March 06, 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Andrew Toles zoomed from the low minors to his major league debut last season and wound up being a star for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the postseason.

All that, and he still came to camp this year looking for a spot to play.

Toles points to the lockers of Dodgers outfielders that surround his own, those of Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson, Enrique Hernandez and others.

''There's a lot of talent. We got a lot of options,'' he said. ''I'm just trying to focus on making the team this year. That's a pretty tall task.''

Toles has always been able to play. But he has been slowed by anxiety issues over the year.

He was chosen Tampa Bay's minor league player of the year in 2013, when he stole 62 bases and hit .326. But he was released in 2015; at one point, he worked the early-morning shift in the frozen-food section of a grocery store before the Dodgers signed him to a minor league contract.

Last year, he rose from Class A Rancho Cucamonga, to Double-A Tulsa, to Triple-A Oklahoma City to the Dodgers in just three months.

Toles gobbled up a lot of time in left field, hitting .314 in 48 games.

The Dodgers had enough confidence in Toles to put him on the postseason roster. He rewarded them by hitting .364, including a 6-for-13 show in the NL Championship Series vs. the eventual champion Chicago Cubs.

Some projections have the 24-year-old Toles as the Dodgers' starting left fielder, or at least platooning with Ethier, who is returning from a season minimized by a serious shin injury.

And yet, if manager Dave Roberts decides that the veteran Ethier should get most of the left fielders' at-bats against right-handed pitching - both Toles and Ethier hit left-handed - a case can be made the Toles could better hone his skills playing full time in the minor leagues rather than serve as a backup.

''I think there's an argument both ways,'' Roberts said. ''As spring training continues to develop, it will be more clear what the situation is for Tolesey.''

Toles, Roberts said, ''did a lot of good things for us last year. He's trying to figure some things out with his swing this spring.''

''With what he did last year, certainly he can play at this level. But he needs to continue to grow as a player, the baserunning, the defense, the consistent at-bat quality. There's always room for improvement,'' he said.

Toles considers his defense a strength, and Roberts agrees that the outfielder is skilled at catching and throwing. But, the manager said there are areas ''he needs to clean up.''

''To have good routes to the baseball, to know where to throw the baseball, to hit cutoff men, that's how you win baseball games at the major league level. There's a lot of things Andrew does really well, but like everyone you can always get better,'' Roberts said.

That's what Toles plans to do. He says he is no longer battling himself and is focusing on baseball.

''The off-the-field issues and that kind of stuff is behind me. I think I should be OK. I'm just thankful for the opportunity,'' he said.

He has changed his game a bit, trading speed for more power, as he had bulked up from about 180 pounds to 195.

''(My game) used to be high average, good defense and steal bases. My game now is play good defense, hit for average and get on base. I'm trying to hit it harder, hit breaking balls a little better, trying to incorporate more consistency.''

Maybe most important, nothing is likely to change his mantra for this spring: ''I'm taking nothing for granted.''

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