By defeating the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first MLB team to 10 wins. They lead the majors in OPS+ and are among the best in runs allowed per game. So far, it seems that the Dodgers have picked up right where they left off in 2020. While many positives can be taken from this early season stretch, perhaps the most exciting development for the Dodgers is the hot start from a pair of young infielders, Gavin Lux and Zach McKinstry.
Different Paths to the Majors
Lux and McKinstry were both drafted by the Dodgers in 2016, but have taken different paths since. The first rounder Lux steamrolled through the minor leagues and became a top prospect in the Dodgers’ system. He was a Rookie of the Year candidate going into 2020, but a disappointing year saw him left off the postseason roster. McKinstry, on the other hand, was drafted in the 33rd round out of Central Michigan University. A late bloomer of sorts, McKinstry got his shot in the big leagues late last year, going 2-7 as a September call-up. The team gained enough confidence in him over that stretch to earn a spot on the 2021 Opening Day roster.
Despite their different paths, both Lux and McKinstry have seen increased playing time in 2021 and capitalized on that opportunity.
Lux Developing His Tools
As a prospect, Gavin Lux was known for his lethal bat. He tore up the competition in Triple-A, posting a 1.197 OPS in 49 games and expediting his road to the majors. However, he has yet to break out as the Dodgers were hoping at the MLB level. In 54 career games over three seasons, he is batting .212 with five home runs. Still, the Dodgers are giving him the big league playing experience they hope will translate into results. In 2021, Lux is fourth on the team with 45 plate appearances, posting a .220 batting average in the process entering play Thursday. Analytics indicate that he has been unlucky so far this season, with an expected batting average of .258, according to Statcast.
In other parts of his game, Lux has seen exceptional improvement. In terms of the Statcast metric Outs Above Average, Lux has been the best fielder in baseball in the early season. Additionally, his sprint speed of 29.4 ft/sec puts him in the top 1% of all baserunners so far in 2021. If Lux figures it out at the plate, he could become one of the most well-rounded players in MLB.
Mckinstry Finds Success in Dodger Lineup
While Lux had a down year in 2020, McKinstry barely even had a year. With the MiLB season being canceled, his seven MLB plate appearances were his only at bats in pro ball all year. In spite of that, he has looked spectacular in 2021. He’s hitting .333/.361/.727 with three home runs and 11 RBI ahead of Thursday’s action. He had a rather memorable first home run on April 3rd: an inside-the-parker at Coors Field. He’s been happy to fill a utility role for Los Angeles, spending time at both corner outfield positions as well as second base.
McKinstry’s underlying numbers indicate that his success at the plate is based on a patient and balanced approach. His chase rate of 21.9% and whiff rate 15.3% are much better than the league averages of 28.4% and 24.4%, respectively. Accordingly, his strikeout rate ranks in the 93rd percentile of major league hitters. In terms of wOBA, McKinstry is among the top 9% of hitters in all of baseball.
Good news for L.A.
Entering 2021, the hope for the Dodgers was that Gavin Lux would break out as a star second baseman. While the offensive numbers are meager, his defensive and running improvements are promising for the future. The Dodgers don’t need Lux’s bat right now anyway because of the emergence of Zach McKinstry as a dynamic offensive player. The tandem of young infielders are just the latest class of young players to make an impact for the Dodgers.
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