Trayce Thompson figures in Dodgers’ plans despite unexpected reverse splits

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Trayce Thompson had one job.

The Dodgers have traded for the outfielder twice now (in December 2015 and June 2022) for the same reason – “to damage lefties,” as Thompson himself puts it. He proved to be a valuable addition last season, batting .268 with a .901 OPS, 13 home runs and 39 RBIs in 74 games with the Dodgers, regaining a foothold in the major leagues after passing through eight organizations in the previous four years.

But he didn’t really do his job. Thompson batted just .174 (15 for 86) with only three of his 13 home runs off lefties, slugging just .361 against them.

The reason behind the reverse splits was not hard to uncover, Thompson said.

“I know the reason is I didn’t hit fastballs very good against them,” he said. “It’s a fact and I can only think of a couple times where I really felt like I’m the aggressor in an at-bat against lefties.”

There were minor adjustments to be made with Thompson’s setup, improving his angle against left-handed pitchers. But Thompson diagnosed his problem against lefties as being primarily a lack of aggressiveness.

“When you watch the best guys (hitters) around the league, No. 1 they always seem to damage the fastball pretty well and they always seem to be on time,” Thompson said. “For me, I was just really consistently late on the fastball.

“I just feel like when I watch my video I was just getting to my position too late. It sounds simple but hitting sometimes can be really simple.”

Before last season, Thompson said he was looking for the way forward in his career, things that could help him “re-establish myself” as a major-leaguer. He found himself looking at video of Jose Bautista and listening to him talk about hitting. The six-time All-Star bounced from the Orioles to the Royals to the Pirates before emerging as a star with the Toronto Blue Jays at age 29.

“He just talks about being ready earlier so he could be the aggressor within each pitch and he could dictate which pitches he was going to swing at and do it with his aggressive ‘A’ swing,” Thompson said. “That really resonated with me. That kind of kick-started my whole, entire season last year with the Padres in Triple-A.”

Thompson said he got away from that against lefties last season and is “trying to recapture that with the hitting guys” this spring. How well he does that could be the determining factor in how much of a role he plays for the Dodgers this season.

“Last year was an outlier in the sense that he was better versus right than left,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But he’s smart enough to know one piece of value he can add to our club is to be better versus left-handed pitching.”

Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee injury has had a ripple effect on the Dodgers’ position-player roster. If Chris Taylor plays more infield, Thompson (who will leave camp to play for Britain in the World Baseball Classic) could find himself with playing time against right- and left-handed pitching either in left field or center.

But Thompson’s most likely path to playing time this season is as the right-handed half of a platoon – either with David Peralta in left or Jason Heyward in center field. Being stuck in a platoon box has caused many a player to chafe. But Thompson’s baseball journey has given the 31-year-old perspective.

“I haven’t earned the right to chafe at anything,” Thompson said bluntly. “I just prepare to play each day. If I’m in the lineup, I get ready to compete. If I’m not in the lineup, I get ready to compete whenever they call my name.

“I know I’m capable of playing every day. … But If you want to be an everyday player, especially for the Dodgers, you’ve got to have quality at-bats every single day. You can’t have these peaks and valleys like I felt I had last year. And it really boiled down to lefties because I thought off righties I was pretty consistent.”


Second baseman Miguel Vargas said he has been taking batting practice on the field the past few days. But he still has not been cleared to swing the bat during games. Nonetheless, he leads the Dodgers with four walks in five Cactus League games.

“I really enjoy getting on base every game,” he said with a smile.

Vargas said it has been weird to stand at the plate and not swing but joked that “at least I have an excuse now when I strike out.”

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Vargas walked just twice in 50 plate appearances with the Dodgers last season. This spring’s experience has taught him something about plate discipline, he said.

“It’s told me that if I don’t swing at balls, I probably would be on base 50 more times,” he said.

Roberts said Vargas will most likely be cleared to start swinging in Cactus League games Wednesday.

“He’s done a great job,” Roberts said. “Obviously there’s a little pride that gets in there, a little potential embarrassment in a major-league game and you’re there standing like a statue.

“But he understands the process. I just think the value we’ve had to get him out there, get his legs under him, play some defense has been real beneficial.”

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