Amid a rough point of offensive woes, every time Joc Pederson begins to drift into the doghouse of the Dodgers fan base, he seemingly does just enough to slide back into good graces for just a little while longer. Wednesday night was no different, as Pederson and right fielder Yasiel Puig were the offensive catalysts in what turned out to be a 3-2 victory in the middle contest of a three-game series against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
In 277 plate appearances for the 2017 season, Pederson is hitting .226/.343/.440, which is almost identical to his career slash line of .225/.348/.443. Heading into spring training each year, there are discussions about how Joc has made new adjustments in his batting mechanics which would conceivably elevate his production. And although this season is only his third full year, the final numbers are eerily similar by the end of each campaign. If it weren’t for his superior range and glove work on defense, the management team may have been looking for better long term options a few seasons back.
Here’s where the 21-year-old Alex Verdugo fits into the picture. Recently tabbed as the best outfield arm in the PCL by Baseball America, the Tucson native is hitting an impressive .314/.385/.433 over 379 AB this season, and although he’s primarily a center fielder, can capably handle all three outfield spots. Looking past Pederson, many pundits view Verdugo as the Dodgers’ center fielder of the future, even though he doesn’t have a hint of an MLB track record. But while he doesn’t even compare to Joc in the power department, Verdugo almost never strikes out and has become known as an on-base machine — something that Los Angeles could certainly utilize at the top of the batting order both at the present juncture and when looking towards the future.
Still, despite the lack of long balls, Verdugo has the strength to muscle a ball to the deep part of the yard, as made evident by his 22 doubles, four triples and five home runs on the season. Coincidentally, he was once again the hero in Wednesday evening’s contest, launching a three-run homer against Salt Lake in the 11th inning which won the game for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
A few weeks back, we put together a story surrounding Verdugo, and made a case for his presence on the big league roster, most specifically citing the need for another left-handed outfield bat. Outside of the primary group of Chris Taylor, Pederson and Puig, nobody has been able to step in to admirably provide any type of solid cover, at least offensively. Enrique Hernandez has been surprisingly strong in the field, but is hitting a mere .223/.318/.460 over 259 PA. Trayce Thompson is slashing a paltry .116/.208/.279 in 48 big league plate appearances this year, while utility man Scott Van Slyke was finally dumped by the wayside before the trade deadline after a handful of years of unfulfilled hope.
There have even been whispers and rumblings of the front office team looking to add an outfield piece on a waiver deal, not necessarily for an offensive spark in center field, but perhaps to bring in a proven left fielder, and move Taylor back to second base, giving the squad a better option at the dish over Logan Forsythe or Chase Utley. One name which has been mentioned as a potential fit is Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets. So far, though, cooler heads have prevailed in realizing the importance of solid team defense up the middle of the diamond.
Obviously, at the present moment, it doesn’t make sense to promote Verdugo being that veteran Adrian Gonzalez is very, very close to returning, and will provide that much-needed left-handed bat off the bench to compliment Utley. And not far behind is fan-favorite Andre Ethier, who, besides having some solid pop at the dish, can provide adequate cover in either right or left field, or even center, in the case of an emergency.
Yet at the same time, it may be extremely beneficial to find a spot on the 40-man roster for Verdugo come September, and promote the youngster when rosters expand on the first of the month. After all, even if the Dodgers do achieve their ultimate goal of a World Championship in 2017, the franchise will still continue to look towards the future while building a organization that’s setup to be successful for many years to come. Seeing the organization’s second-ranked prospect perform on the big stage may be a key indicator of inching closer towards that realization.
And Verdugo, right alongside players like Taylor, Puig, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Walker Buehler, could turn out to be a very critical part of the young core.
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)