Teams coming off two straight World Series appearances usually don’t have many holes to fill or position battles during spring training. That is the case for the 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers.
However, one spot that was up for grabs for the Dodgers this spring was left field. With Opening Day just two days away it appears that Joc Pederson will get the bulk of the playing time over rookie Alex Verdugo.
However, with Verdugo making the Opening Day roster as well it’s hard to imagine that a prospect as highly regarded as Verdugo would be placed on the roster and not given an opportunity to play. Young players need consistent at-bats to continue to progress.
Given that both players hit left-handed, it makes little sense to keep Verdugo on the major league roster if Pederson is going to get the majority of the starts against right-handed pitching. It would seem to be more beneficial to him to get more consistent playing time in the minor leagues. Although his ability to play center field as well as left might get him in the lineup a little more often.
With the competition in full swing this spring, Pederson needed to only go back a few seasons to relate to the position Verdugo was in as they had similar paths through the Dodgers minor league system. At the end of his fourth full season in the minors, Pederson got the proverbial cup of coffee call up in September of 2014.
Although he didn’t do much with it going just 4 for 28, he was given the opportunity to make the Major League roster the following spring and he didn’t let the opportunity pass, earning the starting job in center field that season.
Verdugo was given a similar opportunity with a September call up in 2017, also his fourth full season in the minors. Similarly, he didn’t do much with going just 4 for 23, but unlike Pederson that did include his first major league home run. Despite appearing ready for the big leagues, the Dodgers surplus of outfielders in 2018 kept Verdugo in the minors for another season.
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Rather than sulk about not being given the opportunity at the big league level, he hit .329 at Triple-A Oklahoma City, earning himself a couple of midseason call ups as well as another look in September. This season he makes his first Opening Day roster, a few weeks shy of his 23rd birthday, the same age Pederson was when he made Opening Day appearance in 2015.
The Dodgers propensity to play the matchups along with their emphasis on versatility makes the term “starter” at most positions a very loose term. Last season, they started at least four different players at every position except catcher. Yasmani Grandal and Yasiel Puig were the only position players to start over 100 games at one position a year ago.
Therefore, while Pederson and Verdugo look to get the most opportunities in left don’t be surprised if others such as right-handed hitting Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez also see some time out there, especially against tough left-handed starters.
The last Dodger to start one hundred games in left field in one season was Luis Gonzalez in 2007. Joc Pederson is the “starter” for Opening Day, but how many times after that and how many other names will be seen out there is something only time will tell.