LOS ANGELES -- The youth movement that has emerged for the Los Angeles Dodgers has not only made life difficult for opponents, it is changing the face of the club’s own roster.
After taking advantage of sporadic playing time early in the season, outfielder Trayce Thompson is essentially an everyday player at this point. And his emergence no doubt made it easier for the Dodgers to sever ties with Carl Crawford, despite the fact that the veteran will still be paid approximately $35 million through 2017.
Crawford officially was designated for assignment Sunday morning, although the Dodgers made the decision late Saturday.
Also making ear-splitting noise has been shortstop Corey Seager, who hit two more home runs Sunday to give him five in the three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves. The weekend domination concluded with Sunday’s 12-6 Dodgers victory. Seager has 13 home runs and the calendar has barely flipped to June in his first full season.
The Dodgers are still trying to get plus production from Joc Pederson, who was a rookie sensation in the first half last season before a sharp decline in productivity in the second half. Pederson is still among the Dodgers team leaders with eight home runs and 25 RBIs.
“It’s great,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “Obviously they’re incredibly talented players. But behind the scenes, the work, watching them gravitate to the veterans, learning from them -- that whole dynamic is a lot of fun to watch.”
Seager, Thompson and Pederson are likely to learn a lot about each other in the coming months. They are all roommates at a local home, placing much of the Dodgers’ future under one roof each night.
“Some of these guys have a chance to play together for a really long time and also help in continuing that culture, when they have a few more years under their belt, and when that next wave of young players comes to continue that cycle, to really create that culture that takes hold,” Friedman said. “We see that right now and it fits in very well with the forward-looking vision that we all have.”
Manager Dave Roberts seemed committed to Thompson from the outset. Even when Thompson was struggling badly, Roberts found things to praise. And when Andre Ethier was injured in spring training, Thompson got the opportunity he needed.
"Sometimes as a young player you feel that the veterans aren’t quite clicking yet and you take it upon yourself and not wait back,” Roberts said. “To see these guys come out there and have those at-bats, it just shows their willingness to take the lead. They’ve had some big hits for us. There’s some good things happening with our offense.”
On the pitching side, Ross Stripling showed promise before he was sent back to the minor leagues to preserve his innings for later in the season. Although technically not a youngster, Kenta Maeda is still a rookie and the 28-year-old has delivered some impressive outings while posting a 2.84 ERA over 11 starts so far this season.
One youngster the Dodgers hope can make the leap toward having success is Julio Urias. Despite struggles in each of his first two major-league starts, the 19-year-old will make a third start on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies. It will be Urias’ first start at Dodger Stadium after pitching in both New York and Chicago already.
For now, though, the Seager-Thompson duo has not only been a bright spot on an underachieving Dodgers team, it has been the only consistent source of offense on a roster that has a number of proven veterans.
“I think there’s not a person in our clubhouse who would say our offense is performing at a level we’re capable of,” Friedman said. “The good thing about that is the young guys are performing. The veteran guys that have those established water marks of production, I’ll bet on those guys in terms of the way they work, what they’ve done over their career, as recently as last year, and that they will emerge from it and we’ll be a much more dynamic offense because of it.”
The sign of hope Sunday was an explosion of runs from a mix of young and old. Thompson, in the No. 3 spot of the order for the first time this season, delivered the Dodgers’ first hit with a first-inning single. Veteran Adrian Gonzalez followed with an RBI double and fellow veteran Howie Kendrick added his own RBI single.
“We needed that,” Seager said of the sweep that gave the Dodgers victories in 10 of their last 14 games. “We came in and handled the business we needed to. Now you kind of get things rolling a little bit and try to take it into the next one.”
But they will move on without the veteran presence that Crawford brought. Back in the early 2000s, Crawford was like Seager and Thompson, the young player helping to kick-start his team’s offense. On Sunday he was asked to step aside to let the next generation of young hitters pass through.
“He’s had a great run and where we’re at right now, and where this organization wants to go, you have a lot of young guys coming,” Roberts said. “Carl was in that position 14 years ago. There are guys who need opportunities to make us better and he completely understood that. As a player he’s frustrated that he’s not performing and his body is not firing the way it used to.”
The next generation is here now, with Seager swinging hard all weekend, Thompson reaching base three times on a hit and a pair of walks, while Pederson made an impressive catch, slamming into the padded wall just as he made the grab. Sunday showed that baseball really is a young man’s game.
“Yeah, I was putting good swings on balls, you get lucky, elevate them and they go out,” Seager said. “It’s just one of those things that you try to do every day but it’s working right now.”