After a dream resurgence in the major leagues last season, Trayce Thompson has even bigger goals in mind for 2023.
That’s why the Dodgers outfielder has been watching old videos of himself lately, trying to address a major gap in his approach against left-handed pitching.
That’s why he wanted to compete in the World Baseball Classic next month, hoping that the intensity of the competition will catapult him into the regular season.
And that’s why he didn’t sound entirely pleased on Thursday, even in light of last year’s breakout campaign.
“I know I took a step in the right direction for myself and my career last year by helping this team,” said Thompson. “But in my opinion I was not very good. I was really inconsistent. There is still a lot more room to grow.”
It may seem like a surprisingly harsh self-assessment from a player who not only hit .268 with 13 home runs, 39 RBIs, and a sterling .901 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 74 games with the Dodgers — but then languished in the minor leagues for most of the previous half-decade.
However, Thompson knows the fleeting nature of MLB success.
His promising first stint with the Dodgers in 2016 was derailed by a back injury. After being fired from the team two years later, he struggled to find another regular spot in the majors, bouncing around eight organizations as a journeyman class AAA player.
Those struggles made his return to the Dodgers last season one of the team’s biggest feel-good stories, as Thompson was given an almost mundane role after being traded back to the club in late June.
But as the 31-year-old looked back at his performance this winter, he focused on areas where his game could improve – ways he could more permanently cement his place on the Dodgers roster.
Greatest focus is improved against left-handed throwing.
Last year, the right-hander Thompson had unusually strong reverse splits and fared significantly better against right-handed pitchers (.308 batting average, 1,010 OPS) than left-handers (.174 average, .621 OPS).
“It really came down to not hitting the fastball versus lefties,” he said. “I really struggled against the fastball.”
Thompson still got strong numbers overall, but he knows that “crushing lefties[is]the whole reason I got traded here.”
And it’s a trait that should only grow in importance this season, as Thompson will likely share time with southpaw David Peralta in a left-field pack.
“It left a bad taste in my mouth of the year,” Thompson said. “It’s something that — I want to be the man versus left-handers… So there is a lot of work to be done.”
“I know I took a step in the right direction for myself and my career last year by helping this team. But in my opinion I wasn’t very good.
— Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson
This week, that process led to Thompson watching an old movie from his rookie season with the Chicago White Sox in 2015, when his ability to punish left-handers originally helped him break into the league.
He noticed that he then moved a little further away from the plate. As a result, he did more damage in the infields.
“Last year I felt like I was stuck inside a lot,” he said, comparing his new approach to his old one. “I couldn’t control that within part of the zone.”
The trade-off, he noted, was that he was more comfortable last season against right-handers, who could no longer get away with pounding the perimeter of the plate.
So this spring, he’s trying to find a happy medium, confident that the right lineup will allow him to succeed against pitchers of either hand.
“I’m still betting on the fact that there will be an uptick – a significant uptick – from the left this year,” manager Dave Roberts reiterated this week. “He’s smart enough to know that one piece of value he can add to our club is to be more productive than left-handed pitchers.”
Next month’s WBC presents another unique opportunity for Thompson, who was eligible to play for Team Britain due to his father’s ancestry in the Bahamas – a Commonwealth nation still linked to the United Kingdom.
Although Thompson was cleared by the Dodgers to play the event – keeping him away from the team’s camp for at least a week during group stage play at Chase Field in Phoenix – his participation was not as easy as most.
Roberts alluded to such hesitation when asked about Thompson’s participation early in the spring, saying: “I will never discourage boys from playing for their country. But to get us a lot of at bats, I think, is helpful.
Thompson also took extra time to consider his decision, aware that he’s still fighting for playing time in the Dodgers’ crowded outfield, even though he’s almost certain he’ll break camp with the team.
“I want to be here, I want to be a Dodger, and I want to solidify a role and stuff,” he said. “But the way I looked at it, it’s going to be intense, it’s going to help me prepare for the season… and it’s coming. So I feel like all the stars are lined up.
While discussing his chance with the British team – Thompson has never been to the UK, but hopes the team can “take one or two wins” to help the game grow there – he said he had previously been approached to ask the British to represent the team. country in WBC qualifiers in Spring 2020.
That opportunity also lured the outfielder.
Only, it came as he was still trying to work his way back to the big leagues.
“I wasn’t in a place professionally where (I could do it),” he said. “I was trying to form a team.”
For Thompson, it’s yet another reminder of how much his career has changed in the past year – and why he’s wary about not wasting his second life in the big leagues.
“He earned that fortune,” Roberts said. “I can’t say right now what the role will look like on opening day, what it will look like in the middle of the season… But we’re going to need it.”