Talented farmhands blocked by Major Leaguers
Outfielder Pederson just a 'phone call away' from joining former teammate Puig
Since he earned his MLB callup last June, Yasiel Puig has been inescapable -- in headlines, in highlight reels, on the field, off the field. Everywhere.
But there could've been a different name, a different face in his place. It could've been Joc Pederson.
Pederson, after all, was Puig's teammate and fellow outfielder at Double-A Chattanooga when Puig got his first sip of Major League espresso. Maybe under different circumstances, Pederson, an 11th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, would've gotten the call. Maybe the players' situations would today be reversed.
"When you look at Yasiel Puig, there's still lessons he's learning at the Major League level," said De Jon Watson, the Dodgers' vice president of player development. "And don't forget, him and Joc were at the same level, and I think Joc may have been out-hitting him at the time of his callup to the big leagues. If you go to the [California] League and compare their numbers side by side, the year before, they pushed each other."
Pederson, a left-handed hitter, has continued to excel at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he's hitting .319/.432/.592 with 16 home runs, 37 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 238 at-bats. The 22-year-old, ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Dodgers' organization, is just a "phone call away" from the Majors, Watson said. He views Pederson as a plus defender with an above-average arm, average to above-average speed and a strong hitter who has shown the ability to drive the ball.
The primary hindrance for Pederson is well beyond his control and is also well-documented. Puig combines with Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Scott Van Slyke and, when healthy, Carl Crawford to create an outfield logjam at the Major League level.
"I think [Pederson's] learned what he needs to learn right now; I think he's showing the skills that he needs to bring to the ballpark every day," Watson said. "We continue to really emphasis the smaller pieces of his game, and I would say, yeah, he is knocking on the door.
"It's just a matter of opportunity knocking back."
Pederson might be knocking the hardest, but there's a growing line of farmhands close behind him.
Shortstop Corey Seager, the organization's No. 1 prospect, could turn out to be the best of the bunch. The 20-year-old brother of Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager had difficulty adjusting to Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga at the end of last season, racking up more strikeouts (31) than hits (16) in his 100 at-bats. But he's made the transition this season.
The left-handed Seager is batting a team-leading .343 with a .388 on-base percentage, .607 slugging percentage and 12 home runs.
"I think he's having a phenomenal year, both offensively and defensively," Watson said. "I think there were some pieces that he needed to learn about his stride direction, where he was on the plate, how pitchers were trying to attack him, and I think he's made those adjustments. … We're seeing the results of the adjustments he's made thus far."
Some have suggested a shift to third base may be in the future for Seager, who stands at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.
However, Watson doesn't see it.
"Right now, he's a shortstop, and I don't see why he wouldn't play shortstop going forward," Watson said. "His range is fine. He's getting to balls both left and right, coming in. He has more than enough arm. He understands the flow of the game. There isn't a better place on the field to teach a guy how to play and field than shortstop."
Though Seager and Pederson are a potent one-two punch, the organization may be at its deepest on the mound. Pitching is a well-noted area of depth on the Clayton Kershaw-fronted Major League staff, and that depth trickles down through the system.
After taking Seager with their first pick in the 2012 Draft, the Dodgers have taken pitchers first in the last two, with right-hander Chris Anderson in 2013 and righty Grant Holmes in '14's pitcher-heavy haul. Los Angeles challenged Anderson by sending him directly to Class A Great Lakes in '13, where he excelled. He then began at Rancho Cucamonga this season, where he's faced some growing pains with a 5.46 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP across 59 1/3 innings.
"He's had to make some adjustments to how he attacks hitters there," said Watson, who raves about Anderson's mid- to high-90s fastball. "It's been a great learning year for him thus far."
Anderson, the Dodgers' No. 5 prospect, is joined in Rancho Cucamonga by No. 7 prospect and fellow 2013 draftee Tom Windle, who outpitched Astros No. 2 prospect Mark Appel on Thursday and is putting together a fine season. Fellow southpaw Chris Reed has a 3.25 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 83 innings at Double-A Chattanooga, and Watson says he's on the verge of "really getting over the hump." Then there's right-hander Zach Lee, the No. 4 prospect, whom Watson says is commanding the ball well down in the zone at Triple-A Albuquerque and could be with the Dodgers within a year.
The jewel of them all, though, could be left-hander Julio Urias, who has a 3.76 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings at Rancho Cucamonga at just 17 years of age. Urias, the Dodgers' No. 3 prospect, commands both sides of the plate with a fastball that sits in the low- to mid-90s, but can touch 98 mph, and he mixes in an above-average breaking ball and changeup. The key for him, Watson said, will be conditioning his 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame for handling the innings he'll need to log as a starter.
"It's a slow development process of getting his body prepared," Watson said. "But with his weapons and with his pitchability, and where he is mentally as far as what he's seeing and how he's attacking hitters, he's really advanced for his age."
Urias will need time to develop, and he should have the luxury of that time with a well-stocked Major League roster ahead of him. With few immediate needs or gaping holes on that roster, the Dodgers' top prospects -- such as Pederson -- have the chance at additional seasoning before reaching The Show.
That's something Watson finds beneficial, but it's not necessarily a guarantee for success.
"I think what's really helpful is when you have those types of Minor League players in your system," Watson said.
Michael Lananna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.