2013 in brief: Showed improvement while bouncing between Albuquerque & Los Angeles.
2014 status: Deserves a crack at a bench spot, and just might get one.
I know I’ve said this about a dozen times, but I can’t help repeating it. Last year, Scott Van Slyke didn’t even get a token September call-up, and he was removed from the 40-man roster. Every team could have had him for essentially nothing at that point — the Twins, the Astros, the Marlins, etc. No one did. While that says more about what Van Slyke was at that point than any mistakes all those teams made, the fact remains: his career was basically dirt.
A year later, Van Slyke saw some decent playing time for the Dodgers, showed some good power, and even made the playoff roster, sort of. Yeah, I’d say that deserves an A.
Despite reports that he was seen mainly as an outfielder, Van Slyke started his 2013 in Triple-A with the Isotopes as a first baseman, destroying the ball at such a clip that even “yeah, but Albuquerque” wasn’t enough of an excuse. When he was called up on May 10, ostensibly because Adrian Gonzalez & Carl Crawford were both banged up, his Triple-A line stood at an absurd .397/.503/.733.
Two days later, he made his first start. It went well.
Chris Capuano was solid in allowing just a Justin Ruggiano solo homer while pitching into the seventh, but the hero of the day is clearly Scott Van Slyke. In his first start of the season, the 26-year-old repaid the faith of all those who insisted the Dodgers should have called him up two weeks ago, crushing a Tom Koehler pitch just out of Ruggiano’s reach for a homer in his first plate appearance for the first scoring of the game. He finished off the scoring with an RBI single in the seventh, wrapped around a few solid defensive plays at first base; I won’t say that one game has substantially changed my opinion about a player who went unclaimed by all of baseball when he was DFA’d last winter, but I’m much happier having someone with his profile than yet another punchless utility player like Elian Herrera.
Though that game came at first base, Van Slyke played mainly left field in his first month with the team, showing good power — including a two-homer game in Atlanta — but not a whole lot else, hitting .221/.284/.559. On June 10, after slumping terribly to start the month (.143/.226/.357), he proved himself to be a true Dodger by heading to the disabled list with a sore left shoulder, sustained diving for a ball in late May.
After his rehab, the roster games began, and then some. On June 28, he returned from the DL when the team finally cut Luis Cruz loose, but he played in only eight games over the next three weeks before heading back to the minors when Matt Kemp returned on July 21. Yes, that was when Kemp immediately destroyed his ankle in Washington, but when Kemp went on the disabled list a few days later, it wasn’t Van Slyke taking his place… it was that incredibly odd period when Ted Lilly was activated for one day in Toronto, never pitched, and then was cut. Van Slyke spent a week in the minors, then returned as soon as he was eligible to, because the team blew the “10 day” loophole by activating Lilly in the first place.
Van Slyke then started three games in Wrigley Field at three different spots — left, right, and first — and went right back down so Stephen Fife could be activated. Barely more than a week later, he was back up when Dee Gordon was sent down; after two starts (and three hits) in Philadelphia, he once again was optioned, this time so that Brian Wilson could join the team in Miami. Finally, he came back up in September for good, though he didn’t do much in 13 games, hitting .192/.382/.346. In 263 minor league plate appearances, however, he’d hit an insane .348/.479/.627, and though there was definitely a Albuquerque influence, he did hit .317/.410/.524 on the road.
With Kemp out and Andre Ethier hobbled, Van Slyke made the playoff roster… kind of. Despite our continuing wish that he either start against lefties or relieve Michael Young of ever getting a shot in a big spot, his postseason time was limited to a pinch-running appearance in the NLDS and a cameo in center field in extra innings of Game 2 of the NLCS. He didn’t get a plate appearance in the entire postseason. I still don’t know why.
I’m still not sure what to make of him, really. He’ll turn 28 in July, so he’s not particularly young, and he doesn’t have much of a big league track record. Clearly, the game doesn’t think much of him. But he reportedly put a lot of work into his conditioning prior to 2013, and it showed — he was clearly slimmer. He’ll never be a starter, nor should he be, but the power is real, he can kind of play three positions, and this Dodger team has lefties at first base and potentially two outfield spots on any given day, two of whom absolutely cannot hit southpaws. It’s not like there’s not a role for him here. Or if he’s traded, that’s fine too. There’s just not a lot left for him to prove in the minors.
Next! So long, Elian Herrera!