The expectations swirling around Joc Pederson have been rampant and rightfully so. The top prospect was less than impressive during his cup of coffee with the Dodgers last September, and now the time has come for Joc to contribute at the major league level. Many have proclaimed Pederson the Opening Day starter in center field for the Dodgers come April, but the new front office regime has been a little less clear about who will be manning the Dodger outfield on Opening Day.
With Andre Ethier still on the team (to the dismay of some), there’s still a chance that an outfield including Dre is in the realm of possibility. Of course by now you know how I feel about Yasiel Puig staying in center field. Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times waxed philosophical about the outfield configuration for 2015, and he brought up the possibility of Puig playing center field should Joc not play up to expectations.
I’m confident that Joc will be a great baseball player and Dodger, but what if he isn’t-at least at first? Not all prospects pan out. The Yasiel Puigs are few and far between. Most young players have slow starts as they adjust to the major league level. Even Pederson understands that he still has a lot to learn.
"“I don’t expect anything to be handed to me,” Pederson said during last weekend’s fan fest. “It never has been in the past. I still have to grow as a baseball player.”"
Even though the Dodgers aren’t proclaiming Joc as the Opening Day center fielder, I’m sure that they will be giving Joc every opportunity to earn the spot this Spring. The bold statement made by the Matt Kemp trade reflected the Dodgers’ confidence in the 22-year old.
Adrian wrote about the realistic expectations for Joc Pederson in 2015, and he agrees with “Steamer’s projection of a .705 OPS would be an above average 7-8 hitter, and I think that’s what we’ll see in 2015 from the likely Opening Day CF.”
I also see Joc hitting lower in the lineup, at least during the first part of the season, in order to not put any added pressure on the young player. It doesn’t mean that with success Joc won’t be moved up in the order in reaction to any number of factors including the inevitable slumps experienced by almost any of the other starters in the lineup at some point in the season.
Let’s be honest. How many games is Carl Crawford going to be healthy enough to play in?
Joc was crazy good in the PCL last season, and there’s really no place for him other than in the Dodger dugout at this point. His 33 homeruns and 30 RBIs last year with the Triple-A Isotopes shaped a historic minor league season, but that won’t necessarily translate to the same up on the big club.
Sometimes they are Jerry Sands. He hit 146 minor league homeruns including 38 in 2010 between three minor league teams. Sands was later sent packing to Boston in order to fulfill the blockbuster deal on August 25, 2012 which sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto plus cash to Los Angeles. Jerry played in 70 games with the Dodgers before he was traded, and he never really panned out to be the big power hitting outfielder we were hoping for.
Call to the Pen
Not to say Joc Pederson is the next Jerry Sands. Joc is much better especially defensively, and he has been a star to watch since his success at Palo Alto High School. In high school he led off. In his senior year (2010), Joc hit .466 with a .577 OBP, .852 SLG and 20 stolen bases. He also played football and had 30 receptions in his senior year. Joc is really good, and the only thing which may get in his way this upcoming season is trying to live up to unrealistic expectations.
I’m not really believing there is much of a “battle” between Andre Ethier and Joc Pederson for starting center field duties. Joc would have to fail pretty miserably in order for Ethier or anyone else to knock Joc’s opportunity to the wayside for 2015. Joc’s future will be dictated by his ability to adjust and overcome the inevitable growing pains that come along with being a rookie in the MLB.
During the Winter Development Program at Dodger Stadium last month, Don Mattingly was asked about the outfield situation.
"“We’ll probably play a number of guys in spring training, figuring out a combination of guys at the position,” Mattingly said. “You put up the numbers, you play. It’s pretty simple. You perform, you compete, and if you win the job, you’re playing.”"
A lot may depend on Spring Training, but I’d be very surprised if Joc Pederson doesn’t start for the Dodgers come Opening Day even if it is in right field rather than center. Usually Andre Ethier does well in Spring Training, so there will be a lot of eyes on Joc as he embarks on the next leg of his journey during his professional baseball career.
I’m excited to watch Joc’s rookie season, but perhaps we shouldn’t have such lofty expectations right out of the gate. Joc will be a Dodgers starting outfielder whether he struggles this Spring or during the season at any time. Andre Ethier, who had the worst season of his career last year, almost has more to prove than Joc does. Ethier is a favorite of mine, but I have come to accept the possibility of his Dodger career coming to an end with youth taking over in the outfield with Joc and Puig.
Perhaps his natural face masks will give Joc an edge this Spring.