- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It seems as if Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been raising the stakes for Joc Pederson all spring.
Going into camp, most scouts seemed to view the young center fielder as a future everyday major-leaguer, solid and dependable, but not necessarily a perennial All-Star. He’s a good outfielder and a strong overall offensive player, with power to all fields and above-average speed. You rarely heard the phrase, “future superstar.” ESPN’s Keith Law rated him the No. 41 overall prospect in baseball entering the spring.
Mattingly apparently isn’t in line with those reports. Shortly after position players reported to camp, somebody asked him about Pederson’s swing and he promptly compared it to two of the best players in the game, Robinson Cano and Carlos Gonzalez.
“You can’t really get mad about comparisons like that,” Pederson said.
Then, after Pederson hit an impressive home run to straightaway left field Friday, Mattingly again signaled the organization’s increasing expectations for the young, left-handed hitting outfielder.
“We’ve got a pretty good feeling about what he has a chance to become,” Mattingly said. “He’s got a good swing, that nice, easy, free swing, but he needs to continue to play, continue to get better.”
The knock on Pederson, 21, has been his inability to hit left-handed pitchers. He batted .200 against them at Double-A Chattanooga, then went to Venezuela and batted .206 against them in winter ball. Seems like a pattern.
Overall, Pederson batted .278 with 22 home runs and 31 stolen bases for Chattanooga. To Mattingly, Pederson’s struggles against lefties shouldn’t be seen as a pattern just yet. Where most of us see only the numbers, Mattingly -- a former batting champion and longtime hitting coach -- sees a swing that should one day be able to handle pitches from either side.
Mattingly didn’t pick those comparisons by accident. Cano is a .290 lifetime hitter against left-handers. Gonzalez is a career .281 hitter against them.
“I don’t want to start putting a tag on him just because he struggled in the minor leagues,” Mattingly said. “You don’t know what he was looking for or if he knows how to approach them. What we want to see are adjustments inside at-bats of how to attack this guy and then a different style of guy. When he gets that under his belt, he’ll get better and better.”
It would take all sorts of chaos to land Pederson on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster. Matt Kemp has been ratcheting up his activity and has been impressive in batting practice. He may not be ready by Australian Opening Day, but the Dodgers think he’ll be playing games in April. Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, barring injury, will get the rest of the outfield playing time.
Pederson figures to be at Triple-A and, if things keep going well, he’d be just a phone call away. A few years ago, he was one phone call away from going to USC. He had already packed his bag and purchased a beach cruiser bike to get around campus. But former owner Frank McCourt authorized the money at the last minute and the Dodgers signed him for $600,000.
Pederson, in his first big-league camp, is trying to soak it all up. He has worked extensively with Dodgers outfield instructor Damon Mashore and he’s trying to make his opportunities count. With Crawford and Kemp already slowed by injuries, he has a path to more Cactus League at-bats, always a plus for a player in his position.
“I’m learning a ton,” Pederson said.