‘Did that really just happen?’ James Outman makes Dodgers’ opening day roster

James Outman's play in spring has earned him a spot in the Dodgers' opening day roster.
James Outman’s play in spring has earned him a spot in the Dodgers’ opening day roster.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

James Outman thought he would cry or have some other emotional response to the news he had been hoping to get all spring.

But when he was finally told Thursday morning that he had made the Dodgers’ opening day team, filling the club’s last position player roster spot following a standout performance in camp, the rookie outfielder instead sat in manager Dave Roberts’ office almost in a daze.

He needed a moment to let the gravity of the accomplishment sink in.

Outfielder James Outman has hit so well in the spring that he might wind up at Dodger Stadium for the season opener.

March 14, 2023

“I was kind of just like, ‘Whoa,’ ” Outman said hours later, speaking to reporters shortly after Roberts publicly announced the decision. “It was pretty surreal. Kind of felt like a dream, like, ‘Did that really just happen?’ ”


Indeed it had, with Outman claiming an unlikely opening day spot in a suddenly crowded outfield.

Though the 25-year-old prospect had impressed in a brief MLB debut last season and was batting .268 (11 for 41) with two home runs this spring, his pathway to making the team wasn’t straightforward.

Entering camp, the Dodgers appeared to have their 13 position player spots set — until Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee injury created an opening.

Even after that, Outman wasn’t a lock, with the Dodgers deciding whether the former seventh-round draft pick needed more everyday at-bats in triple A or was ready to fill a part-time platoon role on the major league stage.

“I was doing my best to ignore it as much as I could,” Outman said of the roster speculation. “It was challenging.”

Eventually, Outman’s spring improvements left the Dodgers no choice. Between his versatility to play all three outfield positions and a powerful left-handed swing that helped him hit 31 home runs in the minors last season, Roberts and the front office had seen enough to justify fitting him into the opening day team.

James Outman runs to third during the Dodgers' spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 2 in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

“He’s going to play a good bit,” Roberts said. “He’s one of the 13 best players in our organization, young [or] old. I think his talent and performance made it an easy decision.”

With Outman in the fold, the position player side of the Dodgers’ 26-man roster is set.

They’ll have Will Smith and Austin Barnes behind the plate; Freddie Freeman, Miguel Vargas, Miguel Rojas and Max Muncy in the infield; J.D. Martinez at designated hitter; Mookie Betts, Chris Taylor, David Peralta, Trayce Thompson and Jason Heyward splitting time with Outman in the outfield.

Because of that outfield-heavy balance, Taylor and Betts will serve as backups at shortstop and second base, respectively. That should leave extra playing time to go around for the other four members of the outfield mix — even with the team still deciding exactly how it will be distributed.

“The next level,” Roberts said, “is trying to divvy out how it makes sense.”

Whatever Outman’s role, though, the prospect said he was simply grateful to make the cut this spring.

Drafted out of Sacramento State in 2018, the former high school football star had spent a half-decade toiling in the minor leagues, undergoing an extensive swing change just to get on the Dodgers’ big-league radar in recent seasons.


His initial call-up last year left a positive impression, as well. He homered in his first MLB at-bat. He went six for 13 overall. And even though he was sent down after four games, including three-strikeout setbacks in each of the last two, Outman returned to the minors confident he could make it back to the big roster again.

A freak ankle injury is likely to keep Tony Gonsolin out of the Dodgers’ rotation for a couple of starts at the beginning of the season.

March 18, 2023

“I learned that it’s within reach, it’s something I can do,” Outman said. “It just gave me a little confidence boost, once I got there. Got a little taste.”

This year, that craving will be fulfilled right away — with Outman not only getting his first opportunity at an extended stay in the majors but also the chance to potentially prove he belongs there permanently.

“I think everybody’s got their own little journey,” he said. “For myself, this isn’t the end goal. This is just another step along the way. And I’m excited.”