Tag: 2015 MLB Spring Training

Detroit Tigers: Top 5 Takeaways from Spring Training

The Detroit Tigers have now completed more than half of their 2015 spring training schedule. It has been a largely unsuccessful March for Detroit if you only consider its record (7-14). However, wins and losses mean precious little during this stage of the year.

What matters most is players getting in their reps and optimizing their preparation for a minimum six-month-long season.

With the exception of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, most of Detroit’s regular players have spent ample time on the diamond. The aforementioned sluggers began their seasons on March 22 after injuries kept them sidelined for most of spring training. Their return is a crucial development for the club.

Spring has also provided an opportunity for youngsters to make an impression and audition for a roster spot. James McCann, Anthony Gose and Hernan Perez have seemingly booked their tickets to Motown based on their performances to date.

Others, such as Daniel Fields and Jose Valdez, have laid down markers through their strong performances. In contrast, some prospects (e.g., Steven Moya) have failed to impress in the early going.

The ensuing top five spring takeaways are ranked according to their importance to the team as it looks ahead to Opening Day on April 6.

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MLB Spring Training 2015: Updating Biggest Need for All 30 Teams

Every team has needs.

From World Series favorites like the Washington Nationals to clubs favored to land in the cellar like the Philadelphia Phillies, all 30 clubs have at least one bullet point remaining unchecked on the organizational to-do list.

The New York Yankees need Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow to remain healthy. The Boston Red Sox are still on the lookout for a front-line starter. Plus, playoff hopefuls like the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are already searching for extra bodies thanks to untimely spring injuries to key contributors.

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MLB Spring Training Struggles Fans Should Start Worrying About

Spring training is the perfect time of year for the little things to be absolutely blown out of proportion. This team is doing well and this team is struggling, which means the regular season will be like that.

Very often, though, the spring is a time to iron out the kinks, and the struggles in March are completely forgotten by the middle of the summer. Teams like the Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants have been awful this spring but are still favorites to make the playoffs this year.

But for every team that overcomes the problems on display in spring, there is one that ignored the warning signs and watches the struggles continue deep into the season.


Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the more surprising teams of the past three years in MLB. Despite never developing an elite rotation, the O’s have used stellar defense and power hitting to make the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.

With Nelson Cruz, who led the American League in home runs last year, off to Seattle, Baltimore’s bats were already expected to take a hit. But the signs in spring have been worrying to say the least. Although the Orioles are third in homers with 24 so far, they are also 25th in batting average and 27th in on-base percentage.

The starting pitching issues are still there for Baltimore, and there is only so much that hitting home runs can do over the course of a 162-game season, so the poor hitting numbers aren’t a great sign for a team that hopes to take the next step this season.

The AL East isn’t the juggernaut it has been in past seasons, but something needs to be done if the Orioles are going to remain competitive and repeat the magic of last season’s run (highlights of which are in the video below).

Joey Votto

How long ago it seems the Cincinnati Reds were a dark horse pick to rally behind Joey Votto and claim the elusive World Series title the franchise hasn’t seen since 1990.

But after Votto missed 100 games last season, and the Reds finished 10 games under .500, it feels like the window might be closing on this current crop of players.

Coming into the spring, the fans were looking for signs to be optimistic. But they just haven’t been there so far. Votto, in particular, hasn’t bounced back in the way many had hoped, only hitting .250 with one home run and two RBI.

He has only played eight games so far, but the former MVP will be expected to shoulder the load for the Reds this year like he did in 2010. Highlights from that season can be seen in this highlight video, but his spring performance isn’t one that instills confidence.

While Votto’s numbers are the most likely to turn around of the players on this list, the only way the Reds return to the playoffs is if he repeats his 2010 campaign, an unlikely prospect if things continue the way they have so far.


Emilio Bonifacio

Never known as a player with the ability to tear the cover off the ball, Emilio Bonifacio has seen any hitting abilities he had completely fall by the wayside. So far this spring, the White Sox’s second baseman is hitting .097 with no RBI and five strikeouts.

The numbers are a bit deceiving, as Bonifacio still has an OBP of .243, but it is hard to ignore any player who is going to be in a regular in a lineup hitting less than .100. The White Sox will be chasing the Indians all season long and will need better production from their second baseman than what he has shown this spring.

Although a poor spring can be chalked up to just an off month, and players often turn things around once the regular season starts, Bonifacio’s numbers have been so awful that expectations are already lower than they once were.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Bonifacio wasn’t the starter to start the season, with youngster Micah Johnson hitting .455 and likely to take control of the spot. If Bonifacio does lose his spot in the starting lineup early, it could be hard to get it back at all this season.

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3 Moves the New York Mets Should Try to Make

Spring training is more than halfway through, and the New York Mets recently received terrible news that Zack Wheeler will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2015 season.

This, of course, could have a big effect on the Mets’ season. But the fact that the regular season is only a few weeks away doesn’t mean the Mets can’t make moves right now.

Here are three moves the Mets should consider making.

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With Lessons of Game’s Greats, Mike Trout Poised for Move from MVP to MLB Icon

TEMPE, Ariz. — How did Mike Trout celebrate his Most Valuable Player award?

With a trip to the hospital and an IV hookup. Followed by a week on the couch, sick as he can ever remember.

So the takeaway is, as the celebrated center fielder moves forward as the leader of the Angels and is cemented as one of the game’s post-Derek Jeter pillars, a winter virus finally did what few pitchers have been able to accomplish.

It stopped this man of perpetual motion in his tracks.

“I didn’t get off the couch for a week,” says Trout, who was forced to call in sick to the New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in late January, where he was supposed to accept his award. “Usually, I can’t sit on a couch longer than 25 or 30 minutes. I like to move around, do stuff, be outside. It put me on the couch for a week, not even getting up.

“Chicken noodle soup every day. Pedialyte. I still can feel it when I talk about it. I couldn’t lift my arms. My dad carried me to the car. It was weird.

“It was probably the first time ever I was down like that. I had no intention of getting up. I couldn’t get up.”

Now, with Opening Day less than two weeks away and another masterpiece waiting to be painted, good luck keeping him down.

Not only is Trout the majors’ best player, in just three full seasons he has ascended into that rarified ambassadorial role reserved for the Jeters and Cal Ripken Juniors and Ernie Banks of the world. Just as you want him at the plate with runners aboard and the game on the line, there are few others this side of Pittsburgh‘s Andrew McCutchen you would rather have pedaling the MLB brand, too.

“He’s 23 years old, and he’s a global brand,” says Eric Kay, the Angels’ longtime director of communications. “And yet, do you know who’s down the line signing autographs every single day? Mike Trout.”

Kay and his boss, Tim Mead, are pivotal gatekeepers, helping Trout manage the crushing demand for his time while making sure he’s rested and ready when 7:05 p.m. rolls around each night.

Already this spring, Trout has shot spots for, among others, Body Armor, Major League Baseball, MLB Network, Nike and Zepp, a company that specializes in analyzing swings in 3-D.

Trout breezes through it all as if he has been groomed for this moment his entire life. Which, in a way, he has.

His parents, Jeff and Debbie, clearly established a model foundation. Veteran Torii Hunter mentored Trout from the day he debuted in the majors at 19 in 2011 until Hunter signed with the Tigers in November 2012. Since then, Trout has grown especially close with teammate Albert Pujols, 35, who knows a few secrets about keeping both eyes on the ball when the world wants several pounds of superstar flesh.

“I have fun with all the stuff,” Trout says during a wide-ranging conversation with Bleacher Report. “If you go in there with a negative, bad attitude, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do a photo shoot today, or an interview,’ it’ll just make it longer and even worse.

“Every appearance I do, I try to have fun. It’s good for me, it’s good for the fans, and that’s all that matters.”

His smile comes easy and often. His zest for everything from belting a fastball to making a kid’s day with a selfie at the ballpark is genuine. Growing up in Millville, N.J., he idolized Jeter, and to this day, he sometimes will ask the Angels’ public relations specialists how they think Jeter would handle a particular situation.

Watching Trout and Jeter together at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis last July, in fact, it was difficult not to sense an unofficial passing of the torch.

“I don’t think people have to necessarily appoint someone to a particular position,” Jeter said then. “You know, if he continues to do the things that he’s done, he has his head on right, he plays the game the right way, he plays hard. The challenge for him is going to be like the challenge for most people, to be consistent year-in and year-out.

“But Mike’s going to be in a lot of All-Star Games. He already has the respect from players around the league.”

Says Trout: “For me, personally, being in same All-Star Game, his last one, him being my role model growing up, it was definitely special. Just to be able to talk to him, to have the locker next to him, to eat lunch with him, just being around him.

“It’s incredible what he [went] through, being in New York with media. You saw the cameras following him, the way he handle[d] himself on and off the field, always in the right spot, never in trouble.

“He’s definitely a person to plan your game around.”

In no small way, as seasons pass and generations change, Trout is the latest link in a lineage that traces back through time. In fact, the late Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, of all people, is indirectly responsible for helping shape him as well. It was Puckett who taught Hunter to find the joy while fulfilling professional responsibilities and obligations each day.

“I remember my first year, I probably talked Torii Hunter’s ear off,” Trout says. “It was all in a good way. When you have a great teammate like that, it’s something special for the young guys.”

Hunter went out of his way to teach Trout, the veteran told the kid, because of, among other things, the lessons he learned from Puckett.

“He always brought that up,” Trout says. “Just having Torii, such an outgoing person. When you were going bad[ly], he would always bring you up. That’s the biggest thing. When you made a mistake, he was always there to pick you up.

“He could feel you out. When he knew you were struggling or down, he could bring out the best in you. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile. I think that’s the biggest thing. Some people get down on themselves, but he’s always smiling. I was just very fortunate when I came up to have guys like that take me under their wing.”

Pujols, too. When the All-Star Game was in St. Louis in 2009, Pujols was still with the Cardinals, and he may as well have been the mayor of St. Louis for the week. He set an unofficial record for most promotional commitments in a 72-hour period. It’s a wonder he didn’t need to hibernate like a bear in the winter during that season’s second half.

“He definitely handles it well,” Trout says. “He’s told me some stuff, like, ‘You’re still out here playing a game, you have a job to do, that’s the first thing you’ve got to do. And all of the other stuff comes after that. You can find time for it. Spread it out.'”

So that’s what Trout has tried to do. Spread it out. Don’t overschedule endorsement commitments, commercial shoots, personal appearances and interviews. He shuts most of it down during the winter and schedules most of those things during spring training—sprinkled over time.

“Sometimes if you keep doing it over and over, you get tired,” Trout says. “It beats you up. It’s a long season, and you get to September and you’re exhausted.

“It doesn’t do anybody any good.”

Ask Pujols if he sees his younger self in Trout, and the first baseman quickly says no.

“He has better talent and better skills,” Pujols says. “He’s a better player.”

As for the advice he offers Trout in handling the burgeoning responsibilities of superstardom—advice both solicited and unsolicited—Pujols offers a nod to those who came before him. Much like Hunter, with Puckett. Pujols unspools a long list of those who helped him when he was younger, name-checking Mark McGwire, Mike Matheny, Placido Polanco, Reggie Sanders and the late Darryl Kile.

“My compadre, Polanco, took me under his wing when I wasn’t even on the roster yet,” Pujols says of his first spring training with St. Louis, in 2001. “My wife was pregnant at the time, and he opened his door to me. We lived with him for the first part of that spring training.

“You don’t just learn things. It takes a lot of guys who care about you. Trouty is a great kid. I treat him like my little brother.”

Which is interesting, because during our discussion a little earlier in the morning, Trout said that Pujols is “like a big brother” in looking out for him and helping him thrive both on and off the field as his career has launched toward the stratosphere.

Be in the right spot at the right time, Pujols tells Trout. Don’t get yourself in trouble. Take every at-bat like it’s your last at-bat.

“I’ve really gotten close with him,” Trout says. “He hooks me up with everything. Anything I need, he’s got a hook-up for. Shoes. A golf course—’I’ve got a guy over here.’ Dinner—’Have you been to that restaurant? No? I’ll get you hooked up.’

“It’s something special to have a guy like that in the clubhouse. Especially for young guys. In the blink of an eye, I think about it, four years ago he was sitting over there in the corner of the clubhouse, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, should I go up to him? Should I do this?’ But it’s pretty cool.”

On the field, Trout this summer wants to reduce his strikeouts, which crept up to uncomfortable (for him) levels last summer. He led the league with a career-high 184, up dramatically from his 136 in 2013. But he also led the league in runs (115), RBI (111) and total bases (338).

Though Trout’s strikeout rate tripled when he swung at pitches in the upper third of the strike zone as opposed to the bottom third, according to data from Baseball Prospectus, the adjustments he’s making this spring do not simply involve attempting to lay off of the high strike.

“I’ve been trying to attack the first pitch more,” he says. “I’m not just going up there taking the first pitch as in the past. If you’re laying a cookie down the middle, I’m going to hit it now. I’m comfortable hitting with two strikes. The last couple games in the spring, when I get myself loaded on that first pitch, it gets me locked in later in the at-bat.

“It’s been working. I’m just playing with it. I’m going to definitely try and take it into the regular season.”

One myth from last season is that Trout started chasing too many high pitches. It wasn’t exactly like he was getting himself out by swinging at balls: According to data from FanGraphs’ leaderboards, Trout’s swing rate of 24.5 percent on pitches outside the strike zone ranked 133rd in the majors. In other words, there were 132 players who swung at more pitches outside of the strike zone than did Trout.

“There are spots in games you need to take a first pitch,” he says. “If a guy can’t throw a strike, obviously, you want to be selective. But if I get the pitch I want, I’m going to swing at it.”

He also would like to run more this summer if possible. His 16 steals last year were significantly down from his AL-leading 49 in 2012 but, here again, credit goes to opposing pitchers and scouting reports designed to anchor him to the bag as much as possible. He’ll look for his spots, he says, but if opposing pitchers are 1.1, 1.2 seconds to the plate, it is humanly impossible to beat many throws to second.

Meanwhile, he continues to work diligently this spring, as he did last year, on improving his throwing arm. Of his five tools, arm strength and accuracy has been Trout’s weakest. Now? Angels bench coach Dino Ebel says that through sheer determination and hard work, Trout’s arm has gone from average last spring to above average now.

“He takes pride in that,” Ebel says. “He has a chip on his shoulder.”

It is a chip that keeps him both grounded and moving in the right direction.

“He is a very unique individual,” says Angels third baseman David Freese, who broke into the majors in St. Louis during Pujols’ glory years. “The way he can play the game the way he does, the way he interacts with fans, how genuine his smile is.

“There is nobody like him right now. I see the way he is when nobody’s looking. People see him on camera, fans. But even with the cameras off, he’s the same guy.”

Says Pujols: “He’s a really humble kid who doesn’t let success bother him. That’s the main thing. You can’t allow the game to change who you are.

“At the end of the day, we’re all going to walk out of this game, and how are we going to be remembered? As a great player who didn’t care about his teammates? Or as a guy who was a great player and a great teammate? Because in 10 or 20 years, there’s going to be another Mike Trout. There’s going to be another Albert Pujols.”

For now, though, with the curtain about to raise on 2015 and autographs waiting to be signed, there is only one Mike Trout. And now that he’s back up off of the couch, there’s one thing that is as close to a guarantee as there is in this game: The only thing sick about Trout this summer will be his numbers.

“It’s always a good feeling winning MVP,” says the man most in the industry predict will win several more before he’s finished. “When you go out, it’s definitely a lot different. People notice you.

“For me, it’s just about keeping my head on straight and staying humble. Since I was a kid, that’s what I was taught. I’ve got great family members and great teammates who help me do that.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball

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Starting Pitchers Trying to Reinvent Themselves This Spring

Pitchers are ever evolving, constantly altering mechanics, tweaking their deliveries just so or even working on adding new pitches.

Spring training is the best place to try to implement those changes, because the exhibition season presents game situations that don’t actually count.

All of the work, none of the mess.

Here’s a look at a batch of pitchers who are using the spring to make some adjustments.

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MLB Spring Training 2015: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not Through 3 Weeks of Games

Most everyone knows by now not to put too much stock into spring training performances for any number of reasons. Pitchers are building up innings, hitters are getting back into the, uh, swing of things, and prospects and non-roster invitees receive a lot of playing time that they won’t once the real games begin.

Regardless, it’s still fun to check in every once in a while to see which players are doing well and which aren’t. The statistics don’t count, but they’re available—and who knows, maybe some of ’em do matter even a little.

Since there are plenty of candidates for each side—hot and not—the focus here will be on players who should be on Opening Day rosters, as opposed to prospects with plenty still to prove, like Kris Bryant (.435 BA, 6 HR, 9 RBI), Joc Pederson (.433 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI) and Micah Johnson (.444 BA, 7 R), or veterans merely looking to hang on, like Jason Marquis (14.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER).

Same goes on the not-so-hot side for, say, Javier Baez (.100 BA, 11 K), who falls into the former category, or Jonny Gomes (.129 BA, 10 K) in the latter.

And, well, we just plain feel bad for Ezequiel Carrera at this point. Dude has gone hitless with 12 strikeouts in 28 at-bats. He’s clearly not hot, but here’s a group of others who are—and some more who are in Carrera’s camp.

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Team-by-Team Top Prospect Report Cards Midway Through Spring Training

With spring training halfway over and the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season a little more than two weeks away (yay!), now is the time when teams start making cuts and sending prospects to minor league camp.

Those youngsters still with the big league club actually have something of a legitimate shot to crack the 25-man roster come April.

With that in mind and with a focus on prospects who could contribute in 2015, it’s time to grade all 30 farm systems based on prospect performance this spring.

Sure, the sample size is tiny and the competition is inconsistent, but the exhibition season provides at least a little something to go on. So join us as we break out our red pens.

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Final Prediction for the Cleveland Indians’ Key Spring Position Battles

Prior to the start of spring training, I wrote a piece covering everything you need to know about the Cleveland Indians, including the following: prospects to watch, breakout candidates, the projected lineup, bullpen/rotation and position battles.

Spring position battles are a fun and fickle thing to watch. With the pace at which things change, new battles crop up and others fade away. For instance, in that piece, I looked at two position battles that I felt were the most important/tightly contested, and as we’ve progressed through spring training, one of those battles has essentially ceased to exist, and a new one has cropped up to take its place.

The left-handed relief situation I wrote about? That’s been taken care of. To take its place, a tightly contested battle for the fifth rotational spot has formed.

So, with less than three weeks between us and the start of the regular season, it became apparent that an update was needed. 

Let’s get to it.


Starting Shortstop

This one was really never in question. 

22-year-old Jose Ramirez entered spring training as the favorite to win the team’s starting shortstop job, and so far, he hasn’t relented in his quest to attain that status.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challengers to the throne, though, as both Mike Aviles and Francisco Lindor have put forth outstanding efforts of their own. The chart below illustrates the wonderful spring training performances given by all three players: 

Though there’s an argument to be made for Lindor strictly based on production, the front office is in no rush to start his free-agency time clock, and that forecasts a stint in Triple-A to start the 2015 season. Don’t worry; he’ll be back up with the big league club soon enough.

That leaves Aviles and Ramirez to duke it out for the job.

The pre-spring favorite for the job, Ramirez, has performed about as well as one could hope, though he still shows zero willingness to take a walk (zero drawn over 30 plate appearances). Part of this could just be him looking to get his swing in check for the upcoming regular season, but it does play into the larger trend displayed over the course of his career (5.4 percent walk rate in the majors and 7.1 percent in the minors).

Aviles is going to end up back in his super-utility role when the team breaks camp this spring, but not for a lack of trying. The fact of the matter here is that you have a near-career-long utility option up against a former top prospect for a starting job that neither is likely to retain beyond the 2015 season (see top prospects/Lindor).

Advantage, Ramirez.

Prediction: Starter: Jose Ramirez, Bench: Mike Aviles, Triple-A: Francisco Lindor


No. 5 Starter

In my spring training preview for the Tribe, I didn’t even consider the No. 5 spot in the rotation as a debatable “position battle.”

Gavin Floyd was signed to a one-year, $4 million deal, and it was assumed that he would help round out the rotation as the No. 5 starter. Beyond that, the first four spots in the rotation looked to be pretty well locked down between Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar.

However, a recent injury to the 32-year-old has Floyd’s season in jeopardy, and it’s clear that he will not be ready to start the 2015 season.

Beyond starting the season on the disabled list, Floyd may miss the entirety of the 2015 season, as the team’s official Twitter account confirmed last week that the 32-year-old was “out indefinitely.”

Then, earlier this week, Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer confirmed that the veteran righty both needed and underwent surgery, leaving the status of his 2015 season completely up in the air.

I guess this means it’s time for me to rethink my initial prediction, eh?

So, what options do the Indians have for this final rotation spot? The table below should help to set that up for us:

T.J. House is the best long-term option for this spot in the rotation. The 25-year-old offers what is easily the largest upside of the group, and his performance in 2014, as well as this spring, signifies a readiness for additional responsibility in 2015.

Over 12.2 innings of work, House has allowed seven earned runs, while striking out 12 and walking just one. House leads the team in strikeouts this spring, and his 12-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is absolutely bonkers considering the fact that we’re only now entering the latter stages of March.

House would also provide the Indians with a left-handed arm in the rotation, something that they lack right now based on the roster projections provided by Roster Resource.

Whether this comes to fruition or not is dependent upon the managerial staff and front office, though. 

Josh Tomlin has some past starting experience, but the 30-year-old has struggled in his most recent attempt at starting, allowing a 4.53 ERA over 16 starts in 2014. Tomlin is likely to serve as the final option in the bullpen or as Triple-A depth should the rotation suffer another injury.

Shaun Marcum is also available to serve in a starting capacity, something he hasn’t done at the big league level since 2013. Injuries have plagued Marcum‘s career, but this spring, the 33-year-old has been nothing if not consistent, allowing just one earned run over seven innings pitched.

Finally, we arrive at Zach McAllister, who seemingly has to figure into the Indians’ plans for 2015. Given the fact that he has no options left, it’s a strong possibility that he’s the one to round out the team’s starting rotation.

McAllister was solid over 134.1 innings as a starter in 2013, but he was plagued by bad luck in 2014.

During his age-26 season, the veteran righty allowed a ghastly 5.23 ERA, fueled largely by a .333 batting average on balls in play (BABIP)McAllister saw that BABIP jump by 38 points between 2013 and 2014, despite showing improvement in his strikeout and walk rates during that time.

This spring, McAllister has struggled at times, allowing five earned runs over 10 innings pitched. However, over that same stretch, the Illinois prep product has also managed 11 strikeouts, the second most on the roster this spring.

McAllister is an intriguing bounce-back candidate, but House (aside from his last outing against the Mariners) has really earned a spot on the team.

Given his performance last season, his renewed commitment to conditioning and hard work, as well as his performance this spring, House is my pick to win the final spot in the rotation.

Prediction: No. 5 Starter: T.J. House, Bullpen: Zach McAllister, Triple-A: Josh Tomlin and Shaun Marcum


All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Tyler Duma is a Featured Columnist covering the Cleveland Indians for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TylerDuma. 

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Dodgers’ Joc Pederson Separating Himself in Battle for Center Field

When the Los Angeles Dodgers began spring training two weeks ago, most positions featured clear-cut starters who would not be facing much job competition leading up to Opening Day.

The exception—and biggest question mark facing the organization as it prepared to defend its National League West division crown—focused on the opening in center field.

For most of last season, Yasiel Puig manned the position. That was because Los Angeles had Matt Kemp in right field and Carl Crawford in left field. Andre Ethier was relegated to the bench and top outfield prospect Joc Pederson was tearing up Triple-A.

But now, Kemp is gone and Pederson is ready for his shot. Crawford is on track to begin the season in left field and the Dodgers would prefer Puig in right field in order to best utilize his excellent throwing arm.

The net result? A position battle between Pederson and Ethier, and so far, the highly touted prospect is leading the seasoned veteran by a wide margin in the race to become the Dodgers’ center fielder.


The Performance

Pederson has quite simply been the Dodgers’ best hitter in spring training.

Entering the weekend, he is batting .433 with a team-high 13 hits—including two home runs, four doubles and six RBI. Pederson yanked one of his home runs deep to right and lofted the other one over the fence in left-center, demonstrating impressive power to all fields. His seven runs scored rank second on the club, and he has also stolen a base.

“I just show up every day, go about the process that was set by the coaching staff,” said Pederson, per Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times. “[I] work hard and try to do everything I can on the field to help the team win.”

The Dodgers selected Pederson in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. His progression through the minor league ranks was smooth and natural, culminating in his breakout campaign last season at Triple-A.

Pederson slashed .303/.435/.582 with 135 hits and 78 RBI in 121 games prior to his September call-up last year, becoming the Pacific Coast League’s first player since 1934 to hit at least 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season, according to Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com.

He has started more games in center field than any other outfielder on the Dodgers this spring, and has looked comfortable at the position defensively.

“Once you’re up there, you never want to leave,” Pederson said, per Baxter. “You’ll do anything you can to stay up there.”


The Competition

Ethier, on the other hand, is hardly putting up a fight when it comes to this in-house battle.

The eight-year veteran owns a mediocre .250/.300/.321 slash in 28 at-bats this spring through Thursday. His first extra-base hit did not come until this week, and he leads all Los Angeles batters with eight strikeouts.

Ethier has played 142 games in center field during the past two seasons, more than any other Dodger during that span, according to Baxter. But after reluctantly coming off the bench last season, Ethier made it known back in December that he would rather be traded than repeat the situation he endured a year ago, per the Los Angeles Times‘ Steve Dilbeck.

It was fun trying to win the way we did last year, but it didn’t prove any more successful than me playing every day or not playing every day. I’d rather play every day and help this team win — or whatever team it is — to the best of my ability. I feel I can, if given a role. As I stand here today, I’m preparing every day to be a starting outfielder for the Dodgers, until I’m told otherwise. I’m not changing my mind about that. It’s probably going to be a little less wanting to take the same role as I did last year.

The Dodgers tried to acquiesce around the time Ethier made that statement, but were unsuccessful as a potential trade that would have sent him to the Arizona Diamondbacks fell through, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports

Ethier is coming off the worst season of his career, one in which he batted .249 with just four home runs and 42 RBI in 341 at-bats. Part of the difficulty in trading Ethier is the $56 million he is owed over the next three seasons.

However, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the Dodgers would be willing to eat half of that in order to unload Ethier, who will turn 33 in April. 


The Decision-Makers

Although the numbers speak for themselves this spring, Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly has refused to announce what figures to be an inevitable decision favoring the team’s top outfield prospect.

“We’re still in camp and we’re still competing,” said Mattingly, per Baxter. “But obviously we like what we’ve seen from Joc. We’re looking at Joc’s processes as much as we are just the results. How’s his work? Has he got good routines? How’s he kind of dealing with it all?”

Mattingly considers Pederson the “best defensive center fielder” on the Dodgers, per Dilbeck, and the rookie has done nothing to dispel that notion so far at Camelback Ranch.

The Los Angeles skipper remained diplomatic when asked about Ethier’s body of work during spring training.

“Andre’s at-bats have been pretty good,” said Mattingly, per Baxter.

This noncommittal stance from Mattingly has not wavered from the official party line that team president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman established several months ago while discussing the 2015 center-field outlook.

“I think we’ll take some time in spring training and assess that, get a feel for [Pederson] in camp and how he’s handling things,” Friedman told Dilbeck. “It’ll be a discussion we’ll have with the staff and I’m sure it will be an ongoing discussion between now through the last game in March.”

With just one week left in March, the question has reached a crescendo but the answer is a simple one: Pederson should be the Opening Day center fielder for the 2015 Dodgers.


All statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise stated.

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