Heading into the season the big story regarding the Dodgers outfield was their depth and whether or not they’d be able to find playing time for five outfielders, all talented enough to be everyday players in other places. Two months into the season and the talent is still there, unfortunately the production hasn’t been. While Yasiel Puig has continued his assault on the National League, the rest of the Dodgers outfield, particularly Matt Kemp has struggled, both offensively and defensively. Kemp’s defensive struggles in center field initiated a recent-three game benching of the former superstar.
With Matt Kemp no longer the everyday option in centerfield, the question now turns to who is the best option in center. From a sheer athletic ability standpoint the obvious answer is Yasiel Puig, who can cover the most ground. Unfortunately the talented young Cuban is still extremely raw and prone to errors. The best option on the current roster is Andre Ethier, who’s a sure handed option, but lacking in speed and range. While Ethier is dependable, he’s a far cry from the former gold glove defense that Kemp used to provide prior to his ankle injury.
So what is the ideal Dodgers outfield? Depth is a good thing to have, especially with injury. The problem is when too much depth equals too many options. For a team with postseason aspirations the Dodgers are eventually going to want to determine what their ideal outfield is. Right now, from a production standpoint that ideal outfield begins with Yasiel Puig and a whole bunch of question marks. Matt Kemp has shown flashes of his former self but is struggling offensively. Carl Crawford was an igniter in the postseason last year, but has an on base percentage under three this season. Andre Ethier is what he is, a dependable bat and reliable fielder, but not a difference-maker offensively.
The X-factor in all of this is the presence of Joc Pederson, still tearing up Triple AAA. Up until now the speculation around Pederson has been as a potential part of a blockbuster trade or as a late season call-up. Right now the Dodgers would be crazy to even consider a Pederson trade and should be pondering whether or not they should immediately call up the phenom. Pederson is dominating the Pacific Coast League as the fifth youngest position player in the league, with a .351/.454/.638 batting line. Pederson has 15 home runs and 14 steals. Since an impressive spring he hasn’t cool down at all, impressive everyone with his approach to the game and professionalism. He’s likely big league ready.
The Dodgers ideal outfield, right now, should start with Puig and Joc Pederson. The big question is whether or not one of them can play center field. They both have the speed to play center, but are both also a bit raw defensively with a corner outfield slot being their best position. With the remainder of the outfielders plodding along with pedestrian numbers, there’s no reason not to call up Joc Pederson. The Dodgers took off last season in early June when they called up Yasiel Puig. Pederson, if he continues the form he’s shown in AAA, could have a Puig-like impact on the Dodgers. Like Puig, his energy will make him an instant fan favorite. Like Ethier, he has the advantage of being a left-handed batter, adding additional balance to the Dodgers lineup.
Of course if they call up Pederson they need to make a decision on a veteran player. Scott Van Slyke will have a role due to his right-handed power, while Kemp and his massive contract aren’t going anywhere. Ethier is a potential trade option, but it’s questionable how much value the veteran will have. Carl Crawford, due to his large contract, has no trade value. All Pederson can do it continue to force the Dodgers hand, with his play. He’d already be in the big leagues with most other organizations. The Dodgers shouldn’t allow their limited options with Crawford and Kemp to affect their decision-making. If the best option for the Dodgers is to replace Carl Crawford with Joc Pederson, the team needs to strongly consider the move, massive contract aside.
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