Pederson has always worked hard in the winter. After a full season with Double-A Chattanooga in 2013, he played 34 games for the Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 2014, after breaking several Pacific Coast League records with the Albuquerque Isotopes, he extended his year by playing 22 games with Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.
Following the 2015 season, rather than travelling abroad, Pederson decided to stay on the West Coast and spend time with both old minor league hitting coach Johnny Washington and new Dodgers’ hitting coach Turner Ward.
Having succeeded immensely at almost every level at which he’s competed, and despite putting in extra work almost every winter, it’s been a long time since Pederson has found himself needing to make adjustments in his swing.
“I’ve been working hard this offseason to work on becoming a better hitter, hitting more line drives and using the whole field,” Pederson said. “I think I’m gifted that the power will be there. I’m just trying to hit balls on the barrel.”
As indicated early in spring training, Pederson’s swing is much more compact. Gone is the heavy thump of his front foot at the end of his leg kick. And the twisting of his right ankle once the foot lands isn’t as exaggerated as it was last season.
Perhaps it was Ward’s arrival that led to Pederson’s new and fresh approach to hitting. After all, there were subtle hints last season that Pederson had experienced differences of opinion with former hitting coach Mark McGwire.
Ward, who was a minor league teammate of Pederson’s father, Stu, likes what he sees in terms of Pederson’s progress. He continues to assist Pederson both in the cages and on the fields at Camelback Ranch.
“He’s going to be a pure hitter. He is a pure hitter. But he had to go through some stuff to kind of help him recognize some things he needed to work on,” Ward said of Pederson.
In the first half of 2015, Pederson had an .851 OPS, a 137 wRC+, and was chosen to represent the Dodgers in the All-Star Game. He hit his 20th home run on June 29, and was actually an early favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year award.
He struggled in the second half, though, posting a .617 OPS and 79 wRC+. He hit .177 and had a .319 OBP. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Enrique Hernandez was getting the majority of playing time in center field.
Now equipped with a new swing, Pederson hopes to revive the success he experienced early last season.
“Baseball’s a crazy game,” Pederson said. “But last year is old news, you know. I don’t even have any thought about last year. I learned from it. I gathered my information and I’m moving forward.”
Upon being hired Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts reached out to Pederson almost immediately to discuss swing mechanics, reinforcing pitch recognition and how to go about developing a better swing path to the baseball. Roberts also deliberated the psychological aspects of hitting with Pederson.
Roberts emphasized how he was always impressed with Pederson’s defensive ability in the field. In terms of offense, Roberts, like Ward, is pleased with the way Pederson looks early in camp.
“Joc has been consistent defensively and continued to get better defensively,” Roberts said. “On the offensive side, he and Turner (Ward) and Tim Hyers, they’ve got a great rapport, and continue to keep that stroke clean and be consistent. There’s a little bit more comfort as he comes into camp this year than last year.”
Dodgers fans everywhere hope that Pederson’s progression continues through spring training, and that his new swing leads to less strikeouts and more line drives off his bat. In the back of everyone’s minds is the fact that the Dodgers still desperately need an effective leadoff hitter.
Pederson may fit the bill if everything falls into place properly.
And, in the fullness of time, it doesn’t hurt having his manager, who was once a very solid leadoff hitter himself, guiding and supporting him one-hundred percent of the way.
(Photo Credit: whatproswear.com)