LOS ANGELES -- Coming into the 2023 season, the Dodgers made it clear that they were going to let some of their talented young players fill some of the holes on the roster.
Miguel Vargas, Michael Busch, Gavin Lux (with added responsibility) and Bobby Miller were usually the names that were floated out there, and all were expected to make a big impact at different points in ’23. James Outman, on the other hand, was always an afterthought. His name would get brought up in conversations about roster depth.
But in the end, Outman proved to be the most productive rookie of the bunch. On Monday, he was recognized for his efforts, finishing third in National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year voting behind D-backs star Corbin Carroll and Mets ace Kodai Senga. Outman received five second-place votes and five third-place votes in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America balloting.
It was the highest finish by a Dodgers rookie for the award since Walker Buehler came in third in 2018. No other Dodgers rookie received a vote.
Despite homering in his first big league at bat in ’22 and making quite the impression over six games, Outman was expected to start the ’23 season in the Minors, even with Cody Bellinger no longer on the Dodgers. Outman came into Spring Training looking to change some of those thoughts.
When Lux went down early in spring with a devastating right knee injury that sidelined him for the entire season, an opportunity came up for Outman. The Dodgers were looking for a left-handed batter who would replace Lux’s production in the lineup. They also needed someone who could play plus defense in center field. Outman made sure to prove he could do both.
After earning his first Opening Day nod, Outman erupted in April and was the Dodgers’ hottest hitter the entire opening month. In a stretch when the Dodgers were still searching for their identity, Outman led the way offensively, hitting seven homers in March and April. It was the most homers by a rookie in the opening month of a season in Dodgers history.
Outman, like just about every rookie, then struggled for a couple of months as opposing pitchers made adjustments. He was striking out at an alarming rate, his defense in center was questionable and there were real conversations about whether Outman needed to go to the Minors for a reset.
But after recording just 28 hits in May and June combined, Outman found life again. His defense also became a big reason why the Dodgers ran away with the NL West after the All-Star break. Outman hit 12 homers and posted a .851 OPS in the second half of the season, solidifying the bottom of the team’s lineup.
It remains to be seen which young Dodgers player ultimately has the best career. But what Outman did during his rookie season was much more than the team could have hoped for. He’ll be looking for an encore during his sophomore season.