The Situation: Decimated by injury, five-and-a-half hour games, and the terrible-starting-pitching-induced need for a bullpen with the population of a small country, the Dodgers found themselves backed into a corner with just a three-man bench yesterday. With Will Venable DFA’d, the club was in need of some temporary outfield depth and has turned to the hot-hitting Toles, who brings one of the most unique rags-to-riches biographies you’ll see this side of The Rookie to his big league debut.
Background: Toles was considered a first-round talent at draft time in 2012, but slid to Tampa Bay in the third round on account of severe makeup concerns. He’d been kicked off his Division I team at Tennessee, then suspended by his junior college team during the spring, and ultimately fit the mold for Andrew Friedman’s run of gambling on talented players who were undervalued for character-concern reasons. He looked like a great investment at first, crushing the Midwest League with an .826 OPS and 62 stolen bases in 2013 and earning the Rays’ Minor League Player of the Year title. But he ran afoul again in 2014, culminating in a suspension for the second half, and was ultimately released after the season. He went unclaimed, then sat out all of 2015 while working at a grocery store. The Dodgers did ample homework on him, ultimately inviting him to fall instructs where he impressed on and off the field and earned himself another shot. The now-24-year-old started him at Rancho Cucamonga this spring, where he hit .370 in 22 games, and he hasn’t stopped hitting in the wake of two subsequent promotions through Triple-A.
Scouting Report: I wrote up Toles in an Eyewitness Report that you can find here, but the short narrative of it is that Toles is a supreme athlete whose baseball skills were surprisingly and impressively still intact in April after the long layoff from competitive ball. He’s an aggressive hitter in the box, demonstrating well-founded confidence in his barrel skills and showing the ability to both turn on velocity with authority and stay back to drive off-speed pitches to the opposite gap. He generates excellent early rhythm, and the swing is compact and balanced with limited swing-and-miss, though he will get over-aggressive and expand from time to time and he’s shown vulnerability against changeups thus far that has deflated his production against opposite-handed pitching. There’s some mild leverage and lift in his swing to the pull side, to where sneaky down-the-line power should continue to translate, and double-digit homeruns are absolutely plausible at peak. His approach is such that he is unlikely to be an on-base asset above his hit tool, but there’s potential for that tool to play to above-average or better with plenty of quality, line-drive contact.
His speed is the feature tool, with plus raw footspeed that can play up on the bases thanks to a quick first-step and instinctual reads off first. He gets to top speed directly, demonstrates a notable aggressiveness going first to third, and has the potential to impact the game as a baserunner. The speed gives him above-average range in center, though he was tougher to evaluate there in April as he showed plenty of rust in his reads and route-running after the layoff. The physical tools were certainly there for him to play a solid centerfield, and the skill set translated well already to above-average play in left.
Immediate Big-League Future: With word coming down today that Joc Pederson still hasn’t picked up a bat since landing on the DL and Andre Ethier still at least a month away, Toles should have some short-term opportunities in the lineup. His is a skillset that lends itself well to fourth-outfielder utility, and his immediate and sustained offensive success at each level thus far leaves the door open that he could very well hit his way into a more regular role. Even if he doesn’t and finds himself back down at Oklahoma City after the regulars heal, he’ll be a likely September call-up to add bench value with defensive versatility and speed.
Fantasy Take: I lobbied hard for Bret to include Toles among the “honorable mentions” in his just-released Mid-Season Dynasty Top 50, even going so far as to threaten releasing some compromising photos of him with a Dan Vogelbach baseball card if he didn’t comply, but alas, it was not to be. Still, Toles has the skills to add some second-half value in deep leagues, and on account of his non-traditional path he makes for the rare interesting prospect bat that is very possibly available on the wire even in deeper dynasty formats. I talked about the fantasy potential in a freestyle piece last week, and suffice to say I’m a fan. He’s got the wheels and instincts to swipe upwards of 30 bags with a solid success ratio across a full season, the pop to chip in double-digit homers, and the hit tool to do all of it with a solid batting average. The short-term uncertainty of his playing time discounts his rest-of-season value some, though at the same time there just aren’t that many bats right on the doorstep that are going to come available between now and September and offer a more well-rounded fantast profile. I’d go aggressive in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues, with a FAAB bid in the $12-15 range, and I’d threaten a double-digit offer in medium-depth formats as well. As for dynasty formats in which he’s available, if you’ve got the FAAB he’s not a bad guy to use it on. He has the talent to be a starting outfielder on a decent team, and the good hitting ability, okay power, and much-better-than-okay speed makes for a tantalizing combination. Go nuts and bid on him like he did make that list.
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