GLENDALE – Trayce Thompson’s career in professional sports has hardly unfolded like that of his brother Klay, a five-time All-Star and four-time champion with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
However, Trayce Thompson, who at 31 is two-years younger than Klay, still has a chance to author his own fairytale with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Thompson projects to be the Dodgers’ starting center fielder this upcoming season after coming to Los Angeles from the rival Padres in a trade last season and quickly carving out a role in Chavez Ravine.
After finding his way into a measly six games with the Padres in 2022, Thompson played in 74 games down the stretch for LA and nearly matched his career high in at-bats for a single season with 239.
He hit .268 with 13 home runs and posted a staggering 145 OPS+. The sample size is small, but he has a chance to solidify those above-average numbers this season.
The Dodgers knew what they were getting in Thompson, though. He spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the Dodgers following his short debut campaign with the Chicago White Sox.
Still, much has changed around the Dodger clubhouse since the last time he was in the room.
“My first go around here, just the group of guys (is) the first thing that comes to mind,” Thompson said. “Corey (Seager), Joc (Pederson), Kiké Hernández and Alex Wood, those are some of my closest friends in the game. So to not play with them, it’s different.
“But we obviously have a great group in here, a lot of guys returning from last year. And everyone’s excited for the year and excited to go out there and compete.”
One thing that never changes in LA is championship expectations. Thompson singled out one player still remaining from his first stint with the Dodgers for setting the standard in the clubhouse now.
“Twenty-two (Clayton Kershaw) sets the example more than anybody,” Thompson said. “He’s the hardest worker in this building. He goes out and executes probably as efficiently as anybody. When you’re the Dodgers, you always know that there’s expectations, and we all expect to be in the hunt and to win a championship.”
If things pan out the way Thompson expects, he knows his own standard will have to be raised.
A specific area he pinpointed for improvement is hitting left-handed pitching, specifically lefty fastballs. So he spent his offseason working to correct a hole in his swing.
“In the offseason you can only do so much, try to clean up the mechanics and simplify as much as possible ,” he said. “But really, it comes down to executing this work here in spring training. “So (I’m) just trying to get better each day and not taking a day for granted.
“I think we get a lefty today, so just trying to hone in and try to really make the most of each day. Understanding it’s not going to be perfect, but just trusting the process day in and day out.”
The Dodgers’ outfield situation remained fairly stable heading into camp, even with the offseason loss of outfielder Cody Bellinger to the Chicago Cubs.
The team came into camp with a hole already at second base, and then the Dodgers found themselves trying to plug another one in the infield when shortstop Gavin Lux suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
The trickle down is an opportunity for Thompson to fill an everyday outfield role because two Dodgers outfielders, Chris Taylor and Mookie Betts, have played infield at various points in their careers and the all-hands-on-deck plan seems to be to rotate those two into infield roles.
An elbow injury suffered last season brought uncertainty about whether Taylor would see infield time, given the velocity needed on infield throws compared to outfield throws. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts assured the media that the injury would not limit Taylor.
“I talked to Chris, he is 100% healthy,” Roberts said. “Now it’s just getting on the throwing program to make sure he can handle the throw from shortstop. He’s aware of that, and he feels confident in that.”
Expect to see plenty of rotation in the infield, including the possibility of sliding Max Muncy back to second base from his newfound home at third from time to time – all to Thompson’s benefit.
“I think the plan was to play mainly left (field) and center (field). Now I’ll be playing some shortstop and third (base),” Taylor said.
Before fans witness Robert’s daily juggling act, Thompson is taking time away from spring training to participate in the World Baseball Classic for Great Britain.
Thompson’s eligibility to compete on the world stage traces back to his father Mychel’s Caribbean roots. Mychel, like Klay, played in the NBA.
Trayce Thompson beamed with excitement while looking forward to the tournament.
“Everyone just talks about the environment and what an exciting environment it is,” Thompson said. “I’m excited to represent. My dad’s from (the) Bahamas, so I’m excited to represent that side of me.
“Representing Great Britain baseball, it’s something that has a lot of representation in the past, so to go out there and hopefully we can do some good things, it would mean a lot to a lot of people over there. I’m just excited to compete. I know it’s a tournament that everyone looks forward to, so I’m excited.”
Once the WBC concludes, baseball’s six-month, 162-game regular-season marathon awaits Thompson and the Dodgers. He refused to set any personal goals for the season, insisting his primary focus for the upcoming season is team-driven.
“Just to help our team every day in whatever way I can,” Thompson said of his aim. “If I can contribute to us winning and to us winning a World Series, that’s as gratifying as it gets as a player. So I’m just looking forward to competing every day and going out there and being a major leaguer and helping the Dodgers win a championship.”