Dodgers’ outfield situation a little clearer, but still murky

Photo: Dustin Nosler

The outfield situation began to figure itself out last week when Darin Ruf was sold to the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization. While he wasn’t projected to play a big role for the Dodgers, he was basically a worse version of Scott Van Slyke, which made him redundant.

Despite that, how the Dodgers’ outfield will play out this spring is anything but clear. The only player assured a spot in the opening day lineup is Joc Pederson. He’s the only true center fielder on the roster and the Dodgers will probably be facing a right-handed pitcher to begin the season (not that it should matter anyway).

Here are the players capable of playing outfield who are on the 40-man roster:

Speaking of Gutierrez (who is in camp), a 40-man roster move will need to be made for him. It could be someone being designated for assignment (Eibner, Chris HatcherVidal Nuno, Segedin, Chris Taylor) or someone going on the 60-day disabled list (Hyun-Jin Ryu, Thompson). What happens remains to be seen.

Update (2/19/17, 2:34 p.m.): Well then.

As of now, there are 10 outfielders for maybe five outfield spots. A lot of who makes the roster will depend on health, performance and who else fills out the bench. Here are the locks for the Dodgers’ bench (provided there are no injuries):

Barnes is the backup catcher, Gutierrez was given a $2.6 million deal and Utley is the team dad, so none of them will be left out. If Ethier is healthy, he’ll be on the roster and probably starting in left field against right-handed pitching. That still leaves two spots for the bench.

Without a clear-cut backup shortstop, Hernandez has the inside path, right? Maybe not. His struggles in 2016 were so pronounced that the Dodgers traded for Ruf (maybe with the idea of him being the “lefty masher”) and signed Gutierrez, who is also quite effective against southpaws. That might say more about the front office’s confidence in Hernandez being able to turn it around than anything else. Taylor could conceivably get the last spot over Hernandez simply because he’s better, but since he’s an infield-only guy and has options, he might be out of luck as well.

Speaking of options, Eibner, the aforementioned Hernandez, Puig, Segedin (who is really a corner infielder as opposed to a left fielder), Thompson, Toles and Van Slyke all have them. Thompson could find himself on the disabled list to begin the season, and it could even be the 60-day list (perhaps to make room for Gutierrez). Eibner is a near-lock to begin with Oklahoma City, as is Segedin. For now, let’s assume Hernandez goes there, too (with Logan Forsythe as the defacto backup shortstop). That leaves Puig, Thompson, Toles and Van Slyke as the outfield options to fight over maybe two spots.

Puig is the most talented outfielder (player?) on the team, and Dave Roberts has already stated his desire for Puig to be the everyday right fielder. So, let’s pencil him in. Now, we’re down to Thompson, Toles and Van Slyke. If Thompson is healthy, he’s the clear choice, but that isn’t assured. In fact, I’d be surprised if he were ready for Opening Day. Toles is somewhat redundant if Ethier is on the roster, so he could find himself in OKC as well. That leaves Van Slyke, who is reportedly healthy after offseason wrist surgery.

As of now, I’m expecting the Opening Day outfield depth chart to look as follows:

  • LF: Ethier
  • CF: Pederson
  • RF: Puig
  • Bench: Gutierrez, Van Slyke

The glaring issue is there isn’t a legitimate backup center fielder. I’m expecting Pederson to play everyday — at least early on. But if he needs a break, Van Slyke might be the best option in center to back him up. He’s actually good in the corners and has shown the ability to play center in a pinch. Gutierrez was once a plus-defender in center, but those days are gone. And that could all be moot if Thompson is indeed healthy (and that could mean SVS goes to Triple-A to start the season). Instead, Gutierrez and Van Slyke would vie for starts in left field against left-handed pitching. Van Slyke can also spell Adrian Gonzalez at first base at times.

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This comes down to being a numbers game, and the biggest number is options. Under other circumstances, Hernandez, Toles and others are not just role players, but starters on other teams. The Dodgers have an insane amount of depth, especially in the outfield, and this is the “problem” with depth. Some deserving MLB-level players won’t get the chance — at least right way — to play at that level.

There are a number of ways this can shake out, and a lot of it could take care of itself in the next six weeks. But one thing’s for sure: The Dodgers are going to have a lot of players to choose from no matter the situation, and that’s probably for the best.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.