As he walked through one of the Camelback Ranch backfields on Monday morning, dodgers Triple-A manager Travis Barberie crosses paths with outfield prospect james outman,
“It’s a day, Outty!” Refreshed, Barberi said, to watch the 25-year-old crush three home runs in a live batting practice session.
“I’ve got one more, haven’t I?” Outman asked jokingly.
Barbaree laughed and shook his head.
“No,” he said, glancing at the far outfield fence that Outman had cleared with ease over and over again. “There are no more balls left.”
Chalk it up as the latest stellar moment of Outman’s standout spring — another great statement in the young slugger’s bid to make the Dodgers’ Opening Day team.
Coming into the season, Outman was viewed as the top outfielder in the club’s system, but a player who could still benefit from more minor league seasoning.
Eventually, he was only a few seasons removed from a massive overhaul of his mechanics. He had logged only 212 career at-bats in Triple A, not reaching the highest level of the minors until the middle of the previous season.
And though he impressed in a brief debut in the majors last July — hit a home run He went six for 13 in his first at-bat and in four games overall—he was also struck out seven times, an indication that holes remained in his modified swing.
Still, that early taste gave Outman a renewed yearning for the big leagues.
“When he came back down … I asked him, ‘How was it?’ Barberi, who managed the organization’s Oklahoma City affiliate, recalled this winter. “And he said, ‘All I want to do is come back, and I’m going to do whatever I can.’ And he performed brilliantly throughout the year.
Outman closed out the campaign on a tear in Triple A, posting a .293 batting average and 1.018 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that included 15 home runs and two cycles in a one-week span.
That strong finish has carried over to the spring.
In 23 Cactus League at-bats, Outman had nine hits—four of them for extra bases, two of them as no-doubt homers. He scored eight runs. And he’s struck out only six times, walking three times for an on-base percentage of nearly .500.
His streak continued in live batting practice on Monday. Evan Phillips, Caleb Ferguson and Daniel Hudson all turned and Outman took one of his pitches deep.
Hudson joked, “It’s the second time in eight months I’m facing hitters who recently returned from a torn ACL,” and they’ve got me facing Babe Ruth here.
And is there really a chance Outman could still be left out of the opening day squad?
Obviously yes, depending on the way the manager Dave Roberts There has been tip-toeing around the question in recent weeks.
“Is he big league ready? I would say he is,” Roberts said. “How we get out is a different question. But yeah, he’s doing everything he can.”
And as the clock ticks down toward the end of camp, a number of factors come into play.
Scouts have been divided on how well Outman’s play could improve over an extended big league stay.
Although he has the raw power and natural athleticism to potentially be a productive MLB slugger, some evaluators have wondered whether his swing still holds up against high-caliber pitchers capable of changing speeds and attacking different parts. There are some very moving pieces. plate.
Dodgers may consider going the other direction with roster spot left open Gavin Lux suffers season-ending injury, Other veteran options in the infield and outfield remain in contention, such as Steven Duggar, Yonny Hernandez and Luke Williams.
However, at the height of the decision, the Dodgers believe that is best for Outman’s long-term future:
Guaranteed everyday batters in the minor leagues, at least for the early stages of the season? Or a part-time role with the big league squad, which already has two left-handed hitting outfielders added to its season-opening roster.
“High-grade problems,” Roberts said of the situation. “It’s good, the competition. The boys are performing, the guys are competing. And we have so many great options.”
Outman declined to delve into roster speculation Monday, saying he’s “trying not to think about it” as spring training enters its final few weeks.
His recent focus has been on situational hitting and trying to refine his approach in high-leverage trips to the plate.
Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds provided the most recent test. In the third inning, Outman grounded out with the bases loaded. In his next at-bat, he led a comeback with an RBI double.
“Training Kill The aspect, rather than just the swinging aspect, is a big deal,” he said.
The immediate response caught Roberts’ attention.
“James is unique,” said the manager. “I put his mindset into (Dodgers catcher) Will Smith’s bucket as far as (being) ineffective.”
However, that doesn’t mean Outman isn’t enjoying his breakout spring performance.
The rookie has associated himself with his new teammates in a number of ways, the most visible being the pet stone he keeps in his locker, a gray fist-sized stone with a toothy smile on its face.
Outman originally received it the previous year in his Triple-A stint, when Oklahoma City pitcher Marshall Kasowski passed it on to the pitching staff as a good luck charm.
“Hey, we used to have this for pitchers,” Kasowski told Outman. “But we started delivering too many hits.”
Ironically, Outman noted, the gift initially didn’t work.
“I wasn’t swinging it very well,” he said.
Before long, though, Outman found a groove he has yet to lose.
So, the rock remains as a minor superstition — with him going to spring training, road games and maybe someday soon, a stall in the home clubhouse of Dodger Stadium.
Times Staff Writer Mike DiGovanna contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times,