Joc Pederson is baseball’s must-watch prospect in 2015

joc pederson dodgers

Lou Musto is a beat writer for the SWB RailRiders and has been featured on USA Today, Forbes, and Comcast Sports Net. Follow him on Twitter @LouisMusto.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were awfully busy this offseason trading off old talent and bringing in new (old) contributors, but all their unraveling may have opened the door for the big-league emergence of their next great prospect—Joc Pederson. The Dodgers’ postseason fate could rest on the defending Pacific League MVP’s shoulders, as they will be looking to him to compensate at the plate for the losses of Dee Gordon, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp.

Pederson is positioned to become an everyday player for Los Angeles in 2015, joining a stellar outfield that includes All-Star left fielder Yasiel Puig and right fielder Andre Ethier. His bat should be a welcome addition in the middle of the lineup, where he should be productive immediately.

In 121 games for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes last season, the 22-year-old hit .303 with 33 home runs and 78 runs batted in. His high strikeout total of 149 is an alarming red flag, but he proved he does have some discipline at the plate, also drawing 100 walks. In fact, his high volume of strikeouts may actually be as a result of being too patient at the plate. He has a tendency to lay off pitches that are away and look for something he can drive.

The Dodgers will obviously hope for him to improve in the strikeout department, but he led the Pacific League with a .435 on-base percentage. They certainly won’t complain if he continues to produce at such a high level in spite of his strikeout total.

Pederson has been a top prospect within the Dodgers’ organization since a breakout 2013 campaign in the California League with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Though generally slotted behind shortstop Corey Seager and pitcher Julio Urias in most top prospect lists, the former 11th round pick is the team’s most promising, MLB-ready prospect in the system.

He appeared in 18 games for the Dodgers as a September callup last year but saw minimal playing time, producing a .143/.351/.143 line in 38 plate appearances. He drew nine walks and struck out 11 times.

All Pederson has to offer cannot be found purely when he steps to the plate, however. When he gets on base, he can be just as lethal, having stolen 30 bases in 43 attempts at Albuquerque.

MLB.com ranks Pederson as the 13th-best prospect (and second-best outfield prospect) in baseball, earning an overall grade of 60 with a grade of 55 or better in every category (60 in power). His offensive output at the Minor League level could easily translate to the Majors, with the potential to be a perennial 30-20 guy playing at Dodger Stadium.

While much of the focus this spring will be on the Twins’ Byron Buxton or Cubs’ Kris Bryant, Pederson is the player with the greatest potential to make an immediate impact for his big-league club from the start of 2015. He will need to. Kemp and Ramirez drove in 22 percent of the Dodgers’ runs last season, and Gordon led the league with 62 stolen bases and scored a team-high 92 runs. The additions of veterans Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins might supplement some of what the Dodgers lost, but a highly productive rookie season from Pederson would do wonders for the team’s offense and alleviate the pressure mounting on the pitchers to be flawless.

He currently ranks among the top 50 players in FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections for 2015, well above Gordon, Kemp and Ramirez. And while a line of .239/.327/.420 is not ideal, it’s still a stronger projection than for any other expected National League rookie position player not named Kris Bryant.

Pederson does face some challenges this spring before he can be penciled in as the Dodgers’ surefire starting center fielder, but the odds are in his favor. He is the only true center fielder on the roster with a strong defensive skill set to go along with his offensive potential.

The adjustment to the Major League game might take some time, but once he has settled in, Pederson could evolve into an All-Star caliber player capable of making the Los Angeles fans forget about Kemp. The upside alone makes him an intriguing prospect in 2015. Whether or not he can deliver will decide what kind of team the Dodgers will be.

 

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