At this point, the baseball world knows the Dodgers are a factory for successfully developing their young players, as well as seeing something in players that others don’t and turning them into major contributors.
Development wise, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger came up the pipeline and won NL Rookie of the Year in their respective rookie years. Additionally, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Will Smith are all homegrown talents that have been major contributors to the team for years.
As far as finding unrecognized talent goes, the Dodgers found a journeyman infielder named Justin Turner in free agency and signed him in 2014. Come 2016, they found an at at-the-time little-known player named Chris Taylor and traded pitcher Zach Lee to acquire him from the Mariners. In 2017, they signed a free agent by the name of Max Muncy one month after he was released by the Athletics.
All three of those players wound up key contributors of the team, too. And, short of Seager, Bellinger and Turner, who have moved on to the Rangers, Cubs and Red Sox, respectively, each player mentioned is an important part of this Dodger team in 2023.
Those aren’t the only examples of good development or finding a way to turn a player’s career around, but they are among the most notable.
This season, the team’s outfield has served as a microcosm of what the Dodgers have been able to accomplish en route to becoming the winningest team in baseball since 2010.
To the surprise of everyone outside of Dodger fans, rookie James Outman has had an excellent season. Outman made his albeit brief debut last season in a four-game series against the Rockies and absolutely mashed.
In four games, Outman hit .462/.563/.846 with one home run, three RBI and two doubles. Heading into this season, there was hope that he could be a contributor after the team non-tendered Bellinger and let Joey Gallo walk in free agency.
And has he ever.
In 2023, Outman is slashing .250/.354/.441 with 23 home runs, 69 RBI, 16 doubles and 15 steals in 149 of the teams 160 games. He has also been good defensively primarily in center field — 9 OAA and 0.2 dWAR.
In total, Outman has accumulated 4.3 WAR, which is third among rookies behind only Corbin Carroll (6.0 WAR) and Gunnar Henderson (4.7 WAR).
Outman got off to an incredibly fast start and won NL Rookie of the Month in April with his eight home runs and .991 OPS in 29 games. Though the league figured him out a bit and he went through some serious struggles, he figured it out as well and has righted the ship.
A seventh-round pick in 2018, the Dodgers turned Outman into a player who, at one time, was odds-on favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. Though Carroll has all but locked up that award, Outman is a great example of Dodgers developing their young players.
Jason Heyward, on the other hand, is a prime example of the Dodgers’ ability to revitalize a player’s career. The now 34-year-old is having his best season at the plate since the shortened 2020 season and has been above replacement level, according to wRC+, in a full season for the first time since 2015 with the Cardinals.
Heyward was handed his outright release by the Cubs after 48 games last season, and many thought he wasn’t going to get another opportunity in the show after some tough years in Chicago.
The Dodgers gave him an opportunity by way of a minor league contract with an invitation the Spring Training last December, sprinkled him with their metaphorical fairy dust, and Heyward has delivered — 2.2 WAR, his highest since 2019.
With Mookie Betts’ willingness to spend much of the season playing in the infield, Heyward has taken the opportunity to be a contributor to a successful ball club. In 2023, Heyward is hitting .270/.341/.476 with 15 home runs and 40 RBI in 123 games.
Heyward has been doing most of his damage this season against right-handed pitchers. Thirteen of his home runs, 38 of his RBI have come against righties, and he is hitting .277/.349/.477 against them.
Adding in his defense — 6 OAA — and his club house presence as a veteran leader, in more of a platoon role this season, Heyward his been a surprisingly-vital cog to the Dodgers in 2023.
You can officially add Heyward to the list of players the Dodgers have tapped into the upside of.
Both Outman and Heyward delivering to contribute in a big way in 2023 shows both ends of the spectrum in how and why the Dodgers have been so successful for so long now. It’s like the perfect storm.
But at this point, is anyone really surprised? If you are, you shouldn’t be.