Andrew Toles works his way back, but left field still up in the air

Photo : Stacie Wheeler

The battle for an Opening Day roster spot in the Dodgers’ outfield is heating up. While Matt Kemp has received most of the attention this spring, and may even stick around a lot longer than anyone predicted, Andrew Toles is still very much in the mix.

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Toles, who is coming back from major surgery on his right knee after he suffered a torn ACL last season on May 9, is now on schedule with his rehabilitation after being behind a bit when Spring Training started. The Dodgers are looking for the same Toles at the plate and in the field that fought his way back to baseball with impressive results for the Dodgers in 2016.

Toles impressed in his breakout season with the Dodgers in late 2016 when he slashed .314/.365/.505 and a 131 wRC+ in 48 games. The quiet-mannered outfielder made all his noise on the field and started the season ablaze. In his first 31 games, Toles hit .271/.314/.458/.772 with three doubles, five home runs and 15 RBI in 96 at-bats. He was looking like the talented, multi-tooled player the Dodgers saw him as when they signed him as a free agent in September 2015, another shrewd pickup by Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi.

He came into 2017 with a shot to stick around in the Dodgers’ outfield as a starter and played 21 games in left and 10 games in center field, mostly in the leadoff spot. But only a couple weeks shy of his 25th birthday, Toles had his 2017 season cut short. When Tolesy was writhing in pain on the ground in the left field corner with a blown ACL, we all felt as though we were right there with him. It was a heart wrenching and abrupt end to his season and one of the lowest points during the season for the Dodgers.

Albeit a small sample size, Toles was able to decrease his strikeout percentage in his second season with the Dodgers by 6 percent while maintaining about the same amount of isolated power (.188) from the prior year. While his batting average (.271), slugging percentage (.458) and on-base percentage (.314) all dipped a bit from his 2016 showing with the Dodgers, his BABIP dropped significantly from an unsustainable .385 to a more workable .280.

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So Toles will get a shot at a spot, but Kemp (who hit his second home run of the spring Saturday) and others could potentially make the Opening Day roster. Nobody should scoff at the 20+ home run projection for Kemp should he be healthy and able to play routinely. With his weight loss and a fresh attitude, he should contribute at least at the level he was with Atlanta last year or better. His power is still there, but his defense remains a liability. Sentimentality aside, I won’t get too emotionally invested in the #Mattycakes LA comeback just yet. The Dodgers could still trade or release him before Opening Day. Kemp’s Dodger reboot is an uphill battle, but I wouldn’t complain about him making the team as the 25th man. Power off the bench is never a bad thing.

Aside from Kemp and Toles, the outfield is especially crowded in left with Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson, and Alex Verdugo also competing for spots.

That said, Toles seems intent on making things difficult for the Dodgers, as he looks healthy this spring. The Dodgers wanted to take things slow with Toles, but he’s 5-for-14 (.357) with a home run, a triple and 6 RBI since returning to play post-surgery.

Toles told Ken Gurnick that his knee is feeling good, but he hasn’t tested his speed yet.

“It feels pretty good,” said Toles, 25. “I’m sore just from playing, but everybody is. It’s not the knee. When I slow down, sometimes I feel a little. The training staff said to trust it, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m being smart with my movements, but I’m going to play hard,” he said. “I don’t know about stealing a base or diving for a ball. We’ll see when it happens. I practiced sliding on the bases, running full speed. I’m going to be ready for Opening Day. Don’t know if I’ll make the team, but we’ll see.”

On Saturday, against the D-backs, Toles had the opportunity to test his leg when he tripled in two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and beat out the throw to first with an infield single in the eighth. It was a big statement in regards to his ability to run on his surgically repaired knee.

It’s still early this spring, but Dave Roberts expects to use multiple players in left field and Toles is hoping to be one of them.

Toles has the power, speed and a strong arm to make an impact in left. From the freezer of Kroger to the field of Dodger Stadium, Toles was able to work his way back to professional baseball and make his MLB debut with the Dodgers on July 8, 2016. Tolesy is going to have to overcome the odds again this spring in order to break with the club, but overcoming odds is something he’s known for. The Dodgers don’t expect anything less.

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler
Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation, Dodger Blue 1958 and The Hardball Times. She currently contributes to True Blue LA. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.