Sometimes I think fans get tired of hearing the phrase, “It’s still very early in the season.” Yet as annoying as it may sound, it does have plenty of validity. The MLB schedule is certainly a long one, and the main strategy of a management crew is to have the best possible squad on the field peaking as one unit at the precise moment the playoffs roll around.
And while there’s plenty of time to experiment with different roster and lineup combinations over the course of the journey, there’s still the main premise of putting the best possible team on the field on any given day. And although we are still in April, there may be some roster changes coming soon, if only for the sake of seeing what may click for the club over the long haul.
Change works. Consider the promotions of Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor last April, while recalling the contract selection of Brandon Morrow last June. Not much thought was given to these moves at those times, but the entire trio ended up making huge impacts before the dust settled at the end of the year.
There’s plenty of enhancing to be done to the current 25-man roster, and one of the not-so-obvious areas of the big league squad that could see some fluctuations is the outfield. The spring training battle between Joc Pederson and Andrew Toles seemingly went down to the wire, and while many of the Toles supporters believe he was on the short end of the stick, it’s not hard to figure out why Pederson was ultimately chosen. While Tolesy may indeed have the better set of tools, at this point of their respective careers, Pederson is still the superior defender, which is probably what facilitated the decision for management. Besides, Toles was still considered in recovery from an ACL tear in 2017, and daily reps were believed to have been the best medicine to get him back to normalcy.
Regardless, despite setting the Pacific Coast League on fire for the first few weeks of the season, Toles is on the shelf with a hamstring injury that he suffered on April 14 against New Orleans, and he’ll likely not be taking part in any baseball activities for another week. Even when he feels comfortable running, it may take some time to get back to full speed and re-establish his timing. There’s no rush in the least, as Pederson, despite his lethargic .176/.300/.235 slash line, is capable enough to provide cover in the interim from a defensive standpoint.
Nevertheless, if defensive ability is a huge factor in all the decision making, 21-year-old Alex Verdugo may have the best tools in the whole organization, aside from Yasiel Puig. And the reason I bring this up is that during Puig’s off days, Matt Kemp has been providing cover in right field, obviously because of Pederson’s unfamiliarity with the spot. I’m about the biggest Kemp supporter out there, but while I do believe he’s adequate in either corner spot, there’s no question more runs could be saved defensively with Verdugo in the game.
While most fans already know that Verdugo can capably handle all three outfield spots, there aren’t many who realize the strength of his arm. In impressive fashion, he was tabbed as having the best outfield arm in the PCL by Baseball America for the 2017 season, which I think speaks volumes considering the amount of talent in Triple-A. While Joc may have more savvy and have a better understanding of the potential caroms and ricochets in the Dodger Stadium outfield, I think Verdugo makes up for it with better range and overall quickness.
In 273 AB during his 2017 campaign, Pederson hit .212/.331/.407, which is a few ticks below his career slash line of .222/.345/.435. Heading into spring training each year, there are discussions about how Joc has made new adjustments in his swing mechanics which would conceivably elevate his production. And although 2018 will be only his fourth full year, the final numbers are eerily similar by the end of each campaign. He was demoted at one point last year, and during his minor league stint slashed .167/.247/.306 in 81 plate appearances. He may even have been destined to start the 2018 season at OKC, but his offensive heroics during last year’s postseason, coupled with the strength of his glove, afforded him the benefit of the doubt.
As far as Verdugo goes, he hit an impressive .314/.389/.436 over 433 AB last year at OKC. In comparative conversations alongside Chris Taylor, many pundits view Verdugo as the Dodgers’ center fielder of the future, even though he doesn’t have much of an MLB track record aside from 15 games after rosters expanded last year. But while he doesn’t 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 in their sluggish lineup at the present juncture. He’s capable of stealing bases in the double-digits, and despite his lack of long balls, Verdugo has the strength to muscle a ball to the deep part of the yard, as made evident by his 27 doubles, four triples and six home runs for OKC last year. As far as his ascension goes, he’s accomplished about all there is at Triple-A, and although the daily reps don’t hurt, there’s by no means mandatory.
So, if the entire left-handed hitting trio is healthy, who’s the logical choice? All three have plenty of options on their contracts, so there’s really no issue there. If you ask me, Toles is clearly the top choice from an offensive standpoint, but his defense may be just a little too suspect to consider him as a legitimate, secondary platoon candidate with Taylor, Puig or Kemp. But if the management crew of the Dodgers is indeed weighing defense as it’s top priority—which is what many believe after seeing the many Pederson-for-Kemp late-game substitutions—I think I’d go with Verdugo over Pederson almost any day of the week.
As it stands right now, with a bench that’s already playing short because of an eight-man bullpen, it is really worth having Pederson occupying a valuable 25-man roster spot just to supplant Kemp as a late-inning defensive replacement?
(Follow Dennis on Twitter: @thinkbluepc)
8 thoughts on “Better 25-Man Roster Option: Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo or Andrew Toles?”
Toles is underrated for some reason besides his defense.
Joc has managed to cut down his strike out percentage every year, but this year (admitted SSS) is ridiculous. He’s at about 14%. That may be one reason the front office is giving him a long leash. If you make contact on a regular basis, eventually some hits will start falling.
Toles is fast and athletic so no reason he couldn’t become an excellent outfielder with more reps. Verdugo is making good steady progress and they won’t be able to keep him at OKC forever. Kemp is exceeding all expectations, Puig is hitting much better than his average would indicate and CT3 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon even though his average isn’t where we want it. All in all, the outfield situation is in pretty good shape I think.
The infield should be fine once Turner returns, although ultimately I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see Taylor or Barnes play more at second if Forsythe can’t get going.
My belief is that the success or failure of this year’s team will ultimately depend on the pitching staff. Can the starters stay healthy and perform the way they were expected to? Can the relievers manage to perform all year without wearing down due to over use? Can Kenley find the real Kenley again and stay that way?
Kenley will be fine. He’s too talented to let something like a minor mechanical issue affect him for long. I still think the Dodgers will wait until the summer trade deadlines, then scour the league for a potential starting pitching upgrade, so long as it fits within their budgetary goals. Whatever happens in the end, 2018 may be remembered as the year that the Dodgers reset their luxury tax back to zero.
My pick is Verdugo.
I think it’s time to move Joc. In fact I think it’s past time. I am admittedly old school and am working on accepting the three true outcome school ofvthought and getting on base fits into that philosophy. Verdugo represents something we don’t have – a contact hitter who plays defense.
I think things are playing into Verdugo’s favor more and more each day.
At some point, as we’ve discussed previously, the front office will have to make a decision with regard to these 3 guys.
It makes no sense to keep all 3 of them as they’re just stepping on each other’s toes (figuratively speaking). That decision, though, may not come until after this season.
Buehler starts tomorrow against the Marlins. Let’s hope it’s a great beginning for him as a starter.
I expect FAZ will trade either Toles or Verdugo for two months of some old used-up player that we don’t really need, even if he was competent.
You could be right. I’d guess sometime around the summer trade deadlines. There are just too many players close to the top with nowhere to go.