It’s a crowded outfield in Los Angeles, where they’re juggling four guys who should all be starters. With Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford at the nucleus of both the outfield and the batting order, and Matt Kemp nearing the end of rehabbing his ankle after last year’s sliding mishap, there’s hardly room even for an outfielder off the bench.
Joc Pederson might push matters even more, and soon. Drafted in the 11th round of the 2010 Draft out of Palo Alto High School, this left-handed power bat has shown advanced baseball IQ and the ability to get the most out of his abilities. Pederson needed little time to adjust to pro ball. Making his Double-A debut in 2013 for the Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern League, Pederson batted .278 with 22 homers and 58 RBI in 123 games. He also added 24 doubles and an exceptional 31 steals to those totals, demonstrating an enviable power/speed profile which has been his modus operandi since he joined the Dodgers organization. In 320 total games since 2010, Pederson has recorded 130 extra-base hits, 83 steals and 236 runs scored.
In addition to this, Pederson has also consistently shown a good eye at the plate. His .394 career OBP can attest to this, and his career slash line is only 6 points below the coveted .300/.400/.500 level (.301/.394/.503). While he struck out 114 times in 123 games in 2013, this is a small matter when you consider how quickly Pederson has adjusted to the pro ranks. He has simple swing mechanics, taking a short and level path to the ball. He has also worked to quiet the bat waggle present in his stance prior to last year. Eliminating that hand movement will be crucial to his success beyond Double-A
as he faces better fastballs and tougher breaking pitches. He keeps his hands far back when facing righties but has shown a tendency to fly open early vs. lefties. This led to a .200 batting average with an anemic .269 slugging percentage vs. left-handers. Compare this to his .316 BA vs. righties, and you begin to see his most-glaring weakness. He has begun to work on staying back in those at-bats, but has a lot of work to do before he could become even steady-average against southpaws.
Pederson does have above-average speed on the base paths, but he steals bags more on taking a selective approach and making smart base-running decisions than he does on raw speed. Still, 20 or more steals a year in the Majors is not a stretch. He knows when to run; that’s what makes him a threat on the bases.
Pederson has played most of his games in center field, though he also has 89 games in left and 30 in right. His above-average arm strength plays up because he takes good routes to the ball and positions himself well for throws. Pederson has racked up 12 assists in 89 games as a left fielder, along with two double plays. He could end up staying in center but his skill set plays up considerably in left, where he could ultimately be among the best overall among Major Leaguers at the position.
Besides learning to solve lefties, Pederson’s only true obstacle to reaching the Majors is the logjam in LA’s outfield. Both Ethier and Kemp have had recent health issues, and with Pederson continuing his assault on minor-league pitching it’s only a matter of time before the Dodgers are forced to bring him to the big club. If Pederson doesn’t make the major-league squad out of Spring Training, he could be first in line to fill in for an injured Dodger outfielder. Either way, it’s only a matter of time before he makes it to The Show.