A little over a year ago the Los Angeles Dodgers called up the sensation that is Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig. It’s hard to forget that the “Wild Horse” – as Vin Scully calls him – boosted the team’s offense greatly upon his arrival and finished second place in the National League in Rookie of the Year voting. But only some will remember that the Dodgers had actually made a tough decision at the time on whether to call up Puig or their other top outfield prospect in Joc Pederson. Though it seemed like the right call for the Dodgers at the time, Pederson still seems to have limitless potential.
Despite missing out on a call-up in 2013, Pederson went on to hold a .278/.381/. 497 slash line with 22 home runs and 31 stolen bases in only 123 games at Double-A Chattanooga. The five-tool player is off to a hot start at Triple-A Albuquerque this season, as he holds an absurd .420/.547/.800 slash line with 5 homers and 5 steals in just 14 games. The California native now looks to be a potential 30-30 hitter at his peak, a phenomenal feat in both real life and fantasy baseball.
As he’s reached the heights of Triple-A, a player like this would normally be expected to get called up to the big leagues by mid-season. But with Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Andre Ethier occupying the Dodgers outfield, the earliest it appears Pederson could become even the team’s fourth outfielder is 2018.
Pederson is facing a worse block than just about any other big-time hitting prospect in baseball. There’s no easy path to playing time with his current team, so the chances that he could be traded this season – while his value is likely at its peak – are very high. The Dodgers would likely be happy to receive pitching or infield help to boost the team’s chances of winning a World Series this season.
Whether it’s a half-season rental or potential stud coming back to them, the all-in Dodgers could certainly let go of Pederson by the season’s end. So, it’s time to evaluate some teams that could be a good fit for the young outfielder:
Tampa Bay Rays: It’s a known fact that the Rays are not going to win any bidding war on ace pitcher David Price when his contract his up after this season. Thus, it only makes sense that Tampa trades the pitcher for a cheap young player that can help them for the next half-decade. A David Price trade with Joc Pederson coming back as the centerpiece makes a lot of sense for both teams. The Dodgers have made it clear that they’d love to capitalize on a rotation with Kershaw, Greinke, and Price as its top-3. With two young and talented outfielders in Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings occupying right and center field, Pederson could give the Rays an edge on offense that other options like David DeJesus cannot give them. The major thing holding this trade back right now is that three of the Rays starting pitchers have suffered injuries. Tampa Bay’s rotation will remain shallow and weak until they return Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson. Either the Rays will have to fall out of the AL East race or feel safe that they can make a playoff push without David Price to make this deal happen.
San Diego Padres: It’s hard to look at the Padres outfield and expect much from it in the next few seasons. 27-year-old Cameron Maybin may still have some upside, but seems to be one of the most injury prone players in the MLB. 31-year-old Seth Smith and 34-year-old Chris Denorfia aren’t getting any younger and neither could be expected to produce much on offense besides simply getting on base. Power-speed threat Will Venable may be considered a diamond in the rough, but he’s also 31 years old and may have already hit his peak in 2013. No matter which way you look at it, the team needs to find better outfield options for now and the future. Pederson could become a franchise player if he were traded to San Diego. If the Padres fall out of the playoff hunt, they could be ready to deal quite a few players. The Dodgers may be compelled to deal Pederson if they needed mid-season pitching help, perhaps from reliever Huston Street or starter Ian Kennedy. While Juan Uribe has been a surprisingly decent bat for the Dodgers, the 35-year-old cannot be considered the team’s future. This may compel the team to want to trade for and eventually sign switch-hitting third baseman Chase Headley. Some team is bound to over-value and over-pay Headley, and the Dodgers have proven that they are an organization capable of doing that. Finally, with Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis dealing with an injury to his meniscus, Yasmani Grandal of the Padres could be a possibility for trade. PED-suspensions aside, Grandal is a good hitter that the Dodgers would be happy to get in their lineup. San Diego is expecting prospect Austin Hedges to be their starting backstop in the future, so they might not be opposed to dealing Grandal.
Philadelphia Phillies: While the Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a 2-year deal in the offseason, they can’t realistically look at the 36-year-old as the team’s long-term right fielder. With Ben Revere as a pretty one-dimensional speed guy that can never seem to stay healthy, Dominic Brown is the only outfielder they could really feel comfortable with moving forward. Philadelphia ranked 13th in runs scored in the National League last season and it’s clear that they need help at the plate. Pederson would be a fantastic addition to a struggling and aging offense. As the Phillies are expected to fall out of the playoff race this season, they may finally be compelled to trade 35-year-old ace Cliff Lee. The Dodgers would obviously love to find a younger pitcher if possible, but there is a lot of promise in a veteran that can still get it done. This would be a huge boost for Los Angeles’ hopeful World Series run this year and they could still utilize his services for two seasons after 2014.
New York Mets: While Curtis Granderson has locked down a spot with the Metropolitans for the next four years, there are no guaranteed long-term options anywhere else in that outfield. The injured Chris Young is only on contract for 2014, and there’s questions as to whether both Eric Young Jr. and Kirk Niuewenhuis even belong on major league rosters. Juan Lagares may provide Gold Glove-caliber fielding, but he shouldn’t be expected to produce a lot on offense. All things considered, the Mets ranked 11th in the NL runs scored in 2013 and need to make offense their focus as they are already developing multiple ace pitchers between the majors and minors. In a desperate situation, the Dodgers could take Dillon Gee or Jon Niese mid-season if they’re performing well enough. Not to mention, they love pitching depth and could probably use one of them as a five-starter if they kept them on board in 2015 and beyond. If neither Dee Gordon nor Alex Guerrero is playing well enough to man second base for Los Angeles down the stretch, Daniel Murphy could be a safe addition as they attempt to make a playoff push. Trading with the Mets may yield an uneven return for the Dodgers in the long run. However, this team has made it clear that they are looking to win now and may be willing to take a half-season rental to help them win a World Series.