Sacramento State’s Outman plays in his Dodgers debut

Los Angeles' James Outman celebrates with Cody Bellinger after hitting a two-run homer against Colorado Rockies starting pitcher German Marquez on Sunday, July 31, 2022, in Denver.

Los Angeles’ James Outman celebrates with Cody Bellinger after hitting a two-run homer against Colorado Rockies starting pitcher German Marquez on Sunday, July 31, 2022, in Denver.

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On the first day of James Outman’s major league career, he scored his first hit at bat. On day two, he ran his batting average to .833. And on the third day, Tuesday, he found out he had a Wikipedia page.

So is the 25-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers rookie and former Sacramento State Hornet who is quickly finding success after four seasons as a minor.

“I always thought I’d end up here at some point,” Outman said as he stood in the visitor’s dugout in San Francisco on Tuesday, hours before the game. “I was always like, ‘It’s only a matter of time.’ So, I didn’t want to feel like I was surprised when I heard the news (of being called up) or anything like that. It was obviously an unreal experience.

It was also quite a trip.

From Sacramento State to the Big Leagues

Outman came to Sac State for the 2016 season, where he played with Sam Long, now a Giants reliever. “You just look at the guy, he’s really athletic,” Long said. “You could tell he was going to be big and strong.”

Outman struggled to find his footing initially at Sac State, initially playing catcher and getting stuck behind Gunnar Pollman and Josh Egan. “He had a great attitude about it the whole time,” Long said. “He’s the type of guy who worked hard no matter what. So I knew he was going to be successful.

He became an outfielder in his second season at Sac State, playing mostly on good ground for the Hornets. He has also spent considerable time in center field since and previously played left and right for the Dodgers.

Having also played football at Junipero Serra High School in Redwood City, Outman posted respectable baseball stats in Sacramento State, but hardly one that would guarantee future MLB success. In 498 at-bats over three seasons, he cut .249/.359/.482 with 23 home runs and 99 RBIs, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

However, he fared significantly better in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2017, slashing .341 / .445 / .614 for first place at Bethesda. Outman also stole 18 bases in just 164 plate appearances, throwing 71 interceptions in 650 AP.

“Our scouting group really loved the power-speed combination,” said Dodgers first baseman coach Clayton McCullough, who served as the organization’s minor league field coordinator, making it a ‘Outman a seventh-round pick in 2018, following his junior season at Sac State.

From the first day Outman arrived at the then-Dodgers rookie affiliate, the Ogden Raptors, in 2018, he impressed McCullough with his desire to improve, see the big picture, and not worry about his minor league stats.

But the organization also knew that Outman’s swing needed work. Outman worked with his coaches on ways to make his swing more efficient, cover more of the sweetspot, manage speed and refine his fundamentals, among other things.

Slowly, Outman progressed through the minors, moving to A-ball in 2019, not playing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then reaching Double-A last season. He spent the majority of the start of this season in Double-A with the Tulsa Drillers, where he shone, cutting .295/.394/.552. After a brief stint in Triple-A, the Dodgers called him.

He admitted that there are times in the minors when it’s easy to put yourself down. Yet he also hasn’t lost sight of his goal of making it big.

“I think if you keep working, you kind of see yourself there at some point,” Outman said.

The Dodgers called Outman on July 30 to replace Zach McKinstry, according to The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya.

Have fun in Coors

When Outman came to the plate against Rockies pitcher German Marquez, an All Star last season, Outman wasn’t thinking of a home run.

In front of an announced crowd of 47,415 at Coors Field in Denver, more spectators than Outman had ever played before, he was just trying not to let his nerves get the best of him. Time and time again, he said to himself, “Relax and give the ball a good kick.”

From his first base coaching position, McCullough watched.

“He looked calm, he didn’t look nervous in the box,” McCullough said.

On a 1-1 count, Outman’s moment came, with the rookie connecting on a two-seam fastball and inside for a two-run homer. According to a clip posted on MLB’s YouTube page, Outman’s shot over the right-field fence left his bat with an exit speed of 97.1 mph, a launch angle of 30 degrees and a projected distance of 405 feet.

Cody Bellinger, standing in the circle on the deck, said he thought Outman’s ball was gone as soon as it left the bat. He quickly threw his arms up in the air but only started celebrating when the ball went over the fence. Outman, who said he didn’t think the ball was a doubt when he left his bat, ran quickly around the base, ending up smiling after he crossed home plate and headed for a dugout of teammates waiting to congratulate him.

He then added a single and a double, finishing the day 3-for-4 with three RBIs. The next day, he went 2 for 2 against the Giants with another brace.

Sacramento State coach Reggie Christiansen did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, though Outman said his former coach was one of the first to call him after the announcement of his summons. According to the Sac State sports website, Outman is the ninth former school baseball player to make the majors, joining Long and Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins in active company.

Outman’s family was on hand for his debut, celebrating ecstatically after his home run. A writer for MLB.com wrote that Outman is the 130th player in the National or American League to land his first hit at bat, a group that includes Sacramento products Cuno Barragan and Ricky Jordan and Hall of Famers Earl Averill and Hoyt Wilhelm.

A few innings after Outman’s home run, Bellinger and Mookie Betts started talking in the dugout.

“I was chatting with Mookie, ‘I feel like, first career batting, first career home run, he’s part of something special,'” Bellinger said.

McCullough sees good things coming for Outman.

“James has the ability to become a regular contributor at the major league level on a winning team,” McCullough said. “He has the ability to defend very well in all three places of the outfield. He’s a good runner. He is aggressive and again he can turn around a fastball.

Bellinger said things were going well while playing with Outman.

“So far so good,” Bellinger said. “I’ve only played two games with him, but he’s obviously an athletic boy. …I mean, I’ve only heard good things, so I’m excited to play with him more.

Bellinger won the 2019 National League Most Valuable Player award but has struggled since, hitting .199 cumulatively. When asked if he was worried about Outman being in competition, Bellinger replied, “We’re all in this together. So whatever happens happens. I think I’m pretty good there in the center.

Outman said his 10-year-old self would be very proud of him and gave advice to kids: “Do a little bit every day and it all adds up. Don’t try to climb a mountain by jumping on it.

He also said he ran with a lot of adrenaline and his endorphins were high.

“I’m sure at some point I’m going to go down,” Outman said. “But I think all I have to do is remember I’m in the big leagues and that will send me back into it.”

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