After a dream resurgence in the major leagues last season, Trayce Thompson has even bigger goals in mind for 2023.
It’s why the Dodgers outfielder has been watching old video of himself recently, trying to address an important hole in his approach against left-handed pitching.
It’s why he wanted to play in next month’s World Baseball Classic, hopeful the intensity of the competition will help catapult him into the regular season.
And it’s why he didn’t sound fully satisfied Thursday, even in light of last year’s breakout campaign.
“I know I had a step in the right direction last year for myself and my career, helping this team,” Thompson said. “But in my opinion, I wasn’t very good. I was really inconsistent. There’s a lot more room to grow.”
It might seem like a surprisingly harsh self-evaluation from a player who not only batted .268 with 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and a sterling .901 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 74 games with the Dodgers — but did so after languishing in the minor leagues for most of the previous half-decade.
Trayce Thompson is happy to be back with the Dodgers even if his trip back to Los Angeles has been a long trek.
Thompson, though, knows the fleeting nature of MLB success.
His promising first stint with the Dodgers in 2016 was derailed by a back injury. After being cut by the team two years later, he struggled to find another steady home in the majors, bouncing around eight organizations as a journeyman Class AAA player.
Those struggles made his reemergence with the Dodgers last season one of the team’s biggest feel-good stories, as Thompson nailed down a nearly everyday role after being traded back to the club in late June.
But as the 31-year-old reflected on his performance this winter, he fixated on areas where his game could improve — ways he could cement his place on the Dodgers roster more permanently.
The biggest focus has been improving against left-handed pitching.
Last year, the right-handed-hitting Thompson had unusually stark reverse splits, doing significantly better against right-handed pitching (.308 batting average, 1.010 OPS) than left-handers (.174 average, .621 OPS).
“It really boiled down to not hitting the fastball versus lefties,” he said. “I really struggled versus the fastball.”
Thompson still managed strong numbers overall, but he knows “crushing lefties [is] the whole reason I got traded here.”
And it’s a trait that should only grow in importance this season, with Thompson likely to split time with left-handed-hitting David Peralta in a left-field platoon.
“It left a bad taste in my mouth on the year,” Thompson said. “It’s something that — I want to be the guy versus lefties … So there’s a lot of work to do.”
“I know I had a step in the right direction last year for myself and my career, helping this team. But in my opinion, I wasn’t very good.”
— Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson
This week, that process led Thompson to watching old film of his rookie season with the Chicago White Sox in 2015, when his ability to punish left-handers originally helped him break into the league.
He noticed that, back then, he set up a little farther away from the plate. As a result, he did more damage on inside pitches.
“Last year, I feel like I got tied up inside a lot,” he said, comparing his new approach with his old one. “I wasn’t able to control that inside part of the zone.”
The trade-off, he noted, was that he felt more comfortable last season against right-handers, who could no longer get away with pounding the outer edge of the plate.
So this spring, he’s trying to find a happy medium, confident that the right setup will allow him to succeed against pitchers of either hand.
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“I’ll still bet on the fact that there’ll be an uptick — significant uptick — versus left this year,” manager Dave Roberts echoed this week. “He’s smart enough to know that, one piece of value that he can add for our club, is to be more productive versus left-handed pitching.”
Next month’s WBC will present another unique opportunity for Thompson, who was eligible to play for Team Britain because of his father’s heritage in the Bahamas — a commonwealth nation still associated with the United Kingdom.
Although Thompson got approval from the Dodgers to play the event — which will keep him away from the team’s camp for at least a week during group stage play at Chase Field in Phoenix — his entry wasn’t as straightforward as most.
Roberts hinted at such hesitancy when asked at the start of spring about Thompson’s participation, saying: “I’m never going to discourage guys from playing for their countries. But getting a lot of at-bats in front of us, I think, is helpful.”
Thompson also took extra time to weigh his decision, conscious that he is still jockeying for playing time in the Dodgers’ crowded outfield even if he’s all but assured of breaking camp with the team.
“I want to be here, I want to be a Dodger, and I want to solidify a role and everything,” he said. “But the way I looked at it was, it’s gonna be intense, it’s gonna help me prepare for the season … and it’s just down the road. So I feel like all the stars kind of lined up.”
While discussing his opportunity with the British team — Thompson has never been to the U.K., but is hoping the squad can “squeak out a win or two” to help grow the game there — he mentioned that he’d previously been approached to represent the country in WBC qualifiers in the spring of 2020.
That opportunity enticed the outfielder, too.
Miguel Rojas left the Dodgers spring game Sunday with a right foot and calf cramp after limping into first base on a third-inning single against the Cubs.
Only, it came when he was still trying to claw his way back to the big leagues.
“I wasn’t professionally in a place where [I could do it],” he said. “I was trying to make a team.”
To Thompson, it’s another reminder of how much his career has changed over the last year — and why he’s wary of not squandering his second lease on life in the big leagues.
“That equity, he’s earned,” Roberts said. “I can’t speak right now to what the role is gonna look like on opening day, what it’s gonna look like in the middle of the season … But we’re gonna need him.”
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