Due to a horrid defensive series at Coors Field, a slow offensive start, and Dodgers pundits calling for Joc Pederson‘s head, I’ve been as hard on Trayce Thompson as anybody so far this season. But there was always a potential starter in him, it was just a matter of whether it would all come together or not.
On April 24, Thompson hit a low on the season, and he had a .243/.300/.324/.624 line despite the help of a .360 BABIP. In addition to issues at the plate, he was botching routine plays in the outfield and giving away multiple runs in limited time. Since then, Thompson has hit .343/.378/.914/1.293 despite a .286 BABIP, including the two homers he hit last night. That outburst, combined with the struggles of Carl Crawford, has led to manager Dave Roberts all but directly admit that Thompson was playing CC out of a job.
Dave Roberts says Trayce Thompson starts tomorrow in LF and is playing his way into the "everyday outfielder" conversation. #Dodgers
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) May 17, 2016
At the moment, this seems like a common sense move because Thompson is obviously outhitting Carl (and everybody else on the roster), but given that he now seems primed to get regular looks it should be interesting to see where Trayce levels off.
In 77 plate appearance, Thompson’s slash is .292/.338/.611/.949, good enough for an impressive 153 wRC+. He’s doing this with a not unreasonable .326 BABIP, and his approach at the plate appears to be improving via swinging less at balls (26.7%/22.6%), swinging more at strikes (63.8%/71.9%), making more contact (76.0%/80.7%), and swinging and missing less (10.3%/8.9%).
Perhaps most importantly to his status as a regular, he hasn’t yet shown there’s any evidence that he can’t handle right-handed pitching, as he has a .866 OPS against righties and a .973 OPS against lefties, with better plate discipline against righties.
Thompson is a good defender with enough arm strength and accuracy to play center field. Because he takes long strides and has good closing speed, he can cover lots of ground. Thompson takes good routes. Due to his above-average range, center is probably his best outfield position, but he is very capable of playing the corners.
An average runner and smart basestealer, he is a quality, long-striding defensive outfielder capable of making routine plays in center field and plus throws from right.
arm is strong and a weapon in center; glove is at least solid-avg.
Average range; covers ground well. Average reads and jumps with fringe average routes.
So hypothetically Thompson should be a lot better in the field, and just athletically speaking you’d expect him to eventually be able to make the simple plays he’s been botching with regularity.
So all of that is wonderful and Trayce Thompson is a perfect solution in left field, right? Well, maybe.
Aside from issues with sample size (212 career PA) in the majors, Thompson never produced anything close to what he’s done in the majors while in the minors. In 1243 PA in AA, he posted a .235/.326/.407/.732 line, and in 437 PA in AA, his line was .256/.301/.433/.735. Combine the lack of production with a questionable strikeout rate (23.3% AA/AAA) and an only solid walk rate (9.4% AA/AAA), and while it’s possible Trayce just finally put everything together, there has to be a red flag attached.
Even this year, despite his hot start, he’s still only walking 6.5% of the time and striking out 26.0% of the time. Yasiel Puig gets a ton of crap for his lack of plate discipline, but he’s never posted numbers that bad over the course of a season. Of course, none of that matters if Thompson continues to hit for power, which is why the fact that he’s hitting 48.1% of his balls in play on the ground and that 31.6% of the fly balls he does hit are currently going for homers is a bit concerning. The latter number is sure to regress simply due to the fact that he’s probably not the best power hitter ever, and the former number means he doesn’t hit enough fly balls for his power to play consistently.
As such, Thompson’s explosive little run aside, there are indeed many concerns in regards to his future to go along with the immense promise. Given the red flags, it’s fortunate then that everything is trending in the right direction as of now.
Thompson definitely deserves the opportunity to prove he’s a regular, he’s earned as much with his performance so far this season. However, expectations shouldn’t get out of whack for him as he could still be in for rough times unless his plate discipline and defense improve. That said, he’s moving in the right direction from a plate discipline perspective, his 20-homer power does appear to play, and his defense should be at least average going forward if his defensive profile has anything to say about it.
All that might not add up to an All-Star or anything of that nature, but if he continues to make improvements and adjustments it’s not difficult to envision him becoming a first-division regular in the long-term. And even if that doesn’t happen, in the short-term Thompson certainly appears to be one of the best three outfielders on the Dodgers roster, and providing him with regular playing time seems like the only rational thing to do.