Back at the 2010 MLB Draft, the one with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Matt Harvey among others, the Los Angeles Dodgers took a small-ish outfielder by the name of Joc Pederson in the 11th round. Pederson signed with the team and started full-time in the minors in 2011.
In Pederson’s first full season as a professional in 2011, he hit 11 home runs and 20 doubles in just 370 plate appearances, putting up a slash line of .323/.407/.503. That talent showed itself again in 2012 when he spent the full season at High-A, hammering 18 home runs and 26 doubles in 499 plate appearances. Again, he had a very impressive slash line of .313/.396/.516.
It wasn’t until 2013, though, that Pederson really started to show improvement. In 2011, his walk rate was 11.6-percent. In 2012 at High-A, it was 10.2-percent. Both numbers are very solid, but not eye-popping. In Double-A in 2013, a season that had 22 home runs and 24 doubles in 519 plate appearances, he had a slash line of .278/381/.497. He also improved his walk rate to a robust 13.5-percent. For comparison, at A-ball, fellow 2010 draftee Harper was a 14.4-percent. Machado in 2012 at Double-A was 10.5-percent. Even though Pederson’s batting average took a dip, the plate discipline improved (though he struck out more often). So far this year, it’s gotten even better for Pederson. Through 52 games and 237 plate appearances at Triple-A, his walk rate is an extremely high 16-percent (again, his strikeout rate is up as well to 27.4-percent now). In those 237 plate appearances, he has a monster slash line of .337/.443/.618. With that OPS over 1.000, he also has 15 home runs and nine doubles. Sure, he’s playing in the bandbox that is the Pacific Coast League but those are impressive almost regardless of which professional league he’s playing in.
A high walk rate by a minor leaguer is a decent predictor of future success. This is a very good read by Chris St. John of Beyond The Boxscore. It discusses the bust rate of prospects with varied walk and strikeout rates. Basically, by Pederson’s Triple-A numbers, there’s about a 46-percent chance that he’ll be a productive offensive player and about half that number that he’ll be a bust at the plate. Of course, as the author points out, nothing is certain; St. John notes Jack Cust had monster walk (and strikeout) rates in the minor leagues and after a few seasons of good power but well-below acceptable batting averages, he just faded away.
Let’s put Pederson’s strikeout rate in to context. His strikeouts over Double-A and Triple-A give us a 23.7-percent strikeout rate. In a season of 650 plate appearances, that’s 154 strikeouts. From 2011-2013, there were 53 MLB hitters that struck out at least 150 times in a season. Of those 53 guys, eight hit .270 or better. That’s 15-percent of all hitters that struck out at least 150 times. Only one of those 53 players hit .290 or better and that was Matt Kemp in 2011. For fantasy baseball, a .280 team average should be the fantasy owner’s target to finish near the top-3 in a roto league. Getting too far below .270 really can start to drag that average. At a strikeout rate that Pederson’s shown in the Minors over the last season and a half, there’s a decent chance that a very successful full year for Pederson would be a Chris Young-type season (at least before the last few years) of 20/20 and a .250 average.
That was one thing I forgot to mention; Pederson has 96 stolen bases in 1637 career minor league plate appearances. That translates to nearly 40 steals every 650 plate appearances. This is a power/speed combo that is coveted in fantasy. The downside is that there’s little chance he hits .280 or .290 and a good chance he hits .250 or .260. With his walk rate, though, he can bring a lot of value in OBP leagues. While walk rates obviously won’t directly translate, he could still hit .250 but put up a .330 OBP and that brings value to those types of leagues. For those in OBP leagues, he should be on radar alert.
The big stumbling block, of course, is that he’s an outfielder. At last count, the Dodgers already had five on the roster. Here’s the thing: Scott van Slyke only plays against lefties or as a pinch-hitter/defensive replacement, Carl Crawford can’t stay healthy and is already on the disabled list again this year, and neither Andre Ethier nor Matt Kemp can play a very proficient centerfield (to be nice about it). Pederson is a good centerfielder who, on defense, is probably an improvement over anyone on the roster not named Puig. The Dodgers, at time of writing, are in a four-way tie for the Wild Card and are 7.5 GB of division-leading San Francisco. This is a team that leads MLB with an astounding $235M roster. They’re not spending over $30M more than the Yankees just to fade out of a playoff spot.
Whether the Dodgers call up Pederson this year is uncertain, but if they want to improve their defense, they probably should. He’s already gone in keeper/dynasty leagues (check, just to be sure), but for those in re-draft leagues (one-year), he should have an eye kept on him. While he’s more valuable in OBP leagues, this is a versatile bat that can help teams down the stretch of the fantasy season.