If you were to tell me that a guy who has had only two hits in 19 at bats (.105) through 15 spring training games was absolutely guaranteed to make the Dodgers opening day roster, I would tell you that you were nuts – yet this is, in all probability, exactly what is going to happen.
How is that possible, you ask? There are 61.5 million reasons why.
Over the next three seasons the Dodgers owe 32-year-old left fielder Carl Crawford $61.5 million, and while it wasn’t Ned Colletti or the Dodgers who signed Crawford to his current (and lofty) seven-year/$142 contract, they inherited his contract when they acquired All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox in August of 2012 that also brought them Josh Beckett and Nick Punto.
To say that Crawford is struggling this spring would be a gross understatement. His at bats are horrible and he appears to be reaching for the ball. And when he does makes contact, his body is so far out of whack that he has no power whatsoever. To his credit, Crawford has struck out only twice in his 19 at bats thus far this spring.
Crawford was basically given a pass last season because he was coming off shoulder surgery that, ironically, occurred the same week of the big trade. He appeared in a total of 116 games with the Dodgers last season hitting a respectable .289 with six home runs and 31 RBIs. And while at times he showed moments of greatness both offensively and defensively, opposing runners frequently tested Crawford’s surgically repaired throwing arm and usually came out ahead in the deal, as he had only three outfield assists. Crawford did, however, make one of the top web gem catches of the year during Game-3 of the NLDS when he landed in the stands after making a catch in foul territory.
It is impossible to ignore Crawford’s outstanding 12-year MLB career during which he has amassed a .292 career batting average with 124 home runs. It is also impossible to ignore his four All-Star Game appearances (including an ASG MVP) and his four American League stolen base titles, along with a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award. But under the category of ‘What have you done for me lately,’ the brutally honest answer is ‘not much.’
Enter 21-year-old top Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson.
Although Pederson is hitting a mediocre .250 (5 for 20) thus far this spring, he has appeared in every one of the 15 games, including both games of a day/night split squad doubleheader. He is tied with Juan Uribe and Scott Van Slyke for the team lead in home runs (albeit only two) and has been outstanding on defensive and has a cannon for an arm. But what absolutely jumps out at you is his .444 on-base percentage. How is it that a guy hitting .250 has such a high OBP? Because he has shown a plate discipline generally associated with so-called ‘professional hitters.’ In 27 spring training plate appearances, Pederson has walked seven times. Even though Crawford has walked six times and has a .320 OBP, Pederson has a slugging percentage of .600 and an OPS of 1.044 compared to Crawford’s .105 SLG and .425 OPS. Pederson also has 5 RBIs while Crawford has none.
Simply put, Pederson is the right man for the opening day left field (or center field) job over Carl Crawford, but you can pretty much bet the farm that it isn’t going to happen. With zero MLB service time, Pederson has all of his allotted options remaining while Crawford, of course, has none. Additionally, Colletti has shown us on more than one occasion of his reluctance to start a young player’s service time clock if there is any way to avoid it. There is no greater example of this that what he did with Yasiel Puig last season – a decision that undoubtedly cost the young Cuban superstar an All-Star appearance, a Rookie of the Year title and quite possibly the NL MVP title.
Even though there is a strong possibility that Matt Kemp will begin the 2014 season on the 15-day disabled list, there is an even stronger possibility that he could return as early as May 1 and perhaps even sooner. Because of this, it is highly unlikely that Pederson would begin the 2014 season as Kemp’s replacement on the Dodgers 25-man roster knowing that he would be sent back down to the minor leagues (most likely Triple-A Albuquerque) within a few short weeks. There is no denying that even a few weeks of MLB experience would be good for Pederson but there is no way on earth that Colletti would knock a full year off of team control that the Dodgers have over Pederson for only three or four weeks of MLB service time. Instead, look for Scott Van Slyke or perhaps even Mike Baxter to fill the temporary Kemp vacancy – probably in left field with Andre Ethier in center and Puig in right.
There is one way that Joc Pederson could start the 2014 season on the 25-man roster (or be called up early in the season) but it is not something that anyone should hope or wish for – having Crawford, Ethier or Puig suffer a lengthy injury, and by lengthy we’re talking a lot longer than a simple 15-day DL stint. But given Kemp’s and Crawford’s recent history, anything is possible in this regard. And Heaven forbid anything should happen to Ethier or Puig.
All of this being said and given Pederson’s youth and value to the franchise, there is very little risk that the Dodgers will trade Pederson away and every indication that he will see action with the Dodgers at some point during the 2014 season. There is also every indication that barring a complete meltdown, once Pederson arrives at Dodger Stadium, he will be there to stay.