Long time, no newsletter. I know. Checking in today with some breaking news – Zach Reks has been recalled from Oklahoma City in advance of tonight’s game in San Diego – and some bigger-picture perspective to go along with it. If you’re new to this newsletter, that’s usually how this goes.
The most interesting aspect of the Dodgers’ roster this season has been their bench – not the most satisfying, not the most electric, but certainly the least predictable. The group has included, at times, 22-year-old Keibert Ruiz and 41-year-old Albert Pujols. There have been low points (Edwin Rios, Sheldon Neuse, Luke Raley and DJ Peters combined to strike out 74 times and collect 28 hits) and high ones (Pujols, Andy Burns’ walk-up music, Steven Souza Jr. taking over a game). It’s been fascinating to watch unfold.
How the Dodgers have gotten contributions from their bench (or not) has been different from anything in recent seasons. Part of that was by necessity; when Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson left as free agents, it left an obvious void on the roster. Part of that was attributable to the pandemic. Raley, Peters, Ruiz and Neuse have barely played over the last year due to circumstances out of their control, which certainly contributed to their struggles. Partly it was due to ill-timed injuries. Losing Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy and Zach McKinstry for long stretches deprived the Dodgers of several big bats simultaneously. The Dodgers were a mostly healthy team in 2020. This year, they’ve had to fill a lot of shoes at once.
The last two players to earn Triple-A call-ups (Souza, now Reks) are archetypal for this organization. Any veteran hitter who loses his form, gets picked up by the Dodgers, then mashes better than he did before his demotion, will inevitably draw comparisons to Chris Taylor, Muncy and Justin Turner. I doubt Souza can keep up a .250/.357/.667 slash line the rest of the season, but if he continues to average one RBI for every two games played off the bench, the Dodgers will take it.
Reks had reached base in 30 of his 31 starts this season with Oklahoma City. He ranked in the top four of Triple-A West (formerly known as the Pacific Coast League) in doubles, runs and on-base percentage. His 23 runs scored and 12 doubles since May 29 are tied for most among all Triple-A players.
Reks also has a cool back story. When the pandemic canceled the 2020 minor league season, he re-learned the piano and guitar and started a coffee company. He quit baseball when he failed to make the University of Kentucky team as a freshman walk-on, but got a second chance after nailing the dismount from a moped. None of that is archetypal of anything, but the Dodgers have made a habit of drafting future big leaguers who were overlooked in the draft for obvious reasons. Reks was the Dodgers’ 10th-round pick in 2017.
The early struggles of Peters, Neuse and Raley suggested the Dodgers’ draft luck might have hit a dry spot, at least when it came to position players. Had those three thrived, we probably would not have gotten a look at Burns and Souza, to say nothing of Tsutsugo or Pujols – two veterans who flopped so mightily in the American League that they were designated for assignment at midseason. The Dodgers have not needed to hit the waiver wire for major-league bench players in the middle of a season since, I believe, Mike Freeman in 2017. You are forgiven for forgetting his 0-for-5 career line as a Dodger.
Now, the Dodgers’ bench is now an eclectic mix of prospects (McKinstry, Reks), fresh-blooded veterans (Burns, Souza, and Pujols), and Matt Beaty and Austin Barnes. At least two of them will be in the starting lineup every day for now. Three will be displaced somewhat soon by Muncy, Seager and Bellinger.
There was a time this season when the Dodgers couldn’t get healthy fast enough. Now, you can see them possibly making it to the trading deadline without needing to supplement the bench from outside the organization. A sense of normality has been restored. That’s the Zach Reks effect in a nutshell.
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Don’t bet on it – For the first time in a long time, the Dodgers aren’t favored to win their next game.
Turning the Page(s) – A 20-year-old outfield prospect is leading his Class-A league in home runs.
Plenty to celebrate – AJ Pollock’s daughter had a rocky road early in her young life, making Father’s Day a sweeter occasion for her dad Sunday.
Snakes swept – The Dodgers made quick work of the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks in the desert.