Pederson credits Minor League coach for upswing

Pederson credits Minor League coach for upswing

LOS ANGELES -- On a ballplayer's journey to stardom, his Minor League instructor is often the forgotten hero.

So if Joc Pederson continues his progression to Dodger Stadium, tip the cap to Johnny Washington.

"He's taught me a ton about hitting, and we just clicked," said Pederson, this year's Branch Rickey Award winner as the Dodgers' Minor League position player of the year.

The 20-year-old Pederson, currently one of the youngest prospects playing in the Arizona Fall League, hit .313 with 26 steals, 26 doubles, four triples, 18 home runs and 70 RBIs in 110 games for Class A Rancho Cucamonga, ranking among the California League leaders in average (8th), on-base percentage (.396, 6th) and slugging percentage (.516, 9th).

A year earlier, Pederson couldn't cut it at Low Class A Great Lakes, being demoted with a .160 average and starting over at rookie level Ogden, where Washington was the hitting coach. Pederson hit .353 for Washington and hasn't looked back.

"Being sent down was the best thing that happened to me," Pederson said. "Johnny showed me how to keep my body out of the way of my swing and now it's repeatable and consistent."

And it isn't like Pederson, ranked as the Dodgers' No. 4 prospect by MLB.com, was lacking for instruction before meeting Washington.

Pederson's father, Stu, was a ninth-round Draft pick of the Dodgers in 1981 whose 12-year career included an eight-game cup of coffee in Los Angeles. The elder Pederson coached his son and is a high school coach in Palo Alto when he isn't running a small business.

"From what he tells me, he was a pretty good hitter, but I never saw him play," Pederson said of his father, both of them being left-handed hitters and throwers, and each 6-feet, 185 pounds. "He says I have more power than him."

By contrast, Washington played seven Minor League seasons without advancing beyond Class A. But he communicated to Pederson how to control his body in a way that translated into a more efficient swing.

"His approach of going through the middle got me to stay on balls longer and it gives me more power to all parts of the field," Pederson said. "He took me into the video room and showed me how big leaguers do it. I had a misconception of what I was doing.

"We looked a lot at Robinson Cano, and my favorite hitter is Carlos Gonzalez and we looked at him. They were doing exactly what Johnny said I should do."

Pederson was an 11-round Draft pick in 2010 out of Palo Alto High School, bypassing a chance to follow his father to USC and signing late for a $600,000 bonus.

He had to overcome a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder while a junior in high school. He rehabbed without surgery while being limited to designated hitter duties, crediting Tom House's shoulder exercises for his recovery. Prior to reporting to the AFL, Pederson was on Team Israel for the World Baseball Classic, playing for manager Brad Ausmus and coaches Gabe Kapler and Mark Loretta, alongside designated hitter Shawn Green. Israel lost the qualifying final to Spain, while Pederson hit .308 with three steals and three runs in three games.

"It was the first time I played internationally and it was awesome," said Pederson, whose mother is Jewish. "I was able to pick the brains of guys who played so many years in the Major Leagues. Ausmus was real laid back, but he made sure you got after it."

Speaking of his parents, what's the story with the name, Joc?

"My dad just came up with it. They kind of liked the sound," Pederson said. "One of my brothers is Tyger, which my dad got from his college coach, Rod Dedeaux, who called everybody Tiger. And another brother's name is Champ."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.