Despite growing up as a San Francisco Giants fan, joining the Los Angeles Dodgers was quite easy for outfielder and current Major League triples leader James Outman.
“Once I got to high school, I started being less of a Giants fan and more of a baseball fan. I started liking players more than teams,” he said before his Dodgers opened a three-game series at Oracle Park on Monday night. “I liked Adrián González a lot and Joc (Pederson) was a fresh player on the Dodgers when I was a senior in high school.”
Outman’s as rooted in Northern California as it gets. He grew up in Redwood City, attended Clifford Middle School, graduated from Serra in 2015 and played three years of college baseball at Sacramento State. Until he was drafted in 2018, he spent just one summer outside of the state, playing for the prestigious Bethesda Big Train near Washington, D.C., in 2017.
“My summer in Maryland, I started getting some scout interest,” Outman commented. “It was kinda off my radar until then, and it started progressing more and more.”
Aside from some scuffles in 2019, that progress hasn’t stopped for Outman. The seventh-round draft pick was the Dodgers’ 18th-best prospect entering 2022, homered in his first Major League at-bat at the end of July and got a brief taste of the bigs before being optioned when Chris Taylor returned from an injury. He won his battle for a roster spot a week before the 2023 season began, and has already graduated from a platoon role to an everyday one.
If leaving Northern California was a challenge for Outman, it may have taken him a while to realize it because he hardly had a moment to rest in 2018. His Sac State team won four straight elimination games before losing to New Mexico State by a run in the Western Athletic Conference Championship Game. Less than two weeks later, he was off to the Dodgers, and was assigned to the Ogden Raptors. He played his first 55 professional games with Ogden, in a Salt Lake City suburb known as the location of Weber State University.
He got one at-bat in big league Spring Training in 2019, spent the rest of the spring in Minor League camp, and then shipped off to the Midwest League. The California lifer was suddenly living in hotels all around Ohio and Michigan.
“My first full season, it was tough being away from home,” he said. “Around the Fourth of July, I saw my whole family together and I started getting homesick.”
Home for the 2019 season was Midland, Michigan, near Saginaw and the shores of Lake Huron, as a member of the Great Lakes Loons. He posted unremarkable offensive numbers that year, but demolished Midwest League pitching in 2021 after the 2020 minor league season was canceled. The league’s affiliation had changed from Single-A to High-A, and he was ready for the challenge, posting a .385 on-base percentage, eight triples and nine steals in 65 games before moving up to Double-A Tulsa.
Triples have been part of Outman’s game throughout his professional career. He has 23 in 403 minor league games, and his three triples in the first two weeks of the 2023 season have him in the Major League lead. He hit two triples in an April 3 win over Colorado, and Outman’s third three-bagger of the year came in the fourth inning of Monday’s 9-1 win over the Giants. Only four other players, including teammate J.D. Martinez and former Dodger Trea Turner, have even tripled twice.
Outman’s inclusion in the lineup in all three games against the Giants was a ringing endorsement of the team’s confidence in him. He and star first baseman Freddie Freeman were the only left-handed hitters to start against southpaw Alex Wood in Tuesday’s game. He played both center and left field over the course of the series, and even remained in center on Wednesday night after defensive wiz Trayce Thompson entered the game alongside him. At the conclusion of Wednesday’s game, FanGraphs ranked him as the Dodgers leader in Wins Above Replacement and the fifth-most valuable hitter in all of baseball, a spot ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and well ahead of the likes of Mike Trout.
The 6-foot-3 outfielder has started in 12 of the Dodgers’ first 13 games, only sitting in the third game of the season. That deprived him of a chance to face Madison Bumgarner, but he got a chance against the tall lefty on April 7 and took him deep in his first at-bat.
“It’s pretty special. You could probably ask any of my buddie—he was a childhood hero for us,” Outman said to Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group. “To be on the same field competing was pretty cool.”
Before Tuesday’s game, manager Dave Roberts suggested that Outman will be much closer to an everyday role than a platoon spot.
“He hangs in there against a lefty,” Roberts said, before noting that he may rest Outman against one of the Chicago Cubs’ left-handers this weekend.
He still spends his offseasons in the Bay Area, and married his longtime girlfriend, Dasha, in November. The couple is contemplating a move to Arizona, where hundreds of baseball players make their winter homes, allowing for plenty of opportunities for players to work out together.
Outman’s Dodgers won’t return to Oracle Park until Sept. 29-Oct. 1, the final three games of the season. They’ll host the Giants at Dodger Stadium for three games in June and four games in September, and they’ll host the Oakland A’s for a three-game interleague set in early August.