5 bats could shape how NL West is won

February 10th, 2016

The Dodgers and Giants have ruled the National League West in recent seasons with dominant pitching, but the division also houses some serious offense. The Rockies and D-backs scored the most runs in the league in 2015, with the Giants coming in fifth.

Let's zero in on five pivotal NL West bats heading into Spring Training.

Joc Pederson, Dodgers

Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick are rock solid, and shortstop Corey Seager has the look of a major star. But they need some help from the outfielders, notably Pederson and Yasiel Puig, a pair that may hold the key to the Dodgers' offensive fortunes in manager Dave Roberts' debut season.

Pederson was two players last season in his rookie year: a first-half All-Star (.230/.364/.487) who experienced a second-half crash (.178/.317/.300). Pederson entered May batting .298, but he hit .199 the rest of the way. Twenty of his 26 homers came before the All-Star break.

The Dodgers believe the 23-year-old center fielder is too talented to let that happen again, but he needs to make adjustments to exploit his skills. In early-attack mode, Pederson hit .386 and slugged .841 on 44 first pitches put in play, and .432/.838 on 1-0 counts. With two strikes, he fell to .140, striking out 170 times with 44 walks. Patience is a virtue, but pitchers' counts can bury a hitter. Pederson ran the bases aggressively in the Minors, but he was 4-for-11 in steals last season in Los Angeles.

If Pederson's struggles continue, the Dodgers have ever-ready Andre Ethier and Kiké Hernandez on call. But they'd love to see Pederson unlock the keys to greatness.

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Denard Span, Giants

A new center fielder has joined the 2010, '12 and '14 World Series champions, and he's a good one. Span is an elite leadoff man with discipline (.352 career on-base percentage), contact (.287 average) and speed (152 career steals, 79 percent success rate). The 31-year-old has reached double digits in triples three times and should get there again in spacious AT&T Park, where his high-end defense comes into play.

Injuries cost Span more than three months last season for the Nationals, a significant factor in their disappointing season. He hit .301 with a .365 OBP in 61 games after leading the league in hits with 184 and batting .302 in 2014.

Mentored by Torii Hunter in his Twins youth, Span adds maturity to a Giants lineup that could be the most versatile in the league. Catcher Buster Posey is in a class of his own, the infield is top-shelf and the outfield will be a plus if Span and right fielder Hunter Pence rebound to former production levels.

A.J. Pollock, D-backs

The theme clearly is center fielders -- and when you get past the Angels' Mike Trout and the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, Pollock is right there with the game's best. He does everything offensively and defensively, ranking among the elite in every category.

Pollock, 28, busted out full force in 2015. He put together a .315/.367/.498 slash line, combining 39 doubles, six triples and 20 homers with 39 steals (85 percent success rate), while scoring 111 runs and driving in 76.

As the D-backs search for consistency around All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the heart of the order, Pollock at the top will be vital in driving the attack. Few teams have a one-two punch comparable to Pollock and Goldy, 2015 Gold Glove winners on top of all that offense.

Melvin Upton Jr., Padres

It's been a rough ride for Justin Upton's big brother since 2012, but the graceful center fielder showed signs last summer in San Diego of recapturing those skills that once made him one of the game's most exciting players.

In 87 games and 205 at-bats alongside Justin, Melvin put together his best OPS (.757) since his .759 mark in 2011, when he had 23 homers, 36 steals and drove in 81 runs for the Rays. His career season highs -- .300 average, 28 homers, 38 doubles, 44 steals -- reflect star-level talent.

In the warmth of beautiful San Diego, Upton has a chance at 31 to remind us how good he can be.

Charlie Blackmon, Rockies

Rumors persist that coveted Carlos Gonzalez might be on the go via trade. Nolan Arenado, the team's emerging superstar, would miss CarGo's presence in the middle of the order, but there are other weapons in Denver.

Blackmon is Colorado's left-handed answer to Pollock, with muscle (31 doubles, 17 homers), speed (43 steals, 77 percent successful), a .287 average and a .347 OBP. Blackmon's defensive metrics in center don't approach Pollock's, but he's durable (154 and 157 games the past two seasons) and brings intensity every day.

With Gerardo Parra climbing on board in Colorado, Blackmon has the pop to slide down a spot or two from his standard leadoff role and deepen the lineup. As always, the Coors Field outfit needs to score runs in volume to win.