Joc Pederson trying to shake platoon label in fresh start with the CubsRussell Dorseyon February 27, 2021 at 8:28 pm

John Antonoff/Chicago Sun-Times

Pederson has a career .576 OPS against left-handed pitching, but the Cubs are going to give him a chance to play everyday.

MESA, Ariz. – Joc Pederson wants to shed some of the labels attached to him after seven seasons with the Dodgers.

There weren’t many teams that would allow him to do that going into free agency during the offseason, but after looking over some rosters late one night, the Cubs looked like a hand-in-glove fit.

Following the departure of Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs had an opening in their outfield, and after an increase in the team’s budget, they signed Pederson to a one-year, $7 million deal to be the Cubs’ primary left fielder.

Pederson, 28, had other multi-year deals on the table, but the Cubs were the only team that would give him a chance to be an everyday player. Now that he has that opportunity, the rest will be up to him.

“I know what type of player I am, and just getting opportunities is just going to be good for me,” Pederson said. “I guess you could say, I got to prove some stuff to them. But it’s like, I’m not out to prove it for anybody, but myself. Like I know what I can do and I’m not gonna add pressure like, ‘I gotta do this for you or them.’ It’s like, ‘No, I know what type of player I am, and to get the opportunities, it’s going to be fun, and it’s gonna be a fun year in Chicago.”

During Pederson’s tenure with the Dodgers, he was used as strictly a platoon player, and it’s hard to argue with the logic of using him that way. Pederson has crushed right-handed pitching with a career .849 OPS in over 2100 plate appearances, but the numbers against southpaws aren’t as pretty as the .576 OPS against left-handers shows.

“We’re gonna try to get him as many at-bats as we can against left-handed pitching, and he wants that. He’s hungry for that, and then just try to eyeball it,” manager David Ross said. “He’s gonna have to put up the numbers, but also watch the bats. Watch those moments when it may be, or try to identify from my seat, in our seat as as a group of what matchup may be tough left on left, and maybe that’s the day he gets days off or comes off the bench.

“But for the most part, I want to be able to give him the freedom to go out there and be himself and right versus left. And you know, we’ll have some moments where we’ll find out and then we’ll have conversations if it was not working out. But I have a ton of belief in Joc and where he’s at right now, so we’ll see.”

There’s a dramatic difference in sample size in the at-bats against right-handed and left-handed pitching, but after seven seasons, that sample size isn’t small anymore in either regard. But the goal for the Cubs this spring has been getting Pederson ample reps in live batting practice and in the cage to make the transition on the field easier.

“I think you’re looking at what his preparation is like to get those opportunities,” hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. “Because everybody can say, ‘I’m not getting an opportunity here or I’ve been platooning,’ but the work that he’s been putting in now. You see that he wants it. He wants to try and seize that opportunity. Not just that he’s working hard, but really being proactive in his cage work and what he wants to do off of lefties, off of righties.”

If Pederson struggles against lefties, the Cubs have other bench options against left-handers, including Jake Marisnick and Cameron Maybin. But after talking with his manager this offseason, he knows that he’ll have to perform to keep those opportunities coming.

“He was basically saying, ‘Hey, I’m gonna pencil you in there every day and if we come to July and you’re not cutting it and you’re hitting .150 against lefties, we’re still here to win ball games,’” Pederson said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I’m not looking for anything guaranteed. I just wanted to have a real opportunity. … I trusted him and I think he’s trusting me.”

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