Don Mattingly is not ready to declare Joc Pederson or Andre Ethier as his starting center fielder come one week from today. But that won't stop me from comparing how each has done this Spring Training, along with my pick. Here goes...
Pederson: 22 G, .389 AVG, .421 OBP, 4 2B, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB
If Pederson was looking to leave his mark, he most certainly has this spring. He leads the team in home runs, and is one behind Yasiel Puig in RBIs. His 1.217 OPS is highest among potential starters, so he's showing everything he can do with the lumber. That includes a team high 12 strikeouts, though that's not preventing him from getting on base. His defensive abilities are rated as top notch, and he got at least some playing time there during his cup of coffee last September. Add it all up, and he's doing everything possible to be the man in center.
Ethier: 18 G, .313 AVG, .389 OBP, 4 HR, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB
On the other hand, old dog Ethier is not ready to concede a starting spot just yet. Well, I should say he's ready to prove why he should start again considering he was kicked to the curb by Mattingly last season (and justifiably so). Let's not forget that just three years ago, he hit 36 doubles, 20 homers, and 89 RBIs. Those numbers have gone way down since then, as injuries and poor play have made him almost a forgotten man. To his credit, the numbers he's put up this spring show that he's all business and ready to show what he can do. Maybe not for this team, but some other one.
With all of that said, it's just hard to picture Ethier being named the starting center fielder while Pederson is riding the pine. This is actually eerily similar to a few seasons ago when Ethier was the fresh, new player, and Juan Pierre the old dog. Joe Torre went with Ethier to start the season because the new guy gave him every reason why he's ready. That's exactly what Pederson is doing right now.
Both men would hit closer to the bottom of the order, so the pressure is off to produce in the middle. The Dodgers have plenty of guys who can reach base, and I can definitely see Pederson getting his chances to successfully drive in runs. That's how he can build himself up to a future with a bigger role.
Ethier did a good job taking over for Matt Kemp in center last season, but it's not like he was out-of-this-world good, leading to Mattingly placing Puig there for the rest of the season. Now Puig will be back in right because Pederson is looked at as the next big thing in center. He already has the glove, and now that he's showing a relaxed approach at the plate, Mattingly needs to roll with him from here on out.