Yasiel Puig’s June callup in 2013 both solved a problem for the Los Angeles Dodgers and created one. Puig infused life into the team and along with Hanley Ramirez, helped spark the historic 42-8 run that propelled the Dodgers to the top of the NL West standings.
By the following season, Puig was a shoe-in to start in right field, which left manager Don Mattingly two spots and four outfielders to choose from; though Scott Van Slyke was all but assured a role off the bench. The juggling last season included moving Matt Kemp from center to left field before a final move to right.
By trading Kemp to the San Diego Padres, it conceivably set in motion the plan for Joc Pederson to take over in center with Puig returning to right field. Coming off a record-setting season with Triple-A Albuquerque, Pederson earned a September callup and played in 18 games.
While the door is now open for Pederson to anchor center field for years to come, he’s not taking anything for granted, according to Cary Osborne of Dodger Insider:
I’m excited (about next season),” Pederson said. “All you can ask for is an opportunity, and I hope I get one. So I’m just preparing myself to win a job. I don’t expect anything to be handed to me.”
One perception Pederson hasn’t been able to shake free of is him being a high-volume strikeout batter. He had 149 strikeouts in 553 plate appearances with the Isotopes, and another 11 strikeouts in 38 plate appearances with the Dodgers.
Although it’s a small sample size, Pederson saw enough to dissect the difference between hitting in the Minors and Majors:
A little more command,” he said. “I got some pitches I missed. No one’s perfect. But when you get a pitch, you have to capitalize because you don’t get as many. But there are definitely pitches you can hit.”
During a conference call on Friday, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman wasn’t ready to anoint Pederson the starting center fielder for 2015. To no surprise however, he did say Pederson’s name would be included in the discussion, which would likely carry into Spring Training.
If Pederson is able to limit his strikeouts at the plate, he would have to be considered the odds-on favorite to start in center on a regular basis or at minimum, be part of a platoon.