Van Slyke keeps quietly building his case

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
9:37
PM PT
CINCINNATI -- Does this sound like the kind of stuff you’ve been reading from a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder lately?

“I know what I’m here for, and I don’t mind it. I like it. I’m not going to complain.”

Those were the thoughts Monday night of Scott Van Slyke, who, after a two-home run performance in a 6-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds, leads all Dodgers outfielders with a 1.060 OPS. Yes -- all Dodgers outfielders. He even nudged ahead of Yasiel Puig, the leading vote-getter on the National League All-Star ballot.

[+] EnlargeScott Van Slyke
David Kohl/USA TODAY SportsScott Van Slyke was a major contributor in the Dodgers' win Monday, going 3-for-3 with four RBIs and two home runs, scoring twice and walking twice.


In what is shaping up as the Season of the Mildly Disgruntled Outfielder in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, Van Slyke has quietly produced in a limited role and at roughly one-fortieth the cost of the team’s other outfielders.

Granted, he has done so in large part because he’s being put in situations to succeed -- matched up against left-handed pitchers -- but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? The Dodgers are trying to overcome a sluggish first two months, and they’d like to put their best lineup on the field in each situation, regardless of players’ feelings.

And it would appear they’re intent on doing just that.

It would be hard to argue that Van Slyke isn’t part of the solution, based on the best two-plus months of his major league life, if such samples can be counted on.

Of his 20 hits, 11 have gone for extra bases. In 40 games, he has been walked 18 times. Despite having fewer than one-third the at-bats of most regulars, he is fourth on the team with six home runs.

And oh, by the way, he is apparently the Dodgers’ second-best center fielder defensively, despite his gangly 6-foot-6 frame and a long, flowing beard that must offer some wind resistance.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly concedes he is considering a Van Slyke-Andre Ethier platoon in center, which could pair up nicely with a Matt Kemp-Carl Crawford platoon in left, presuming the latter two can function as selflessly as the center fielders seem to be doing.

That might be a big if. Just Monday, Crawford admitted to some frustration about his unsettled role now that Kemp has been shifted. Kemp called it “a little weird” when he was asked to move positions and seemed to pout on the days he was held out of the lineup during the transition.

Meanwhile, Van Slyke's hold on playing time is so precarious, he was worried he had to produce Monday after he had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Colorado Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa on Sunday.

Van Slyke might play the most fundamentally sound outfield of anyone in a Dodgers uniform, which isn’t entirely surprising given that he is the son of Andy Van Slyke, a five-time Gold Glove winner in the 1980s. He said his father helped him in making the return to center field -- the position of his childhood but not his professional life, until recently.

“It’s slowly coming back,” Van Slyke said. “I really concentrate on how guys are pitching, how their balls are moving, what it looks like on foul balls and try to position myself better.”

Of course, expectations are everything. The four other outfielders on the Dodgers’ roster were blue-chip prospects fast-tracked to the major leagues and wildly rich before they turned 28. Van Slyke was a 14th-round pick who was dropped from the team’s 40-man roster two winters ago and snubbed for a spring training invite in 2013. He is 27 and still making the major league minimum salary.

Mattingly went as far as to suggest Van Slyke could be a productive everyday player, an opportunity he’s almost certain never to get in L.A. Perhaps the Dodgers would ponder trading him -- if he weren’t so valuable to them.

“This guy’s been an RBI guy, driven in 100 runs a couple times in the minor leagues [when] he wasn’t platooning,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy with a pretty good idea at the plate. If you match him up right, he has a pretty good chance of hitting a ball hard and giving you good at-bats.”

Van Slyke also has a way with animals, apparently. When two wild ducks flew down and waddled around center field in the third inning, Van Slyke got them to go away by throwing a pocketful of seeds at them.

“They ate them and left,” he said. “Then I slipped on the sunflower seeds later.”

Nobody said he was perfect.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.296 16 69 92
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239