Circle back to December of 2014, when the Dodgers boldly traded Matt Kemp to the Padres, basically handing the regular CF job to the rookie. And in the first half of 2015, Joc Pederson did not disappoint. His home run pace early in the season was exciting and impressive. Add in his willingness to take a walk from time to time, and his defensive efforts in the outfield, and Dodger fans felt good about the Kemp trade. Joc was named to the All Star Team, and even finished second in the HR Derby during All Star Week. He was contributing to the Dodgers success.
However, just prior to the All Star Game, we all began to see some holes in Joc's game. Pitchers started to figure out how to pitch to him, and the remainder of the 2015 season turned forgettable for Pederson. Striking out more and more frequently, and he became a rally killer. His batting average fell below .220. On top of everything else, he stopped hitting home runs. The manager at the time, Don Mattingly, finally decided the potential for power and good defense was not enough to keep Joc in the lineup, and newly acquired Justin Ruggiano was plugged into the lineup in CF more and more often. Even against right handed starters, Pederson found himself on the bench during key games and moments.
When you look at Pederson's minor league stats before the 2015, you will see he had big time extra base power. He stole bases. He could work a walk. His batting average was above .300 for three of prior four minor league seasons. But he also struck out a lot, so it came as no surprise when opposing pitchers learned how to get him out. I suspect not only was Joc frustrated, but he was likely humbled and embarrassed as well. Young players often have growing pains, and there is no way of knowing how they will respond until they run into adversity. And to be honest, the first part of the 2016 season for Pederson was more of the same. Newly acquired Trayce Thompson was getting regular at bats against left handed pitchers in CF. Joc still was striking out more than he should, and he wasn't showing much power. There was a bit of a change in his batting stance, though. And the coaching staff suggested he would need to commit to this change, or risk a repeat of 2015. So he continued to work hard.
Fast forward to August 2016. Joc Pederson is on pace to improve his Batting Average and Slugging Percentage from last season. He seems to be working hard to treat each at bat based on it's need (a sign of maturity). This last week, I've witnessed more hits to left and left center for Pederson than ever before. He is NOT the base stealer he was in the minors, and that's okay. Manager Dave Roberts seems more than satisfied to work more on hit and run situations than straight base stealing with this roster. Joc appears invested now in the team offense rather than his individual statistics. The Dodgers do not need him to try to hit the ball 500 feet every trip to the plate. He is more of a contributor when he uses the entire field, and forces the opposition to stay in their spots. And this is what he has been doing the past several weeks. His batting average, once dipping down below .220, has risen to .250 recently. He is no longer an automatic rally killer. He is putting the ball in play more often, and has worked counts and fouled of pitches with much better confidence. Pederson appears committed to the team offense. Oh yeah, Joc still puts a ball into orbit from time to time. And that makes pitchers realize they cannot make mistakes when facing him.
Pederson is slowly turning himself into a professional hitter. He has some really good mentors on this team, and I'm certain they are constantly in his ear about staying within himself. He's also watching Corey Seager, another young left hitter, have success using the entire field as well. He may never be a .300 major league hitter. But If he continues to grow and learn, we could see him turn into a solid .270 hitter while still providing defensive highlights and launching tape measure shots.
Young players can use Pederson as a nice example of what it takes to stay in the major leagues. Joc could have stuck to his habits, struggled through the season, risking his future with the team. However, he was mature enough to realize he had to grow and mature. The results are good, and Pederson is much improved compared to the player we witnessed late last season. He's becoming a true value for the stretch run in 2016.
I'm hoping at least one young, talented outfielder is paying close attention.