Legends On Deck

Joc Pederson And The Lore Of Prospects – Part 1

After completing a fantastic 2014 season in Triple-A Albuquerque, the young center fielder was near the top of almost every guru’s prospect list, and clearly ready for a shot at the big leagues.  Pederson had proven himself major league ready in the upper minors in 2014 by slashing .303/.435/.582, along with a rare power/speed combo demonstrated by his 33 HR and 30 SB.  Despite only hitting .143 in a small 38 PA sample during his late 2014 major league debut, Pederson looked primed to break out in 2015, and expectations were raised even higher with a fantastic spring that included 6 HRs and a ridiculous .338/.377/.692 triple slash line.  After the newly acquired, highly revered Dodgers front office tandem of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi traded Matt Kemp to the Padres and decided to relegate the overpaid, yet ML proven Andre Ethier to the bench, things were only looking up for the young, but super-talented Pederson.

However, one must wonder whether Pederson could truly live up to all the hype, which the decision makers in the Dodgers front office did not exactly help alleviate when they decided to make Pederson the franchises’ youngest opening day center fielder since 1969.  Of course, the season has just started (yes, I hate tiny sample sizes too!) but coming into Sunday’s game vs. the D’Backs, Pederson’s Spring Training magic had clearly worn off.  Not only was he batting under .200 with an OPS well below .600 (which are both excusable in 5 game samples), but he was sporting an uncharacteristically high 42.1 K%, and most importantly, he was looking somewhat overmatched by major league pitchers.

However, on Sunday, he broke out big, going 3 for 4 with a HR, a double and a walk, raising his season stat line considerably.  I can’t even begin to overstate the importance of recognizing that the season is only six games in, and therefore, the sample sizes are ridiculously small.  But after all of the Dodgers’ offseason moves, which clearly demonstrate their confidence in Pederson’s ability to hit for a team that’s expected by most to win their division, one has to wonder if Joc will be able to live up to the hype that has been generated around him, and whether he’ll be able to do it as a rookie.

We all know the stories of players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Jason Heyward; super-talented outfield prospects that made serious impact for their respective teams almost immediately after being called up from the minors.  On the other hand, the list of highly-rated prospects that did not immediately reach expectations, and either took time to develop into quality MLB starters, or completely busted, is very lengthy.  In looking for comparable prospects to Pederson, I actually came across two toolsy outfield prospects who were highly rated prospects a year ago. Entering the 2014 season, they were both in the 8-20 range on most 2014 prospect lists, which is the same range in which Pederson could be found in the majority of those same lists in 2015.  Both of these players had enough service time last year to qualify as rookies, and share similarities to Pederson by both having center field experience, as well as possessing the vaunted power/speed combo.  The players I am talking about are George Springer and Gregory Polanco.

Although neither of them actually started the 2014 season on their big league clubs, both were frequent preseason picks for last season’s AL and NL rookie of the year, respectively. Neither player ended up coming home with the ROY award, and despite each suffering varying degrees of pitfalls, the two players’ results varied greatly.  Despite neither Springer nor Polanco playing a full season (as Pederson is projected to do, if all goes well), they provided two completely different possible templates for Joc’s rookie season.

In part 2, we’ll explore the results of both players’ 2014 rookie seasons (and possibly those of other top outfield prospects from recent memory), and see which could potentially be a solid match for what Pederson can be expected to produce in 2015.

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