Joc Pederson and the Lore of Prospects – Part 2
Are the expectations realistic for Joc Pederson?
In part 1, we examined the hype surrounding Joc Pederson’s rookie season, and identified two young, super- hyped outfield prospects from a year ago who we could potentially compare him to in George Springer and Gregory Polanco. Hopefully, this will help us gain a better template for what we can expect in Pederson’s rookie season.
Although Springer suffered from injuries that held him to only 78 games and 345 PAs, he was able to muscle an extremely impressive 20 HRs in that time, and produce 1.6 fWAR, which is very good for only a half- season’s work from a rookie. Despite being bogged down by a 33% K%, his future upside was clearly on display, as he had an .804 OPS on the year, proving that he could possibly be one of the keys in Houston’s possible resurgence in the next few years.
A later call- up date, as well as general ineffectiveness limited Polanco to only 89 games and 312 PAs last year, and the results were not as good as expected. Polanco only had a .650 OPS last season, which was poor enough for Pittsburgh to greatly reduce his playing time down the stretch, while competing for the spot in the playoffs that they eventually earned. Although Polanco is certainly a strong break- out candidate for 2015, and still has enormous potential, his rookie season clearly did not go as well as many had hoped, demonstrated by his lackluster 0.3 fWAR.
Which leaves us with Pederson, and his 2015 season that has just begun. After his big game on Sunday, his stat line is currently much more impressive. However, it’s still an extremely small sample size of games that we’re talking about, and major league pitchers are known to make adjustments after facing a hitter that are often hard for youngsters to readjust to. I wouldn’t expect him to show as much immediate power as Springer showed last season, as even the comparatively more powerful Springer’s HR total was buoyed by an unsustainable 27.8% HR/FB ratio.
On the other hand, I think it’s somewhat safe to assume that Pederson will produce better offensive statistics than Polanco did last year, as Polanco’s rookie stats can be looked at as a worst- case scenerio. So, to find the best comparison for Pederson, we may need to go back a year further, to 2013, when Wil Myers completed his rookie season with the Rays. Myers’ 2013 season might end up being a better possible template for Pederson’s rookie season, as Myers had a very good all around season without standing out in one particular area (contrary to the prodigal power Springer showed as a rookie).
However, Myers’ all- around game was impressive, and he was eventually awarded ROY award in the American league that year. Although Wil was called up later than Pederson (as Joc was given the extra advantage of making the opening day roster, a rarity these days with teams looking to save money through reducing service time), thus getting less playing time, Myers slashed .293/.354/.478 in 373 PAs in 2013, ending up with 2.4fWAR. I don’t know if Pederson will be able to duplicate Myers’ impressive .185 ISO that year, or his overall slash line, but the fact that Pederson plays center field (instead of right field, which Myers was relegated to as a rookie) should help to make up for it somewhat in total fWAR value.
Since 2013, Myers has yet to hit like he did in his award winning rookie season, but regardless, he did make good on his pre season ROY hype that many prospect evaluators had showered him with. If I had to predict how Pederson would do in 2015 based on his minor league stats and his overall skillset, I would expect a slash line somewhat lower (maybe a poor- man’s version of 2013 Myers at the plate); possibly in the .270/.340/.440 range, with solid defense in center field, and maybe even a 20/20 season, although I wouldn’t expect either his HR or SB total to be much higher than 20.
Pederson is a very impressive and talented rookie, and the 2.4fWAR that Myers produced in 2013 could be a reasonable expectation for Joc in 2015, although it may take Pederson closer to a full season’s playing time (compared to Myers) to reach that total.
So no, I don’t really expect Joc Pederson to join the long list of prospect busts that have repeatedly muted the high expectations of many major league scouts, although it’s almost impossible to predict what the results will be when it comes to prospects, especially ones with major league sample sizes as small as Pederson’s. However, with a very strong field of possible NL rookie of the year candidates, including the amazing Kris Bryant (who should be up in the big leagues soon!), Noah Syndergaard, Jorge Soler, and Archie Bradley, Pederson’s chances of winning the award are also not as high as they would be in other years.
Keep in mind that Wil Myers only won the ROY award in 2013 because he was in the American League; if he was in the NL his stat line would’ve fallen far short of those belonging to Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez (the eventual NL winner). If Kris Bryant does what many expect him to do upon reaching the major leagues, this discussion may all be for nothing. But, regardless of awards, I still expect Pederson to put up a comparatively strong rookie season. He may not blow everyone away with one tool in particular, but I could see him laying down the groundwork to what will eventually become a very good career by a very good player.
Yes, I’ve been burned by the lore of prospects before (who hasn’t?), but Pederson has hit spectacularly at every level he’s been at and demonstrates a wide range of tools, as well as advanced plate discipline (which is very important; look at the struggles of Javier Baez if you need any further proof). Hopefully for baseball fans, Joc is able to turn his strong Sunday into his first hot streak in the bigs, especially since the Dodgers still haven’t traded the highly paid Andre Ethier, who could cut into Pederson’s playing time if Pederson starts to slump. However, despite all of the possible rookie pitfalls and past horror stories, I envision a very solid season for Joc, although he may not yet be a candidate for the NL All Star team or win the NL ROY award.
And if he does happen to fail to live up to his prospect hype, at least he won’t be the first player to do so.