You know, it’s funny: At various times this year, we figured for sure we were within days or maybe even hours of hearing the news that Joc Pederson was getting called up to the big leagues. When the center field situation really came to a head in early July, as both Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke attempted to fill the hole left by the shifting of Matt Kemp, it actually seemed like Pederson might be up to start the second half.
He wasn’t, and things have changed. Yasiel Puig has taken over in center, and he’s been, well… not good, but acceptable, anyway, which puts him miles ahead of anyone else. Kemp has put the midseason drama behind him and found a home in right, which is to say, at least his bat has been productive even if his glove hasn’t been. Carl Crawford has become the starting left fielder, hoping desperately that his lousy production can be explained at least partly by a run of hard-hit balls right at defenders. Ethier has taken a spot on the bench and is trying to learn first. Van Slyke faces lefties and also spots at first base. It’s still not a perfect situation, but it’s at least a better one. It’s a quieter one. No outfield, overall, has been better on offense. Including the defensive issues, they’re on the back end of the top 10 in WAR.
Meanwhile, Pederson’s path to the majors is no clearer. He continues to rake in Triple-A, hitting .301/.423/.574, along with a disturbing 26.8% strikeout rate, and he’s very near to putting up a 30/30 season. You could actually see a way that he might not even get a September recall, because while it seems like a given that he’d come up when rosters expand — the Albuquerque season ends two weeks from today, assuming no playoffs for the 56-71 Isotopes –you could at least make the argument that in addition to needing to add him to the 40-man roster, not calling him up now gives the opportunity to play some service time games next year to delay his free agency. I’m not saying I think they’ll do that, and Ned Colletti indicated on the radio yesterday that Pederson and Alex Guerrero would both be up when Albuquerque’s season ends, but it’s at least something to be considered.
But there’s also this: In the first 101 games of the season, Pederson was almost exclusively playing center field. Sure, he’d pop up in a corner now and then — three times in left, five times in right — but overwhelmingly in center. Now consider how he’s been used over the last week:
Aug. 9 @ Las Vegas: LF
Aug. 10 @ Las Vegas: CF
Aug. 11 @ Las Vegas: LF
Aug. 12 vs. Memphis: CF
Aug. 13 vs Memphis: RF
Aug. 14 vs Memphis: CF
Aug. 15 vs Memphis: RF (game rained out in third inning)
Aug. 16 vs Nashville: LF
Aug. 17 vs Nashville: LF
Suddenly, that’s a pretty interesting change in usage. He was on a “full time center field” routine, then an “every other day” kind of plan, and now he hasn’t played center at all for the last three days. Maybe this is nothing; maybe it’s just making sure he gets enough time at all three spots. But with Crawford and Ethier both adding little, and Juan Uribe and Hanley Ramirez injured, and A.J. Ellis struggling badly at the plate, meaning the offense could use a boost… well, you do start to wonder if Pederson gets a significant role to play. It’s easy to think that Pederson would be more of a help towards a title right now than the struggling veterans.
That doesn’t mean there’s any guarantee that he would be, of course. Don’t forget that even Mike Trout struggled in his first crack at the big leagues and found himself back in the minors. So did Kemp. So did Clayton Kershaw. Not everybody is Puig. Just about nobody is Puig. It’s maybe hard to expect that an untested rookie would just come up and immediately mash with the playoffs just weeks away, or that benching two lefties to add a lefty makes for a puzzle that fits together, or that the Dodgers would actually do any of this considering the salaries and veteran standing of Crawford and Ethier. It’s just an interesting thought as the minor league season ends, roster expansion looms, and the organization piques our interest by playing Pederson in outfield corners.