The dominating topic for much of the Los Angeles Dodgers Spring Training has been how the outfield will ultimately unfold. Expected contributor Matt Kemp is still working his way back from off-season ankle surgery and Carl Crawford injured himself on the base paths during the Dodgers’ Cactus League opener on Wednesday. With that in mind, it has potentially opened the door for highly-rated prospect Joc Pederson to possibly earn playing time at the big league level.
Pederson hit a two-run home run today to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning over the Chicago White Sox — the Dodgers would go on to win 5-0. Following the game, manager Don Mattingly spoke to Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com of Pederson’s potential:
We’ve got a good feeling what Joc can become, said Mattingly. The guy needs to continue to play and get better making adjustments. Experience can’t be bought.
Since 2011, Pederson has appeared in 12 games with the Dodgers, hitting .111 in 18 career at-bats. He hit .278 in Double A Chattanooga last season with 22 home runs and 58 RBIs. If Kemp is on the disabled list when the season begins, which is a strong likelihood, Pederson could fill the open outfield spot. The Dodgers experienced firsthand last season how quickly a loaded outfield can be depleted and carrying a fifth outfielder isn’t beyond reason.
However, similar to Yasiel Puig, Pederson is likely begin the 2014 season in the minors, which would guarantee him gaining the experience Mattingly believes he still needs. Even with Kemp on the roster, Pederson’s ability to play center field makes him that much more intriguing. Kemp is undeniably an everyday center fielder when healthy, but health has been a question mark for the last two seasons.
With Kemp out of the lineup, Andre Ethier has been forced into patrolling center field, which with an average arm, isn’t the most ideal situation. Aside from the defensive help the athletic Pederson may offer, he needs to improve against left-handed pitching. In 168 plate appearances against lefties in 2013, Pederson only manged to hit .200.
The Dodgers will play a condensed Spring Training schedule before they head to Australia, but it’s likely Pederson is one of the 30 players on the flight Down Under.
Here’s Pederson’s home run that broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning:
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