Trayce Thompson is coming off a roller coaster of a year in 2022. After starting the season as a member of the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, Thompson was designated for assignment and picked up by the Tigers on a minor-league contract in May. Fast forward to October and Thompson, who tore it up the previous three months, is starting Game 1 of the NLDS for the Dodgers after being acquired for cash considerations..
It seems the homecoming has helped rejuvenate the young outfielder’s career, as after returning to his native Los Angeles, Thompson slashed .268/.364/.537/.901 with 13 home runs while playing above average defense at all three outfield positions. He was a stabilizing force in the Dodger outfield during a time when several of the usual faces had struggled mightily. However, that was last season and while we as fans are still trying to process the quick exit in the NLDS, the Dodger brass must look forward to ensure history does not repeat itself.
So where does Thompson fit in with next year’s squad?
Well, a lot depends on which version of Thompson you believe you are going to get after his breakout year. Throughout his career, Thompson has been a journeyman type of outfielder who had problems staying healthy and couldn’t find a way to stick on a big league roster. From 2015 to 2021, Thompson was a .208 hitter with decent pop while playing only 217 games in six years.
On the one hand, this year was a major outlier, and sudden breakout players are always at risk of regressing back to something similar to what we had seen from them their entire career. On the other, you could argue that injuries have derailed many of his seasons, and the work he has done while trying to recover from them may have given him time to develop into the player we saw this past year.
I tend to lean more towards betting on Thompson’s athleticism and work ethic finding a way to become at least a platoon player for the 2023 season. He is an elite athlete who comes from a physically gifted family tree and has been primarily held back by his own body. Now he’s a vet going into his age-32 season, which should decrease the risk of volatility, and I genuinely believe this past year was simply the healthiest he’s been since breaking into the big leagues seven years ago. With consistent at-bats, he could definitely show that last year was not a fluke.
Granted, the red flags are apparent in his 36.5% strikeout rate and .374 BABIP. Yet that won’t matter as long as he continues hitting the ball as hard as he does when contact is made. A .370 wOBA with that BABIP seems lucky, but his expected number is actually just four points lower at .366 thanks to a 47% hard hit rate, 17% barrel percentage, and 30% line drive rate. Nobody is saying he has no flaws, just that what he did in 2022 was legitimate and he could be the big bench bat the Dodgers need for the near future.
It has seemed as though the Dodgers would agree with me based on their actions. In the NLDS, the most crucial series of the year, Thompson started every game and was never pinch-hit for. While he didn’t play as well as he would have liked, it certainly showed the Dodgers brass didn’t think his season was fluky at its core.
Regardless, Thompson will likely be on the roster come Spring Training. He is still arbitration eligible for the next three years, which means betting on him is like playing with house money. But it’ll be interesting to see what his presence means for the Dodgers in terms of roster construction for next year. If they see him as a reliable piece for 2023, do not expect them to pursue like an Andrew Benintendi type of player that gives them solid-average depth rather than star upside. Whatever choices are made in that regard, I am confident in Andrew Friedman’s ability to make the right decision, as he’s the one who recognized Thompson’s potential to make this bounceback to begin with.