Did James Outman do enough to get into the Dodgers?
Monday morning as he left one of the Camelback Ranch fields, Dodgers General manager Travis Barbary crosses paths with field avenue James Outman.
“Good afternoon, Autty!” exclaimed Barbary, who had just watched the highly publicized 25-year-old hit three home runs in live practice.
– I have another one, right? Outman asked jokingly.
Burberry laughed and shook his head.
“No,” he said, looking at the far fence, which Outman had more than once surmounted with ease. “There are no more balls.”
Write it down as the last stellar moment of Outman’s outstanding spring—another big statement in the young slugger’s quest to make the Dodgers’ first-day team.
Early in the season, Outman was considered the best outfielder in the club system, but a player who could still benefit from more minor league seasoning.
After all, he was only a few seasons away from overhauling his mechanics. He earned just 212 career years in the A’s, not reaching the top tier in the minors until the middle of last season.
While he impressed with his brief major tournament debut last July… home run in his first at-bat and six of 13 in four games overall – he also scored seven times, a sign that there are holes left in his renewed backswing.
However, this initial taste sparked a new craving for the big leagues in Outman.
“When he returned… I asked him: “How was it?” Barbary, who runs the organization’s Oklahoma City branch, remembers that winter. “And he said, ‘All I want to do is come back and I’m going to do whatever it takes.’ And he played great until the end of the year.”
Outman ended the campaign on a break, posting a .293 batting average and 1.018 slugging percentage in an A-string that included 15 home runs and two cycles during the week.
This strong finish carried over into the spring.
In 23 Cactus League at-bat games, Outman has nine hits – four of them for extra bases, two of them no doubt homers. He drove eight races. And he struck out just six times, adding three walks on a nearly .500-based percentage.
“Training the striking aspect, not just the swing aspect, is a big challenge.”
— Dodgers outfielder James Outman
In live practice batting Monday, his streak continued. Evan Phillips, Caleb Ferguson and Daniel Hudson all turned to see Outman throw one of his serves deep.
“This is the second time I’ve met the forwards in eight months,” joked Hudson, who recently returned from an ACL tear, “and they made me face Babe Ruth here.”
And is there a chance Outman could still be dropped from the Opening Day team?
Apparently, yes, judging by the way the manager Dave Roberts have been tiptoeing around this issue in recent weeks.
“Is he ready for the big leagues? I would say yes,” Roberts said. “How we shake ourselves out is another matter. But yes, he does his best.”
And as the clock approaches the end of camp, several factors come into play.
Scouts were divided on how well Outman’s play could lead to a long stay in the big leagues.
While he has the brute strength and natural athleticism to be a potentially productive MLB slugger, some evaluators wondered if there were too many moving parts in his swing to counter higher caliber pitchers capable of changing speed and attacking various parts of the ball. dish
The Dodgers may consider going in a different direction with a roster spot left open Gavin Lux injured at the end of the season. Other veteran infield and outfield options remain controversial, such as Steven Duggar, Yonny Hernandez and Luke Williams.
However, the gist of the decision is what the Dodgers believe is best for Outman’s long-term future:
Guaranteed daily at-bats in the minor leagues, at least in the first game of the season? Or rather, a part-time role on a major league team that already has two left-handed outfielders on the season opener roster.
“High class issues,” Roberts said of the situation. “It’s good, competition. The guys are performing, the guys are competing. And we have a lot of great options.”
On Monday, Outman declined to go into the roster rumors, saying he is “trying not to think about it” as spring training approaches its last couple of weeks.
Lately, he has been focusing on situational shots and trying to perfect his high leverage shot approach.
“Is he ready for the big leagues? I would say that he is. How we shake out is another matter. But yes, he does his best.”
— Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on outfielder James Outman.
Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds was the final test. In the third inning, Outman crashed with the bases loaded. In his next at-bat, he bounced back with a double RBI.
“Education hit the aspect, not just the swinging aspect, makes a big difference,” he said.
The immediate response caught Roberts’ attention.
“James is unique,” the manager said. “I put his mentality in [Dodgers catcher] Will Smith’s bucket as far as [being] imperturbable.”
However, that doesn’t mean that Outman isn’t enjoying his breakout spring performance.
Among the many ways a rookie fawns over his new teammates, the most notable might be the Handbrake Stone he keeps in his locker, a fist-sized gray stone with a toothy smile marked on it as a face.
Outman originally received it early in his stint in the A’s last year, when Oklahoma City pitcher Marshall Kasowski passed it on as a good luck charm from pitchers.
“Hey, we had that for pitchers,” Kasowski told Outman. “But we started to drop too many hits.”
Ironically, Outman noted, the gift didn’t work at first.
“I wasn’t very good at swinging it,” he said.
Soon, however, Outman found a groove he hadn’t lost yet.
So the stone remained as a bit of a superstition – he went with it to spring training, away games, and maybe someday soon, the booth at the home club at Dodger Stadium.
Times Staff Writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.