There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Joc Pederson finds himself in an unusual position. He's a blue-chip prospect who's destroying Triple-A pitching, yet no matter what he does, he may spend most of the year with Albuquerque.
Though Pederson only recently turned 22 and is one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League, he has had no difficulty adjusting to the veteran pitching he's facing. He's hitting .373/.479/.619 through 31 games, and he's on pace to blow away his career highs in those categories, as well as for home runs (seven so far) and stolen bases (10).
Several of baseball's best prospects are off to hot starts, among them Red Sox second baseman Mookie Betts, Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo and Pirates center fielder Gregory Polanco. None has been more impressive than Pederson so far -- though Jonathan Mayo makes a case for Betts -- but the Dodgers center fielder may have to be content with piling up numbers in the PCL.
No matter how well Pederson plays, that won't change the fact that the Dodgers already have more outfielders than they can play at the same time. Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig have been playing musical chairs with the three outfield spots.
Teams don't bring up young prospects to sit on the bench, so Pederson will have to wait for an opening that might not come for a while. Because they have sizable contracts, it wouldn't be easy to trade Crawford ($20.25 million in 2014; $62.25 million remaining from 2015-17), Ethier ($15.5 million in 2014; $56 million remaining from 2015-17) or Kemp ($21 million in 2014; $107 million remaining from 2015-19). And it's difficult to imagine Los Angeles dealing the exhilarating and more moderately priced Puig.
Crawford and Kemp have missed significant time with injuries in each of the past two seasons, but even if that happens again, there's no guarantee that the Dodgers would turn to Pederson, because Scott Van Slyke has been extremely productive as their fifth outfielder. Pederson's best route to big league playing time in 2014 would seem to be getting used as a trade chip.
Pederson has been one of Los Angeles' best position prospects since signing for $600,000 as a 10th-round Draft pick in 2010. A California high school product, he turned down the opportunity to play for the University of Southern California, where he also was invited to walk on the football team as a wide receiver.
The son of Stu Pederson, who got four big league at-bats as an outfielder with the 1985 Dodgers, Joc has solid or better tools across the board. His best attribute may be his left-handed power, which he displayed by leading the Double-A Southern League with a .497 slugging percentage last season.
Pederson has the approach, bat speed and hand-eye coordination to produce quality batting averages as well, and he draws a healthy number of walks. He has shown more power and discipline at each level as he has progressed through full-season ball.
More than just a gifted offensive player, Pederson contributes on the basepaths and in the outfield, too. His instincts help his solid speed play up, making him capable of stealing 25 bases a year and playing center field at the Major League level. If Los Angeles needs Pederson to play at a corner position, he has more than enough arm strength to fit well in right field.
The top priority on Pederson's to-do list for 2014 is figuring out how to combat left-handers. He developed a reputation for getting too pull happy against same-side pitchers last season, when he batted just .200/.299/.269 against them. Pederson is faring slightly better (.256/.347/.349) against southpaws in a small sample size (49 plate appearances) so far this year.
Once he learns to punish lefties more consistently, he won't have anything else to accomplish in Triple-A. He may have to stay there a while longer, so he could build off his fantastic start and post the most impressive numbers in the Minors for the entire season.