The Dodgers find themselves in a pleasant predicament: they have too many talented players and too few roster spots to accommodate them. This problem is not one easily solved but among the few solutions is to start preaching defensive flexibility to players on the cusp. In the case of Joc Pederson, that may be the route worth taking.
Flexibility is a rather new concept in baseball. Gone are the days of playing one position and one position only as players become landlocked, stuck, at that one spot on the field and could not contribute to the team if there was someone ahead of them on the depth chart.
Today, as the sport has become more modern, teams and general managers have begun teaching their budding stars to play different positions on the field. This new method of raising players forces each athlete to become capable of working different spots and freeing themselves of depth charts. Versatility and the ability to adapt to new positions is crucial to being successful in baseball today.
This flexibility I am talking about does a couple things for a player. First, he is able to move around the field whenever he is needed to. This is usually more valuable for a bench player as he can be plugged into a lineup wherever he can play defensively.
Second, and most important, is how defensive flexibility allows a hot bat to get into a lineup. A minor leaguer who is crushing the ball and ready to play in the bigs will not surpass the current major league first baseman so he must learn to play another position to fit in.
Joc Pederson falls into both of these categories but there is one problem, he only plays outfield. But, on Tuesday, March 20th, a picture emerged of Joc working some fielding drills at first base. While this was,” just some practice for fielding grounders” according to Pederson, the image allowed the minds of fans and writers alike to think “what if” and the speculation is brilliant.
Teaching Pederson to play first base could be a career saver. Coming off of his worst season in his big league career, Joc’s life on a major league roster is fading fast and we saw that last year. He
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was optioned for the first time since 2014 and deservingly so. He hit just .211 last year and hit less than half his usual home run total.
But, these poor statistics were as a starter and if we are speaking realistically, Joc is just not that anymore. Chris Taylor, Andrew Toles, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig have all passed Pederson on the food chain of outfielders and you can even pencil Enrique Hernandez ahead of Pederson. So, this relegates Joc to a bench role where a couple things can happen.
First, his bat can heat up. Often with bench players who failed as starters, their bats come back to life. But, to be a valuable bench player, Joc will actually have to take what was once a fielding drill at first and make it a reality.
Learning to play at the corner of the infield would do for Joc what it did for Chase Utley last year. Utley was the clear backup at second base and played most of the season off the bench. He got just 309 at-bats and that is fine but the key here is Utley played second and first so he could get into the lineup.
If Joc Pederson can learn to play both first base and continue to play all three outfield spots, his value may climb back up from the hole it is in after last season’s disappointment. In a last-ditch effort to preserve the Dodger career of a player who was once one of the team’s top prospects, Joc Pederson must learn to become flexible and play first base.