Playing in his first full professional season, James Outman has heard about the grind.
A graduate of Serra in 2015, Outman was drafted out of Sacramento State in 2018 by the Los Angeles Dodgers. And after a decent showing in Rookie-Class Ogden — batting .264 with 11 home runs in 208 at-bats on the short-season circuit in 2018 — the left-handed hitting outfielder broke camp with Low-A Great Lakes this season, cracking the opening-day lineup as the Loons’ No. 2 hitter.
Since then, Outman has experienced his ups and downs.
“It’s definitely a lot more than what I’m used to but it hasn’t felt really long or anything like that,” Outman said. “I’ve heard in August you start to feel it and you start dragging but I haven’t experienced that yet. … The season is going really fast, quite honestly.”
Maybe the reason why time is flying for the Loons center fielder is because he has been enjoying one exceptional August. Since going 2 for 2 with a home run July 31 in an 8-2 win over Fort Wayne, Outman is batting .370 (10 for 27) with three home runs through seven games this month.
Heading into the final game in July, Outman was scuffling through an 0 for 16 stretch. As a result, that 2-for-2 slump-busting performance saw him hitting in the No. 7 spot in the order. He moved up to the No. 5 spot the following day and, after hitting a home run for the second straight game, he found himself batting leadoff Aug. 3 for a four-game series opener at South Bend.
He went on to homer for a third straight game in an 11-6 win in that game, hit 6 for 15 in the series while adding another homer Aug. 5 in a 3-2 victory, and has been batting in the leadoff spot ever since.
“Starting at the second half (of the season) I started putting together a lot better at-bats but I was still hitting at the back half of the lineup,” Outman said. “Then I started hitting for a little more power and they moved me up to the leadoff spot.”
Working with hitting coach Justin Viele, Outman has retooled his swing over the course of the season. This is nothing new for the lefty that recorded a .305 career batting average at Serra from 2014-15, as he said he seems to change his swing every two months.
Mechanically, the most productive tweak was creating more space for his hands, holding them a little further away from his body, allowing him to generate more of a leg kick. At the end of the day, though, it was one simple message that helped his sudden ascent.
“He told me just to hit the ball as hard as I can,” Outman said.
The recent hot streak has seen Outman’s overall numbers rise to respectability for the first time this season. He’s batting .232 with a modest .380 slugging percentage, though his 14 doubles and 11 home runs are a promising sign he may tend closer to the .490 slugger he was last year in Ogden.
“I was definitely disappointed with how the first half went,” Outman said. “I think I could have done better. But I think, come the second half, I started putting together better at-bats and swinging at better pitches.”
Where Outman has really made strides, though, is in the running department, having swiped 17 bases this season. After stealing 14 bases in two years at Serra, and just one as a freshman at Sac State, he has become a double-digit steals perennial, including his swiping 24 total bags last season (12 at Sac State and 12 more at Ogden).
“I’m not the fastest on the team, but I think I’m up there,” Outman said. “I think I’ve always been pretty quick, honestly, but since I’ve got to pro ball they’ve taught how to steal bases better and get better jumps.”
Winning also helps alleviate the full-season grind, and Outman has long been synonymous with that. He helped Sac State to the NCAA Division I postseason tournament as a sophomore in 2017. Last year in Ogden, the Raptors posted the best record in the Pioneer League at 46-30, winning the South Division title before falling in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, the Loons are already guaranteed a playoff spot. They won the first-half Midwest League Eastern Division championship. In the overall standings, they own the league’s best record at 72-42 and are in first place by 6 1/2 games.
“I think the team chemistry is really good, honestly,” Outman said. “There’s only several position players that started here and stayed here the whole season. But chemistry wise, I think it’s honestly really good.”