GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If there was a concern that last year’s second-half struggles would eat at a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, early reviews seem to be that his confidence appears securely intact.
About to head into his second full season in the major leagues, Pederson is an early arrival to camp each morning and bounces around the clubhouse, the picture of an atypical 23-year old.
Youth certainly is an asset when it comes to baseball, and it was in full focus last season when youngsters like Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs and Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros burst upon the scene to help guide their teams into the playoffs.
Because of the struggles Pederson endured after the all-star break last year, it is sometimes easy to forget he wasn't too much different from Bryant when it came to first-half impact.
The late summer freeze was pronounced, though, as Pederson kicked up the wind of his own chilling weather system with swings and misses from the heels.
It was a classic case of advance scouts finally getting enough at-bats on a player to develop a specific gameplan, but Pederson was not completely blameless as his the long season dragged on.
"Especially when you start struggling, it’s a cat-and-mouse game," new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "You have to make adjustments, and the mental side of things sometimes led to the physical. We addressed those and he is of clear mind right now."
Roberts had an interesting perspective on Pederson’s rookie season as a bench coach for the rival San Diego Padres. Pederson’s 73 plate appearances against the Padres were his second most of any team behind his 77 against the Colorado Rockies.
Though Pederson did hit three home runs with seven RBIs against the Padres last season, his .423 slugging percentage was his lowest against any National League West club. In fact, after hitting a home run against the Padres on May 23, he had just one extra-base hit against them in nine head-to-head matchups to conclude the season.
"He understands what opponents want to do to him," said Roberts, no doubt using the Padres' scouting report from last year as reference material. "He is continuing to clean up some mechanical things in his (swing) path with (hitting coach) Turner (Ward), so I think he is in good shape."
Pederson reports that the new working relationship with Ward has been a good one.
"Turner Ward has been really cool," Pederson said. "The whole coaching staff has good energy and positivity. We’re looking forward to working with them more."
Beyond whatever mechanical fixes Ward can impart, of equal to value to Pederson is simply the fact that the calendar has changed and a new year arrived. Never before had Pederson played 151 games in a season, not considering his winter ball action, and at times the physical strain appeared to show.
The downtime this winter seems to have done Pederson wonders.
"It is a fresh start," he said. "I’m excited to get it going. Every year is a new start."
Last year not only was new, as he made an Opening Day roster in the major leagues for the first time, it was an exciting time as well. Pederson hit 20 home runs by the end of June, fared well in the Home Run Derby during all-star week, and then came the hard, cruel collapse.
The poor second half is a source of constant negative attention, but Pederson prefers to stoke his confidence with thoughts of the first half. What the second half is unable to deliver in terms of confidence, that part of his year can be viewed as a learning experience.
"It was huge to have that first half, you know," Pederson said. "It was my first year and I got to understand that I belong here. I just have to get my mental game strong and show up every day with confidence and to help the team win."
His adjustments will be key. Pederson did cut down on his strikeout totals in the second half last year, but with his lack of production it was nowhere near a quality trade off. If it means more strikeouts this year, the Dodgers will take the better power production. His positive .346 on-base percentage was fueled by 92 walks.
"It’s an adjustment in itself and (rookie) Corey (Seager) is going to have to make the adjustment as well," Roberts said.
Providing an additional confidence boost is the fact that Pederson avoided the trap of letting his offense affect his defense.
"I take pride in all aspects of my game," Pederson said. "That’s something my dad taught me. It’s easy to hustle and play defense when you’re doing well, but real players show up every day, whether they were 0-for-4 or 4-for-4."