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Dodgers top prospect Gavin Lux won’t begin season on roster after being optioned

Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Gavin Lux during the second inning of a spring training game Feb. 26
The Dodgers optioned infielder Gavin Lux on Tuesday, two days before the season opener.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Dodgers optioned Gavin Lux on Tuesday, ensuring the organization’s top prospect won’t be on their 30-man roster when they open the season Thursday night against the San Francisco Giants.

The decision turned heads. Lux is widely regarded as one of the five best prospects in baseball. He demolished double-A and triple-A pitching last season before making his major league debut in September. He started three of the Dodgers’ five postseason games. He was Baseball America’s 2019 minor league player of the year.

But the Dodgers didn’t plan on putting the 22-year-old Lux on their opening day roster out of spring training before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the Major League Baseball season. Four months later, his case to make the club when the team convened for training camp was hurt because he reported a week late. Lux declined to disclose the reason for his late arrival.

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“I just think it’s more of there’s a lot that goes into his swing and, at this point in time, he just wasn’t synced up,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And so nothing against him.”

Roberts said he notified Lux of the team’s decision before Monday’s exhibition against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lux entered the game at second base in the sixth inning. He went 0 for 1 and committed a throwing error.

“It probably bled into his play,” Roberts said.

Lux was competing for time at second base. He entered to play the position in the sixth inning of the Dodgers’ 6-4 win over the Angels on Tuesday night in their third and final exhibition game of summer camp. Lux struck out in his only plate appearance.

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Chris Taylor, starting in left field, hit his second three-run home run in two nights. Right-hander Josiah Gray, the Dodgers’ second-ranked pitching prospect, allowed two runs in 3 2/3 innings. Tommy La Stella cracked a solo home run for the Angels, who close their exhibition slate at home against the San Diego Padres on Wednesday.

Without Lux in the picture, Max Muncy, Kiké Hernández and Taylor are slated to split time at second base to start the season. Muncy will be the team’s primary first baseman. He will move to second base when Cody Bellinger, the team’s primary center fielder, plays first base. Hernández and Taylor also are expected to log time at shortstop, left field and center field. The depth allows the Dodgers to leave a player with Lux’s potential off the roster.

But there was another factor in the organization’s calculation to option Lux: The Dodgers can keep him off the active roster just long enough to limit his service time and gain an extra year of contractual control. The team could wait until early August to recall Lux and push his free agency back a year.

Get used to a designated hitter in the National League, runners starting at second base during extra innings, and the extinction of relief pitching specialists.

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In the meantime, Lux won’t play in actual games. With the minor league season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals in the Dodgers’ player pool but not on the active roster will report to the club’s alternate training site at USC. Lux isn’t going to triple A to accumulate competitive reps at the plate and in the field every day as he would in any other season.

Instead, he will play in simulated games because there won’t be enough players at USC to stage intrasquad games. Roberts said Lux could log eight to 10 plate appearances some days before returning to the majors.

“He started playoff games for us last year, and that just shows the confidence we have in him as a ballplayer, as a young man,” Roberts said. “And so I just want him to get right and expect [him] to be with us.”

DODGERS ADD A LEFT-HANDER

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The Dodgers signed left-handed reliever Jake McGee to a one-year contract and moved right-hander Jimmy Nelson to make room on the 40-man roster Tuesday.

McGee, 33, posted a 4.35 earned-run average with the Colorado Rockies last season. He held left-handed hitters to a .235 batting average and .693 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 75 plate appearances. He surrendered two home runs — solo shots to Albert Pujols and Brian Goodwin — in two-thirds of an inning Tuesday.

“This is just depth,” Roberts said. “Jake is a guy who got left- and right- [handed batters] out for many years, and so I think in this situation, with a lot of unknowns, depth is high priority.”

The Rockies released McGee on Friday, even though he is under contract for $9.5 million this season. His prorated salary will be $3.515 million. He has a $9-million team option for the 2021 season. The Rockies would be on the hook for his $2-million buyout should the Dodgers not exercise the option.

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SHORT HOPS

Walker Buehler said he is scheduled to log three or four innings against Dodgers hitters Wednesday. The right-hander made one scrimmage appearance during training camp and didn’t pitch in any of the Dodgers’ three exhibitions. He will likely make his first regular-season start next Tuesday against the Astros in Houston. ... Mookie Betts was given Tuesday off to rest.


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