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Why is Matt Beaty spending time in right field? He knows the Dodgers value versatility

Dodgers' Matt Beaty watches an inside pitch.
Dodgers’ Matt Beaty watches an inside pitch during a spring training game against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday in Goodyear, Ariz.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Mookie Betts, fresh off an NL MVP runner-up season, is the Dodgers’ right fielder for the foreseeable future. He will play there every day in 2021 when healthy and, barring an unexpected dropoff, he will excel. So why has Matt Beaty, one of a few players competing for a spot on the opening day roster, played nine games in right field this spring?

The answer is simple: The Dodgers prize versatility and the more Beaty can demonstrate, the likelier he is to break camp with the team.

Beaty has started four regular-season games in right field as a pro — three for double-A Tulsa in 2017 and one for the Dodgers in 2019. He’s played mostly first base, third base, and left field in his career. This offseason, he focused on speed and quickness to prepare, partly, for playing right field.

“Worked hard this season to not necessarily try to add strength,” Beaty said. “Just try to add explosive movements and being able to get good reads in the outfield and get that good first step.

“And being able to get out of the box a little bit quicker and get down the line and hit doubles and all that stuff. Just trying to be a little bit faster than what I had been in the past.”

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In double-A games this year, teams will be required to use a minimum of four infielders, all of whom must have both feet in front of the outfield grass.

Beaty was part of a wave of rookies to produce for the Dodgers in 2019, hitting .265 with nine home runs in 99 games. Last year was a struggle. He batted .220 with two home runs and a .638 OPS as his opportunities became more sporadic without pinch-hit opportunities in a year with the designated hitter in the National League.

Now he’s competing for a bench role on the Dodgers’ roster.

In recent years, as they’ve bulldozed their way to division title after division title, the Dodgers have boasted one of the strongest benches in the majors. The depth allowed for lineup optimization. The surplus provided a safety net for injuries over the long summers. Their reserves would have been starters on other clubs.

This year, after Kiké Hernández and Joc Pederson’s departures via free agency, the bench isn’t as solidified. The Dodgers expected to lose Hernández and Pederson. They planned around it. Yet the question remains: Who will populate the bench come opening day.

Barring injury, two of the five bench spots are seemingly up for grabs on the 26-man roster. Catcher Austin Barnes and utilityman Chris Taylor are locks. Corner infielder Edwin Ríos is expected to join them. That leaves Beaty, utilityman Zach McKinstry, and a few right-handed-hitting infielders jockeying for the remaining vacancies.

Beaty and McKinstry would almost certainly both make the team if one of them hit right-handed. But both bat left-handed and the Dodgers prefer another right-handed batter, which opens the possibility for only one of them to break camp on the roster.

Dodgers second baseman Zach McKinstry throws the ball to a teammate.
Dodgers second baseman Zach McKinstry throws the ball to a teammate during a spring training game against the Chicago Cubs on March 4.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Among the candidates for the final spot would be Sheldon Neuse, Matt Davidson, and Andy Burns. The Dodgers could also trade a player for the role. Of the three, only Neuse, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in last month, is on the 40-man roster. Davidson and Burns are non-roster invitees.

The 29-year-old Davidson is the most accomplished of the group, having slugged 46 home runs in 2017 and 2018 with the Chicago White Sox. The veteran can also pitch — he had thrown three bullpen sessions in spring training as of Wednesday and could pitch in a Cactus League game.

Burns and Neuse have minimal major league experience. Burns, 30, made his major league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016. He appeared in 10 games and didn’t return. He spent the next two seasons in Korea before splitting 2019 between the Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate and the Australian league.

Baseball America ranked Neuse — pronounced “noisy” — as the Athletics’ seventh-best prospect before the 2020 season. That came after Neuse batted .317 with 27 home runs and a .939 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Neuse made 92 starts at second base, 16 at second base, eight at shortstop, and three in left field.

His brother Larry Sherry was a relief pitcher on the team.

He broke into the majors in 2019, appearing in 25 games, but didn’t return in 2020 and spent the season at Oakland’s alternate training site. The Dodgers would have Neuse fill in at third, second, and first base.

“The baseball IQ, the grinder mentality, the baseball player I love,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Neuse. “Just seeing him, I like the swing, I like him in the batter’s box. The ability to move him around the diamond . . . just that versatility is great. I think his excitement, enthusiasm to be with this organization is genuine and I think it’s a great starting point.”

Neuse’s defensive versatility, as always with the Dodgers, helps his case. It’s why Beaty is playing a position owned by the franchise’s cornerstone player. Any way to get on the roster.


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