NBC Sports

Joc, Giants taking first base work seriously as games begin

NBC Sports
GETTY

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It wasn't a surprise to see Joc Pederson at first base when bench coach Kai Correa put Giants infielders through an intense round of throwing drills last week. Pederson has been doing work on the infield all spring, with the staff hopeful that he can provide another left-handed option at first now that Brandon Belt is a Toronto Blue Jay.

But it was a perhaps bit of a surprise to see Pederson making a heads-up tag at third base during the drill. He had followed the action as a mock baserunner was stuck in a pickle between third and home, and he yelled in delight when he was in the right spot to take a throw from his catcher and tag the runner out as he tried to retreat. It was a reminder for Giants coaches that, while Pederson has a long way to go to feel comfortable, the instincts are there. 

"One of the things that I noticed about him is he's pretty confident and accurate," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Those aren't easy drills. Having the sense of when the runner at third is going to break for the plate, there's something natural about that and instinctive about that. I thought he did a really nice job in that drill. It's not surprising.

"You have heady, athletic people who have seen a lot of baseball games and seen a lot of other people be in positions, sometimes it becomes intuitive. I think he's got some intuitive sense over there at first base. Still lots of work to do, obviously."

 

The work has been daily for Pederson, who has just 19 starts at first base in the big leagues, appearances that he readily admits didn't go well. Back in 2019, Pederson was an emergency choice for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that watched Cody Bellinger go down and viewed Pederson as the best choice among the team's large group of outfielders. 

On this week's "Giants Talk" podcast, Pederson explained how the return to first came about. He is as plugged-in as any big leaguer, and he watched as the Giants chased and ultimately landed corner outfielders Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto

"I just had a conversation with Kap, obviously [with us] adding two more outfielders," he said. "I said, 'If you had to put me at first base right now in a game, I wouldn't feel very comfortable.' This was before spring training. But if I didn't take any fly balls and you said go play outfield, I'd be like, 'OK, cool.' I'm very comfortable in the outfield. It's just to expand my versatility and the team's versatility and needs. I'm excited."

While Pederson hasn't made an in-game appearance at first yet this spring, nearly all of his workouts have come with the infielders. He alternates reps with LaMonte Wade Jr., who will be the team's primary first baseman. 

Pederson will be the everyday designated hitter against right-handed pitchers and will fill in on the field as needed. He still takes fly balls in left field, and an injury there could force a change in plans. He also could end up seeing real time at first if Wade misses time. The other two options -- Wilmer Flores and J.D. Davis -- both hit right-handed. 

Pederson has looked fluid in drills and shown off a strong arm. He said that during his prior experience at first, "it was moving really fast," and that likely will be an issue again. But the Giants are putting a lot of work in to make sure things slow down if Pederson is needed. 

"You learn from your mistakes and Kai has been working really hard with me, extra hours, trying to get right," Pederson said, "And I feel really comfortable." 

While this staff has a reputation for valuing versatility and having a low standard for trying players at new positions, there has been a subtle shift this spring. Kapler and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi both have admitted that last year's crippling defensive issues were in large part because the Giants tried to play too many guys out of position, particularly in the outfield. Davis would seem to need additional paths to playing time, but the Giants don't want him taking reps in left this spring because it's not viewed as a very realistic option during the season. 

 
RELATED: Will Hjelle's offseason work lead to more velocity?

That context is important when thinking about Pederson's role. He's not doing this for fun, and while Kapler wouldn't estimate how many appearances Pederson will make at first this season, he made it clear the Giants hope to have him as a real option.

"We're not in the business of wasting anybody's time," Kapler said. "Again, we have a lot to see before we develop that confidence where we feel like he's going to play lots of games at first base in 2023 once the season starts, but we've put a lot of work into this already. He's put a lot of work into this. He put the work in in the offseason and Kai's been working tirelessly with him, Alyssa [Nakken] has been working tirelessly with him. Yeah, we're taking this very seriously."

Download and follow the Giants Talk Podcast