on bats? Bellinger usually struggles in the post and this year was a total catastrophe, it was set up for worldwide attention on how poor he was last season. Instead, the script well and truly got flipped.
We got a small ball masterclass from Cody. In the wildcard game Cody had four plate appearances and reached base three times. In two of those three, he immediately stole second and, in the end, became the game-winning run. Against the 107-win Giants, Cody collected four hits from 15 plate appearances, including the series-winning RBI double to bring home Justin Turner.
He left his best trick until an almost dismal night in Los Angeles. In the NLCS the team was completely spent. Scherzer had blown out his arm getting the series save in San Francisco, Buehler and Urías looked exhausted, and the bullpen was having to find five innings every single night. Cody was doing all he could this series. He had seven hits in 20 plate appearances and two pivotal stolen bases alongside three walks to three strikeouts. His NLCS slash was up in the lofty .400/.500/.500. The premium moment of them all was his home run in the eighth inning of Game three to completely turn the game around in what felt like a moment to really steal momentum back from the Braves. We were down 2-0 in the series in our own yard in the middle of a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Cody stepped up and jacked a rising fastball, the pitch that had been his menace all season, 399 feet to tie the game. Dodger Stadium has rarely been louder.
So what can he do this season? Well, he can be a lot better. He won’t return to his MVP calibre ways this season, he’s too damaged, but that player is still in there, we just need to be reminded of that this season. Last year his OPS+ was a staggeringly bad +45, 55 points below a league average hitter.
If Cody can bring himself back to 100 and be a league average hitter with the rest of his weapons on the base path, his speed and brilliant defence in centre field. That will go a long way to repairing some of the bruised hearts the Dodger fans sustained watching Bellinger last season. His primary target needs to be 100 OPS+, if he wants to bring some of that big ball pop back, that would be much appreciated too. Can someone tell Bellinger that I’m expecting 22 home runs?
There isn’t much about Mookie Betts that seems real. A two-sport athlete coming through college, the Point Guard who was tipped by his coach to make the NBA could also dunk despite being 5-foot-9, he also has a semi professional bowling career on the side in which he’s collected two 300-point (perfect) games. Betts jumped into MLB age 21 and was getting 600 plate appearances and MVP votes at 22. Is there any trivial test we could give him to trip him up and exploit a weakness? No unfortunately he’s great at those too.
Luckily for us, Mookie Betts is 100% real, and he plays in Los Angeles. In the last six years, Betts has been top 10 in MVP voting in five of those years, with two second-place finishes and one MVP in the bag. A track star in the field with a cannon for a right arm, there really isn’t a better right fielder in the game today than Mookie Betts. Harper has his seasons of dominant form and Soto might be the best batter we’ve ever seen come the next 10 years, but Mookie Betts truly has it all.
Coming off a more injury riddled campaign where he only played 120 games as opposed to his more standard ~150, Mookie never really got going in his second season after his astonishing debut season in Blue when he finished as a World Series champion and came second in MVP voting to Freddie Freeman. Mookie *only* had a 128 OPS+ last season and will no doubt be looking to recover it to his near standard 140 OPS+. Mookie’s down years are comparable to most professional players’ all time career years.
There is pressure on him to bounce back, just as there was pressure on him to finally push the Dodgers over the line to win the world series. He delivered then and I believe he will deliver again now. I truly believe he can deliver another Top Five MVP calibre season along the lines of 142 OPS+, 31 home runs, 22 stolen bases, and a Gold Glove in right field.
For us fans through the season each position gives us something to keep track of. Who will be playing left field come October, will the answer surprise us? Which Cody Bellinger are we going to see. Are we going to see a wizard with the glove and a jester with the bat, or will we see more of what’s been missing the last two seasons? The only sure thing in this outfield is Betts and his dominance in right field but if everything else lines up, this could return to being one of the best outfields in all of baseball.
Featured image by Photo by Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images
Freddie Law-Keen is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @FLK_Sports