Dodgers wise to be patient with Pederson
Center fielder has far too much talent not to succeed
LOS ANGELES -- There is only one Mike Trout, and there won't be another for a long time, if ever. But when you hear concerns expressed about Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson based on his scuffles in 38 plate appearances in September, you are reminded that rushing to judgment on a superior young talent is simply foolish.
Summoned by the Angels from Triple-A Salt Lake to provide bench support in the summer of 2011, Trout hit .220 in 40 games and 123 at-bats, showing some pop with five home runs. Youthful Peter Bourjos was playing brilliant defense in center field on his way to batting .271 with 26 doubles, an American League-high 11 triples, 12 homers and 22 stolen bases. A natural center fielder, Trout appeared to have an immediate future in left.
After 33 plate appearances in his first callup in July of that year, Trout had one double, three singles, three walks and eight strikeouts. His line was .133/.212/.167. Skeptics were wondering what all the hype was about.
His first career homer, hit in Baltimore on July 24 in front of his family, making the trip from Millville, N.J., gave Trout a blast of confidence. He had some good days before finishing the season at .220/.281/.390 -- not exactly the stuff of legend.
Suddenly, stunningly, Trout erupted with a 2012 season for the ages. Turning 21 that August, Mike Trout already was the game's best player in the eyes of folks who compute all the data.
Pederson, who will be 23 on April 21, hits and throws from the left side and would love to be the mirror image of the right-handed Trout. It's an impossible standard for any young player, but almost every kid playing the game now wants to be like Mike. Why wouldn't he?
Given some patience and quality time with manager Don Mattingly, who happens to be a hitting sage, Pederson can be a productive player in 2015 for a reshaped team putting more emphasis on defense. There are few questions about his ability to handle center field; his speed, arm and instincts profile extremely well.
It's his offense that raises concerns. Pederson dominated the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, almost Trout-like, for Albuquerque last summer with a .303/.435/.582 line, stealing 30 bases and hitting 33 homers. His 149 strikeouts raised some red flags, but his 100 walks say he gets deep into counts, sometimes too deep -- like Trout. Pederson had nine walks and a .351 on-base percentage despite hitting .143 with 11 strikeouts in September.
Trout's 184 strikeouts in 2014 weren't all that troubling given his production as the unanimous American League Most Valuable Player Award winner.
It's absurdly unfair to base judgments on Pederson's three starts and 38 plate appearances. No player can show what he can do in such a small sample.
Twelve of Trout's 32 starts in 2011 were in center field, and he looked fine -- but certainly not on Bourjos' level. Trout showed some plate discipline, but his nine walks against 30 strikeouts gave no indication of what was coming.
Mattingly clearly is enthused with Pederson's tools and aptitude but has made it clear the kid has to win the job; it won't be handed to him this spring. The Dodgers have a lot of options in the outfield and don't need to rush a prospect in need of a little more seasoning.
Mattingly must see a lot of himself in Pederson. Donnie Baseball, an excellent high school basketball player in hoops-mad Indiana, was an athlete first, a hitter second. Pederson was a quality wide receiver at Palo Alto High School in Northern California, good enough to get a shot at USC if he hadn't signed with the Dodgers as an 11th-round pick in the 2010 Draft.
Mattingly, an outfielder early on, was a self-made superstar. After what some consider a Hall of Fame career, he excelled as a hitting coach before the Dodgers' reins were handed to him in 2011. Pederson is smart enough to study at the feet of the master. Any flaws in his approach are correctable.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers' new executive team clearly are sold on Pederson. They would not have shipped Matt Kemp to the division-rival Padres if they didn't believe Pederson is for real.
In the MLB.com prospect ratings, Pederson has gone from No. 85 overall in 2013 to No. 36 in '14 to his current standing at No. 15. His steady climb reflects the ability to grow, adapt and adjust. He might not be a comet like Trout, but Pederson can play the total game at a very high level.
If he's not quite ready, the Dodgers don't have to push it. If Pederson does start on Opening Day against the Padres, he can hit down in the order to relieve the pressure. But it says here that eventually he will bat first or second and justify the franchise's faith in his skills and work ethic.