Ever since phase 2 of Andrew Friedman & Co.’s plan to get younger, develop from within, and make smart, unemotional free agent signings in the name of sustainable competitiveness, results have been mixed. With the Dodgers hovering around .500 and looking up at the Giants in the division standings for most of the season, fans have rightfully questioned such decisions as letting Zach Greinke and Johnny Cueto not only slip from the front office’s grasp, but sign within the division. With injuries plaguing the starting rotation (McCarthy, Ryu, Wood) as well as the starting lineup (Ethier, Crawford, Puig, and even Kendrick early in the season, with Turner slowly returning to form after offseason micro fracture knee surgery), the issue of getting younger has necessarily been under the spotlight.
Thankfully, the team’s youth has been just cause to celebrate, particularly with regard to future face of the franchise, Corey Seager, welcome surprise Trayce Thompson, and [as of his Chavez Ravine debut yesterday] Julio Urias.
Corey Seager came into the 2016 season the odds-on favorite for National League rookie of the year and, aside from a slow April, he has delivered. Seager is actually the unquestionable team offensive MVP thus far. After hitting 5 home runs in a three-game span over the weekend, Corey now leads the team in the three standard offensive metrics with 14 home runs, a .284 average (yes, that leads the team), and 35 RBIs. He leads all rookies (by a large margin) with 2.8 WAR and 8.2 defensive runs saved.
Seager’s impressive defensive performance has gone comparatively somewhat overlooked. He has historically been projected to be only a slightly above average defensive shortstop, expected to move eventually to the hot corner for which his size would appear better suited. He has made consistent improvements, however, and has proven more than capable of making the difficult plays, highlighted yesterday by a dazzling snag of a flare snow-coned in front of Joc Pederson in no-man’s-land left-right-center. His quiet poise has earned him respect as well, and he has begun to show leadership characteristics, for example his clear disapproval of Joe Blanton’s failure to back up the throw to first on the aforementioned play when Seager nearly doubled up the runner at first — Adrian Gonzalez was unable to field the one-hop slightly to the home plate side of the bag as the runner slid back to the bag and Blanton made a lazy and unsuccessful effort to be in the proper position to prevent the overthrow from resulting in an extra base.
The unexpected x-factor thus far, for the Dodgers, has surprisingly come from a player no one expected to be a major contributor.
Trayce Thompson came to the Dodgers via trade at the winter meetings along with Frankie Montas and Micah Johnson in exchange for Jose Peraza (acquired from Atlanta just months earlier in the bullet-dodging Hector Olivera trade), Scott Schebler, and Brandon Dixon. While the trade was viewed initially as being either a wash or slight win for the Dodgers, the consensus now is that this was a huge win for the Dodgers, with fortuitous timing at that given the unexpected absence of both Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford from the lineup (the latter since being DFA’d as Trayce’s emergence as an every day player negated the need to keep the expensive, underperforming Crawford on the roster).
Perhaps Thompson has been fueled by the comfort and energy of coming “home.” Trayce [and brother Klay of the Golden State Warriors] is of course the son of former Lakers two-time championship winning Forward Mychal Thompson. He certainly has not cowered from the Los Angeles spotlight, as last night he hit his second walk-off home run of the young season. He now has 10 home runs and has quickly risen in the popularity rankings amongst fans, and proven a clutch performer. His speed has been a plus on the base paths and, paired with excellent base-running instincts (are you watching, Yasiel?), has contributed to Trayce holding the top spot among all rookies with 11.7 runs created. Second on that list at 10.8: Corey Seager.
And, finally, the name everyone’s been talking about over the last week — Julio Urias.
Urias’ first two starts were a bit painful to watch, though all those with level heads seem to agree his struggles are to be considered only growing pains and an opportunity to learn and adjust to big-league hitting talent. Yesterday’s performance highlighted his ability to adjust as it saw Urias quickly regain composure after giving up another first inning run to go on to very confidently move through the lineup a second time around. While his high pitch count forced him to leave the game after 4 innings (he will likely be limited to 90 pitches for the duration of his rookie season), in those four innings he racked up 7 strikeouts, 6 coming on a very lively four-seam fastball that consistently overpowered talented Colorado hitters. His curve also showed nicely and helped set up the heat.
The scene in the dugout after his four innings were over demonstrated the excitement this team has for Urias’ future as a Dodger. Manager Dave Roberts’ emphatic embrace and praise of the nodding and proud Urias was one of the more touching moments this season, while Urias’ entire family once again cheered from the stands along with the exuberant sellout crowd.
With the Dodgers’ farm system ranked first in MLB, fans have much to look forward to in the years to come, and with the Dodgers gaining some ground on the Giants over the past three days, the stretch to the All-Star break is starting to get very interesting. Trade deadline moves could be a huge swing factor in the National League West Division as both the Giants and Dodgers figure to be buyers. Los Angeles certainly has the chips in place to acquire perhaps bullpen and starting pitching help. The next 30 games will tell us a lot about the Dodgers’ chances of creating some magic in Vin Scully’s final season.
Gerry Schwartzmeyer is a featured author at Around the Horn Talk, an official affiliate of MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @pgeradactyl.