The Other Guy
The headlines out of Chattanooga this spring centered around recently promoted Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. While the Puig storyline was newsworthy, intriguing, exciting and even zany, the most fascinating story for me has been the rapid improvement of Puig’s former (and future) teammate, outfielder Joc Pederson. After completing the 2012 season with the Dodgers’ High-A affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga, I had the opportunity to cover Pederson as he competed for Class AA Chattanooga in the Southern League playoffs. Looking back at the article I published last September, other than being bullish on Pederson’s offensive projection, it is a fairly accurate depiction of the player Pederson was last season. I could easily provide a quick follow up, pat myself on the back for the bullish offensive projection and move on to someone else but it would be a disservice to both the reader and ballplayer.
Boasting a sexy .310/.393/.502 slash line, the 21-year-old former 11th round pick’s production hasn’t missed a beat despite being the youngest player in the Southern League. Pederson is a player with average to above average tools across the board. Combined with a terrific work ethic and a good feel for the game, his tools play up a good bit. For example, above average speed plays up to seventeen stolen bases in nineteen attempts because his first step to acceleration is advanced and his feel of situations and pitchers is solid. After only being successful on 65% of his stolen base attempts last year, his 89% success rate in 2013 hasn’t been the result of dumb luck, just improved skill. I can say that across the board.
Defensively, he struggled last season. Between conversations with contacts out west and my own evaluation, I didn’t see much of a future for Pederson in centerfield. My story has changed this season. Take a liner he tracked down in the left centerfield gap during last night’s game. Last year, this ball likely reaches the fence on a couple bounces for an extra base hit. This season, Pederson makes an easy running catch. While his initial step still needs some tweaking, especially reading balls hit in front of him, his route running has improved tremendously. Likely, he’ll play himself into an average defender, with an accurate throwing arm with slightly above average arm strength.
Offensively, he has matured immensely. Having overstated his power last season, the left handed hitting Pederson possesses average power that plays up due to his ability to light up pitches thrown into his wheelhouse. Early in the season, Pederson enjoyed a ridiculous power surge, six homeruns in the month of April. He turned on many get over fastballs, with pitchers not wanting to walk Pederson in front of Yasiel Puig. Pederson projects to be a twelve to eighteen homerun hitter with the ability to expand those numbers depending on who bats behind him.
Pederson’s best tool is his hit tool. A fluid, compact line drive swing, Pederson glides his hands directly to the ball. He stays back well on off speed pitches and has a good feel for the strike zone, rarely swinging at pitches outside the zone with less than two strikes. His increased strikeout rate is a combination of his expansion of the strike zone with two strikes and pitchers with better overall breaking pitches. As the season progresses, I expect the strikeout rate to drop somewhat as Pederson becomes more acclimated with Double A pitching.
When Pederson is going well, he is hitting the ball to all fields. During an early May dip in his offensive production, Pederson had become pull happy. Last night, having been plunked during his first at bat, the opposing pitcher stayed away during Pederson’s second at bat. Instead of trying to pull a fastball on the outer half, Pederson lined the ball down the left field line for an opposite field double, showcasing tremendous instinct for a 21-year-old in Class AA.
On the days that I arrive early to AT&T field in Chattanooga for batting practice, the consistent sight for me is Joc Pederson working on his hitting in the cage. The cliché “He plays the game the right way” is fitting for Pederson.
The talk of Pederson being promoted to Los Angeles has been very premature. The slash line and this article are very glowing but he is best served with a full season engagement in Chattanooga. A full season in Double A will allow him to see and adjust to more breaking pitches. It will also allow him to become a better defensive player, increasing his overall profile to the team. Look for Pederson to likely push his way into the big leagues next season and become the future centerfielder of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unless he’s traded first.