Cubs are seeing what an unleashed Joc Pederson is capable of

Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Earlier this week, Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson took what some perceived as a parting shot at his former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in comments focused on the organization’s heavy emphasis on analytics, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

"I just felt a little bit restricted [by the analytics]. I think before… I was more free going off more feel rather than analytics. I understand the analytics, and I understand that they work. It’s [not a negative] comment toward them because they’ve been successful, but I think I just am better off with a little bit more feel and being more athletic out there rather than standing in certain spots where they hit the ball the majority of the time."

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Now Pederson has never been a defensive stalwart. But neither was the guy he’s replacing in left field for Chicago, former first-round pick Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber made up for poor routes and bad jumps with an absolute cannon of an arm.

Cubs loving a comfortable Joc Pederson

So why are we talking about Pederson’s comments? Because so far this spring, the 28-year-old outfielder has looked insanely comfortable in a Cubs uniform. After a two-homer effort on Thursday, he enters play Friday tied for the lead in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues with five home runs and nine RBI. His 2.071 OPS is tops among all qualified hitters, as well.

The Cubs are looking for a revamped offensive approach this season, focusing more on manufacturing runs rather than relying on the long-ball. Still, Pederson’s impressive power display so far in spring training is a welcome sight for a team that has been wildly inconsistent when it comes to putting up runs the last few seasons.

Last season, Chicago’s outfield wasn’t particularly strong defensively. It was Ian Happ’s first “full” season as the go-to guy in center. Jason Heyward was, well, Jason Heyward in right. The Cubs are hoping that ‘letting the kids play’ in the outfield this year will help the group take a step in the right direction.

"‘‘The message has been pretty much: ‘Just be yourself. Be who you are. Know what you’re capable of doing and go out there and do that,’ ’’Cubs outfield coach Willie Harris said. ‘‘I can’t ask Joc to go out there and be Jason Heyward. I can’t ask Ian Happ to go out there and be Joc Pederson. Just be who you are, man. You guys understand the game, you know how to play the game, so just go out and play.’’"

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If the early returns are any indication, Pederson is very much a ‘go out and play’ type of player. He’s looking comfortable, tearing the cover off the ball and looking like a key piece of the Cubs’ plan of attack heading into 2021.