If you had to pick one player that best encapsulated the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s hard to imagine it being anyone other than Chris Taylor. Yes, Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger was a more-than-pleasant surprise, but he entered the season on everyone’s top prospects list.
Taylor? He didn’t even make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. In fact, if not for a broken toe to Logan Forsythe, then maybe 2017 Chris Taylor never would have happened.
But — thankfully — it did, and the Dodgers ended up with the player Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto called the biggest regret of his career. In exchange, the Mariners got former Dodger prospect Zach Lee, who proceeded to go 0-9 with a 7.74 ERA in Triple-A before being put on waivers.
Now, with 2018 just months away, is it possible that there’s another surprise performer lurking in plain view? Maybe. Consider…
In 2017, Taylor slashed .288/.354/.496 with 21 home runs in 568 plate appearances.
Right now there’s a player in the Dodgers organization rarely projected as a surefire starter whose career Major League slash line is .294/.341/.483 with seven in 217 plate appearances.
Again: someone who is not already being penciled in as a starter for the 2018 season.
Answer: Andrew Toles.
To be fair, part of the reason Toles has been overlooked this offseason is because he’s coming off ACL surgery that cost him most of 2017. And yet, look at the similarity in his and Taylor’s numbers.
Toles, if you remember, has an interesting story as to how he ended up in Los Angeles. Out of high school, he was drafted in the fourth round but decided to attend college at the University of Tennessee.
After college, he was selected in the third round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012 — where Toles went on to be named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2013.
Then, things went south. In 2014, Toles played just two months of baseball before being placed on the ‘inactive’ list for personal reasons. In 2015, he was released and remained unsigned all year. He spent time away from baseball working at a grocery store.
In 2016, Toles signed with the Dodgers, at the urging of former director of player development Gabe Kapler. Toles absolutely tore it up, playing at just about every level of Minor League ball before making his MLB debut.
He hit .314 in 48 games for the Dodgers, then batted .364 in 11 postseason games, some of which came as starts in left field.
Toles, 25, remains under team control through the 2022 season. So, could he be this season’s breakout star?
Assuming Toles has returned to full strength, it seems like everything needed is there. He’s a solid fielder and has speed, and the Dodgers liked his approach enough to make him the leadoff hitter last season. Oh, and there’s a massive opening in left field at the moment.
In fact, Toles and Kiké Hernandez seem to make the perfect platoon pairing in left, as Hernandez mashes lefties and Toles excels against righties.
Of course, both will have to hold off Alex Verdugo, Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson and perhaps, although unlikely, Matt Kemp, in order to earn their spot on the Opening Day roster.
For many, the 2017 offseason has been a disappointment. Even though there were warnings the luxury tax threshold would factor significantly into the Dodgers’.
But the emergence and ‘addition’ of someone like Toles, who missed most of last season, could play the part of a free-agency acquisition that simply came from within the organization.
And if we’re making predictions for the 2018 season, pencil me in on #TeamToles.