Before spring training began, Carl Crawford was penciled in as the starting left fielder with Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke coming in #2 and #3 respectively. Over time, it became apparent that Crawford was simply not cutting it as a starter. It also became apparent that despite another offseason full of trade rumors, Ethier would be staying in Dodger blue.
Before long, new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts informed Crawford that Ethier was taking over the top spot on the left field depth chart. Roberts also decided that Ethier might be the best option for batting leadoff against right handed pitching. Ethier went from a solid bench player to a crucial part of the Dodgers everyday lineup in just a matter of weeks.
However, following the Dodgers spring training injury trend, Ethier fouled a pitch off of his right shin on Friday, causing him to be carted off the field. Fortunately, X-ray results came back negative for broken bones, and only a contusion was shown. However, Ethier has been on crutches since the incident and he is scheduled for a bone scan on Monday. It is likely that Ethier will miss some games and may not be ready by Opening Day. If this becomes the case, Crawford will presumably be given the chance to take back the left field spot.
Should Ethier be rendered unavailable due to injury, the Dodgers would be much better off finally giving Scott Van Slyke the chance he deserves to be an everyday player. Although Scott Van Slyke has never had more than 222 at bats or played in more than 98 games in a season, it is not because he lacks the abilities needed to be a starter. When given the chance, Van Slyke shines. For example, in 32 at bats this spring, Van Slyke leads the team with 12 hits as well as 3 home runs and 6 RBI. That translates to a .375 AVG, .459 OBP, and a .750 SLG.
Unfortunately for Van Slyke, he has been a part of a team with an extremely deep outfield, making him stuck in the bench player slot. Given regular time, Van Slyke could turn into an All-Star caliber outfielder.
Compare Van Slyke to another epically bearded outfielder, Jayson Werth. In his two seasons with the Dodgers, Werth never had more than 337 at bats and never played in more than 102 games. However, Werth still managed to hit as many as 16 home runs in 2004 with only 290 at bats. In Van Slyke’s best season he only hit 11 home runs but he did so with 78 less at bats than Werth had in 2004. That year, Van Slyke averaged a home run about every 19 at bats. If he had received as many at bats, he very well could have finished with the same number of home runs as Werth.
Looking to the bigger picture, there are even more similarities. In Werth’s first four major league seasons, he finished with a slash line of .241/.317/.406 with 99 RBI in 721 total at bats. In that same period of time, Van Slyke has a slash line of .253/.337/.442 with 85 RBI in 617 total at bats. Given the difference in at bats between the two, their numbers are virtually identical. For what it is worth, Van Slyke is also entering his age 29 season, the same age as Werth when had his breakout year playing in over 130 games hitting 24 home runs and 67 RBI.
Only two years after his breakout year, Werth went on to sign a seven-year contract worth over $100 million, becoming one of the first major pieces for the newly formed and struggling Washington Nationals. It is too early to say whether Van Slyke will turn into the player that Jayson Werth has become. At this point, Van Slyke seems to be on the exact same path.
The only way to get Van Slyke to his breakout year is to give him regular playing time. If Ethier cannot play, it is the perfect time to give that left field slot to Van Slyke.