May 29, 2024

Joc Pederson might not remember the full trade package.

But the former Dodgers slugger won’t soon forget the first time he saw Andy Pages’ swing.

A couple months ago, while watching a Dodgers spring training game, Pederson took immediate notice of Pages, the club’s top outfield prospect. Coming away so impressed, Pederson texted some old friends in the club’s front office.

“I said, ‘That’s different,’” recalled Pederson, now the designated hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “That was the first time I’d ever seen him. … It just looked right.”

What Pederson didn’t realize then, and was only reminded of recently: Pages was once almost traded by the Dodgers, reportedly part of a nixed 2020 deal that would have sent Pederson, Ross Stripling and a then-teenage Pages to the Angels.

“I had no idea,” Pederson said, somewhat stunned, “that kid was in the trade.”

Four years later, it’s a trade that never happened for the Dodgers that just keeps on giving.

Pages not only stayed with the organization after the trade fell apart — the result, largely, of impatience from Angels owner Arte Moreno — but is now blossoming in his first MLB season

Since being called up on April 16, the 23-year-old is batting .333 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He has a nine-game hitting streak that has raised his on-base-plus-slugging percentage to .921. He produced his best performance yet on Friday, punctuating a four-hit game against the Atlanta Braves with an 11th-inning walk-off single.

“It was really special because I haven’t been here for that long and I was able to accomplish that,” Pages said through an interpreter postgame.

“He wasn’t going to let anyone else win that game for us tonight,” manager Dave Roberts added. “We trusted [his] head, trusted the talent, and, obviously, he just rose to the occasion.”

That has been the story of Pages’ journey, starting from when the Dodgers signed the six-foot-tall Cuban prospect for $300,000 in 2017.

Always known for his natural athleticism and powerful swing, Pages hit 10 home runs in his first year of pro ball at the club’s complex in the Dominican Republic — “which, in those parks, and at that time,” Dodgers director of player development Will Rhymes recalled, “was pretty unique.” Pages’ production only improved in 2019, when he had 19 home runs and an OPS over 1.000 in rookie ball with the Dodgers affiliate in Ogden, Utah.

By then, Pages’ advanced mental approach —-a trait just as signature as his pre-swing leg-kick and bent-over posture at impact — was impressing Dodgers staff as much as anything.

“In one of the first conversations I had with him back in 2019, I asked him about his leg kick, and we started talking about Justin Turner,” Rhymes said, recalling how Pages compared his timing mechanism to that of the then-Dodgers star. “And he gave me this incredible breakdown of Justin Turner’s swing, how it functioned.”

Dodgers outfielder Andy Pages is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a 3-run home run against the Mets.

Dodgers outfielder Andy Pages is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a three-run home run against the Mets.

(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Rhymes’ takeaway?

“Wow, this guy thinks about [the game] at a different level than most 19-year-olds.”

In a loaded Dodgers farm system full of more seasoned prospects, Pages wasn’t always their biggest-name talent. In 2020, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 22 prospect in the organization. MLB Pipeline pegged him at No. 14.

It was then that Pages’ name surfaced in trade talks between the Angels and Dodgers — who, on the verge of acquiring Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox in February 2020, were trying to create some salary relief.

While the key pieces of the deal were Pederson and Stripling, Pages was also reported to be heading to Anaheim, in exchange for infielder Luis Rengifo and multiple Angels prospects.

For a week after the news surfaced Feb. 4, the move was believed to be all but official.

“I was going to [salary] arbitration,” Pederson recalled, “and we didn’t know what team was going to show.”

On Feb. 9, however, it all broke down in a strange series of events.

Initially, the Angels trade was held up while the Dodgers finalized Betts’ acquisition from the Red Sox.

In what started as a three-team transaction also involving Minnesota, Boston was supposed to get reliever Brusdar Graterol, but balked upon a review of his medical records. That forced the Dodgers, Red Sox and Twins to reconfigure the deal, with Graterol ultimately coming to Los Angeles and the Dodgers sending two other prospects — Jeter Downs and Connor Wong — to Boston instead.

While all that was worked out — the Dodgers-Angels trade was contingent on the Betts deal going through — Moreno, the Angels owner, started to grow frustrated.

And just as the Dodgers finally completed their blockbuster move for Betts, Moreno reportedly called off the Pederson/Stripling/Pages agreement, later confirming that, while there were other unspecified factors at play, the five-day delay had gnawed at his patience.

“It was a crappy feeling,” said Pederson, who helped the Dodgers win the World Series that season before leaving as a free agent. “But what are you gonna do?”

As Pages followed the situation, his emotions were similarly conflicted.

“It was really strange to see your name across the news,” Pages acknowledged.

“When the rumors were swirling,” Rhymes added, “he was pretty upset about it.”

The hurt feelings, though, didn’t last long. Pages continued his ascent up the minor-league ladder, hitting 31 homers in high Class A in 2021, and 26 more in Class AA in 2022. The club’s player development staff expressed their excitement about his future.

“It gave us all a chance to renew our vows,” Rhymes said. “He’s always been in the plans to be a big piece of this thing.”

Pages’ rise wasn’t entirely linear.

At times, he got too “uphill” in his swing mechanics, Rhymes said, leaving Pages vulnerable to pitchers who attacked up in the strike zone. Despite his 57 home runs in 2021-2022, he batted just .250 with 272 strikeouts.

Dodgers center fielder Andy Pages makes a catch at the wall during a game against the Nationals.

Dodgers center fielder Andy Pages makes a catch at the wall during a game against the Nationals.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Last year, Pages suffered a serious shoulder injury, when a torn labrum in his first career triple A game required season-ending surgery in June.

“It was a tough blow, but from the moment it happened, he handled it extremely maturely,” Rhymes said. “He was on a mission before the injury. And if anything, the injury just put on more of one.”

Once fully recovered from the procedure, Pages was a standout performer in Dodgers camp this spring, going eight for 17 with two home runs and nine RBIs.

The day he was optioned, Rhymes said, was equally telling. Pages, who has developed into a plus center fielder defensively, went to minor-league camp and took 10 live at-bats on a day coaches suggested he take off.

“I knew going into the season how difficult it was going to be [to crack the majors] with so many talented players on the roster, so many superstars,” Pages said. “I knew how much work was ahead of me.”

That translated to a blistering start to the regular season in triple A, with Pages batting .371 in 15 games.

And between Jason Heyward’s back injury and James Outman’s early-season struggles, the Dodgers saw the opportunity to give Pages an early call-up.

His performance in the three weeks since have surpassed all expectations. Pages has ranked seventh in the National League in batting average since his arrival, and has almost as many RBIs (11) as strikeouts (13).

“He’s checking a lot of boxes,” Roberts said. “He’s creating his own opportunities.”

President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman hasn’t lately indulged in recollections about the abandoned Angels trade.

“Not much,” he said when asked how often he has thought about it amid Pages’ rise.

Instead, he noted the seamlessness of Pages’ big-league transition.

“We saw him make adjustments at the major league level his first week,” Friedman said. “Teams were beating up top with fastballs. And now he’s either clearing those out or at least fouling them off. He gets another pitch. He just competes in the box.”

Veteran teammates have echoed similar compliments.

“Today he showed that he’s made for the big moments,” Teoscar Hernández said in the wake of Pages’ walk-off hit Friday night. “He’s not afraid to go out there and have success.”

And when there was once a time it looked like Pages never would don a Dodgers jersey, his electric start has him seemingly poised to stay with the club, as a key contributor in the outfield, for the long haul.

“I know how great this team is,” Pages said. “I always wanted to be a part of this.”

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