Walking out of one of Camelback Ranch’s back fields Monday morning, Dodgers triple-A manager Travis Barbary passed outfield prospect James Outman.
“Have a day, Outty!” exclaimed Barbary, fresh from watching the highly touted 25-year-old smash three home runs in a live batting practice session.
“I have one more, right?” Outman asked, jokingly.
Barbary laughed and shook her head.
“No,” he said, looking over the distant garden fence that Outman had repeatedly cleared with ease. “There are no more balls.”
Book it as the last highlight of Outman’s breakout spring, another resounding statement in the young slugger’s bid to make the Dodgers’ opening day team.
Entering the season, Outman was viewed as the best outfielder in the club system, but a player who could still benefit from more minor league experience.
After all, it was only a few seasons away from a massive overhaul of its mechanics. He had logged just 212 at-bats in his triple-A career, and didn’t reach the top of the minors until midway through last season.
And while he impressed in a brief major league debut last July — homering in his first at-bat and going 6-for-13 in four games overall — he also struck out seven times, a sign that holes still remained. in the renewed swing of him.
Still, that initial taste gave Outman a renewed desire for the big leagues.
“When he came back downstairs… I asked him, ‘How was it?’ Barbary, who manages the organization’s Oklahoma City affiliate, recalled this winter. “And he said, ‘All I want to do is go back, and I’m going to do whatever it takes.’ And he played very well the rest of the year.”
Outman closed out the season on a tear, posting a .293 batting average and a 1.018 on-base plus slugging percentage at triple-A that included 15 home runs and two cycles in the span of a week.
That strong finish has carried over to the spring.
In 23 Cactus League at-bats, Outman has nine hits, four of them for extra bases, two of them home runs no doubt. He has driven in eight runs. And he’s struck out just six times, adding three walks for a nearly .500 on-base percentage.
“Training the hitting aspect, rather than just the swinging aspect, is a great thing.”
— Dodgers outfielder James Outman
In live batting practice on Monday, his streak continued. Evan Phillips, Caleb Ferguson and Daniel Hudson turned to see Outman take one of his deep throws.
“It’s the second time I’ve faced hitters in eight months,” joked Hudson, who recently returned from a torn ACL, “and I was up against Babe Ruth here.”
And is there really a chance Outman will still be left out of the opening day squad?
Apparently so, based on the way manager Dave Roberts has turned the question around in recent weeks.
“Are you ready for the big leagues? I would say it is,” Roberts said. “How we shake off, that’s a different question. But yeah, he’s doing everything he can do.”
And as the clock ticks down to the end of camp, there are several factors at play.
Scouts have been divided on how well Outman’s game could translate to an extended stay in the big leagues.
Although he has the raw power and natural athleticism to be a potentially productive MLB slugger, some testers have wondered if his swing still has too many moving parts to hold up against larger-caliber pitchers capable of switching speeds and attacking various parts of the field. . leaf.
The Dodgers could consider going in another direction with the roster spot left open by Gavin Lux’s season-ending injury. Other veteran infield and outfield options remain in contention, such as Steven Duggar, Yonny Hernandez and Luke Williams.
At the heart of the decision, however, is what the Dodgers believe is best for Outman’s long-term future:
Guaranteed at-bats every day in the minor leagues, at least for the season opener? Or rather a part-time role with the Major League Baseball team, which already has two left-handed outfielders on its season-opening roster.
“Upper class issues,” Roberts said of the situation. “This is good, the competition. The boys are performing, the boys are competing. And we have a lot of great options.”
Outman declined to get into roster speculation Monday, saying he’s “trying not to think about it” as spring training enters its final weeks.
His recent focus has been on situational hitting and trying to refine his focus on high-leverage trips to the plate.
“Are you ready for the big leagues? I would say it is. How we shake off, that’s a different question. But yeah, he’s doing everything he can do.”
— Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on outfielder James Outman
Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds provided the latest proof. In the third inning, Outman came out with the bases loaded. In his next at-bat, he rallied with an RBI double.
“Training the hitting aspect, as opposed to just the swinging aspect, is a great thing,” he said.
The immediate response caught Roberts’ attention.
“James is one of a kind,” the manager said. “I put the mentality of him in (Dodgers catcher) Will Smith’s bucket, as far as (being) unflappable.”
However, that doesn’t mean Outman isn’t enjoying his outstanding spring performance.
Among the many ways the rookie has ingratiated himself with his new teammates, the most conspicuous might be the pet rock he keeps in his locker, a gray, fist-sized stone with a toothy grin marked as a face.
Outman originally received it early in his triple-A stint last year, when Oklahoma City pitcher Marshall Kasowski passed it on as a good luck charm from the pitching staff.
“Hey, we used to have this for pitchers,” Kasowski told Outman. “But we started to hit too much.”
Ironically, Outman noted, the gift initially didn’t work.
“I wasn’t balancing it very well,” he said.
Before long, though, Outman found a rhythm that he hasn’t lost yet.
Thus, the rock has remained a minor superstition, going with him to spring training, road games and, perhaps one day soon, a spot in the Dodger Stadium clubhouse.
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.