Dodgers’ Joc Pederson: Rookie All-Star

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It’s safe to say that many people expected the Los Angeles Dodgers to be at the top of their division at this point in the season. What many people probably didn’t expect is that they would be led not just by a few veterans, but by their 23-year-old kid centerfielder, Joc Pederson.

When the Phillies and Dodgers begin a four-game series in LA on Monday, the Phillies’ Maikel Franco and Dodgers’ Pederson—two of Major League Baseball’s top rookies, will be showcased in a city most well-known for its motion picture industry. And as with all good movies, people can’t wait to see what the spotlight brings for these two young stars.

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Franco has been impressive since earning his call to the major leagues in May, hitting 10 taters and driving in 34 runs in 45 games. Like Franco in Philly, the Dodgers’ Pederson has taken the spotlight in Southern California, leading the Dodgers in home runs and leading the National League Rookie of the Year race as we approach the All-Star Break.

Unlike many of the top prospects in the game, Pederson wasn’t a highly regarded top draft pick. The Dodgers’ selected him in the 11th round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of Palo Alto High School (CA). Despite not being seen as a top pick, he sure would play like one as his professional baseball career began.

Pederson’s first full season was 2011, when he began the season in the Pioneer League with the Ogden Raptors. Pederson quickly displayed his ability to hit by smacking 11 taters, and found himself near the top of nearly every batting category. His .353 average was fourth best in the league, and he ranked in the top three in hits (94), RBIs (64), OBP (.429), and OPS (.997). The 6’1’ 215-pound outfielder even showed off some wheels, swiping 24 bases, tied for third best in the league.

Playing 68 games for the short-season Raptors, Pederson earned a promotion to the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League (Low-A), where he would finish the season. People around baseball took notice of Pederson’s strong first minor league season, and he was named a Baseball America Rookie All-Star.

Pederson climbed the organizational ladder once again in 2012, playing the entire season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the high-A California League. Once again, he made a name for himself at the plate. In 110 games, Pederson batted .313 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs. He vaulted up to number four on the Dodgers’ top prospects list, quite a jump for a player who was previously ranked 25th after the Dodgers drafted him.

While his 2011 and 2012 seasons were encouraging, it was Pederson’s 2013 season with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League when Pederson established himself as a player the Dodgers could build around in the future. At a level which is usually a tell-tale sign for determining legitimate prospects, he looked very comfortable.

Pederson blasted 22 round-trippers—2nd most in the Southern League. He ranked first in slugging percentage (.497), third in OPS (.878), and third in OBP (.381). The Palo Alto native was a mid-season All-Star for the Lookouts, a Baseball America Minor League All-Star, and made the MLB Futures Game, which features the best minor league prospects in baseball.

Pederson was certainly on his way, and became the Dodgers best overall prospect after the 2013 season. After putting together a .303/.435/.582 slash line in 121 games with AAA Albuquerque, including a Pacific Coast League-best 33 homers, he finally got the call to the big leagues on September 1, 2014.

He would struggle to adjust to major-league pitching in 18 games with just four hits in 28 at-bats, but looked to secure a spot in the Dodgers outfield in 2015. When the Dodgers traded Matt Kemp last offseason, it was clear that they believed Pederson could be a productive mainstay in the outfield for a lengthy period of time.

Pederson tore up Cactus League pitching this past spring, hitting at a .338 clip and blasting 6 home runs in 26 exhibition games. After winning the center fielder’s job over veteran Andre Either, he has burst on the scene this season, leading all MLB rookies in home runs, and is currently second in RBIs.

Though his 98 strikeouts are most in the NL, he is still finding a way to get on-base when he’s not hitting home runs. As a rookie, Pederson’s plate discipline is second to none, and the Dodgers have trusted him to bat him leadoff for most of the season. He is among the top 15 players in the NL with a .372 OBP, and is fourth in Major League Baseball with 56 walks.

Usually featured in highlights for his mammoth home runs, he’s also holding down the center field position with a variety of diving and jumping grabs, as evidenced by this game-saving catch against the San Diego Padres. Fans have taken note of his all-around solid play, as he received the seventh most All-Star votes among outfielders in the National League. Earlier tonight, he was named to the NL All-Star team.

The four-game set against the Phillies will be Pederson’s first time facing Philadelphia. He enters the series in a bit of a funk recently, with just 3 hits in his last 25 at-bats over the last seven games. Overall, his just 8 for his last 49.

Luckily for Pederson, he will avoid seeing ace Cole Hamels, who pitched Sunday for the Phils. Sean O’Sullivan starts the series opener Monday, and is then followed by former Dodger Chad Billingsley on Tuesday, fellow rookie Adam Morgan on Wednesday, and Kevin Correia to finish up the series on Thursday night.

Though Cubs rookie Kris Bryant is having an outstanding freshman season himself, the NL Rookie of the Year race could very well come down to Pederson and Franco. With both of these young studs on the same field this week, this is certainly a series fans won’t want to miss. If the first half of the season is any indication for what the second half will bring for Pederson, the Dodgers and their fans should be very excited.

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