Joc Pederson has been out since May 24th after a collision with Yasiel Puig that resulted in a concussion and a neck strain.
With the emergence of Chris Taylor, the question arises, what will the Dodgers do with Joc when he returns?
Joc Pederson began his rehab assignment on Friday, and kicked it off with a first pitch home run. This is a promising sign as the 25-year-old outfielder has been struggling at the plate for most of the season. He got off to a hot start with a grand slam on opening day, but then didn’t hit another home run until May 21st. He has struggled for most of the season, so this rehab assignment is as much about finding his swing as it is getting healthy.
His rehab assignment is likely to be much longer than average, to give him more opportunities to work out the issues that are causing him to slump this season.
Joc is a player who has shown a lot of promise throughout his career thus far, hitting 51 home runs and playing stellar defense in center field throughout his first two full seasons.
When he got injured it seemed as though he would still be the starter in center when he returned, despite his early seasons struggles. Chris Taylor is making that look bleak as the hot hitting 26-year-old has began playing center to fill in for Joc’s absence and provided much more offensively.
Chris Taylor is nowhere near as capable of a defender as Joc, but even with that being the case it will be hard for Dave Roberts to take his bat out of the lineup.
Thankfully, the Dodgers’ depth stepped in when one of their starters went down, but now the real question, will Joc return to his former form and become the every day center fielder again or is he destined to spend the rest of the season as a bench player?
The Dodgers have multiple options for Joc when he returns, the first of which is him returning to his every day role in center field with Chris Taylor going back to being a super-sub. This hinges on Joc’s bat returning to how it was in his first two seasons.
Joc’s defense in center is far superior to Taylor’s, but his lack of offensive production this season will make it hard for Dave Roberts to put him in the lineup every day without a major turnaround.
It is also very possible that Joc returns in a platoon role with Chris Taylor, but with Taylor’s hitting it’s hard to imagine him only starting against left handed pitching.
If Joc were to return to his everyday role, Taylor would likely get plenty of starts at second and third, as well as center field against lefties.
The Dodgers could also use Joc in a bench role while giving him a chance to work on his hitting mechanics and hopefully finding some consistency. If this were the case Joc would likely be a late game option as a pinch hitter and defensive sub almost every day. He could also be used a pinch runner as he has good speed but has never translated it to stolen bases in the majors. He would still likely be the fastest player on the Dodgers bench on most days. He would get sporadic starts to give rest to other outfielders and for match-up purposes, but would not be the every day guy. While this may seem like a good option, it would also hinder his ability to get comfortable at the plate with limited at bats.
It is also possible that upon activation he could be sent back to the minors to work on his swing. While this may be the least likely of the three options, it is still very much something that will be considered if he doesn’t show consistency at the plate during his rehab assignment.
If this were to happen, Joc would get a chance to get at bats every day to make adjustments that could lead to a resurgence at the plate, while not keeping a more capable bat out of the lineup short term. Although this seems unlikely, it may be exactly what he needs as it will not only give him a chance to play every day, but also the opportunity to work with hitting instructors more on a one-on-one basis.
The most likely scenario is that Joc will be used on a limited basis as a platoon player once he returns, with Chris Taylor still getting the bulk of the playing time in center. Joc will get starts when Taylor fills in at second and third. While Joc has been primarily a center fielder during his time in the big leagues, he will likely fill in for Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig in the corners when they need a day off. Joc has played sparingly in the corner outfield for the Dodgers, just seven times in his 326 Major League games.
Joc’s defense in center is by far the best on the team, but with center being the only outfield position Chris Taylor has played at the big league level they may stick with him there. Taylor, a natural middle infielder, is much more comfortable in center than the corners as it provides a similar feel. It’s also possible that Taylor could take some at bats from Forsythe at second, who has been in a major slump, as well as at least one start a week at third to give rest to Justin Turner to keep his legs healthy. This would give Joc an opportunity to get semi-regular starts in center while not taking at bats from more consistent hitters.
When Joc will return is still up in the air, and the Dodgers will wait and see how he performs on his rehab assignment before making any decisions. While we all hope it won’t happen, it’s also very possible that someone else could get injured and create an opening for him to return to an every day role. We will all have to wait and see what Dave Roberts decides for the young outfielder.