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Joc Pederson's troubling trend

Joc Pederson, the Dodgers' center-fielder-to-be, has been nothing short of dominant during his minor league career. Despite that stellar production, he's not a lock for stardom.

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The Dodgers, suffering from the enviable position (at least for a team with a near limitless checkbook) of controlling six potential league average (or better) outfielders in a declining offensive era, shipped off faux center fielder Matt Kemp in a mid-December deal with the interdivision Padres, (likely) paving the way for one of the club’s top prospects: Joc Pederson.

Pederson, a former 11th round pick in 2010, has been a dominant force since digging in against Pioneer League pitching during his first extended action in pro ball. He hit .353/.429/.568 with Ogden as a 19-year-old in 2011; followed that up by nearly jumping straight into High Class A without missing a beat the next year (.313/.396/.516); showed up once again when the organization pushed him up to the Southern League (.278/.381/.497); and had a career year feasting off PCL pitching last season (.303/.435/.582) before earning a brief call up down the stretch.

Just the fourth MiLB’er to post a 30/30 season since 2006 (George Springer, Grant Desme, and Terry Evans), the Dodgers’ center-fielder-to-be has never posted a Weighted Runs Created Plus total below 137 at any level in which he received more than 100 plate appearances. He would finish second in the Pioneer League with a 148, tied with the sixth best mark in the Florida State League (137), third in the Southern League (155), and first in the PCL last season (167, fourth best in the minors). He’s easily been one of – and most likely the – top performer in the minors over the last four-plus seasons.

Pederson offers up gobs of potential – above-average power and speed, a career walk rate north of 14%, the ability to man center field effectively – but he isn’t a certainty for stardom. In fact, it could be just the opposite. As the Dodgers’ front office aggressively pushed the burgeoning big leaguer quickly through the minor leagues, it appeared that Pederson handled each promotion with aplomb. But his once modest strikeout rate has become increasingly concerning with each stop.

After swinging-and-missing just 16.2% of the time in the Florida State League, Pederson’s K-rate spiked to 22.0% during his action in Class AA and once again to a career worst 26.9% last season. Within two seasons time it’s jumped 66%.

Going back to 2006, the first season of minor league data available on FanGraphs, the list of productive major league bats to strike out in more than 26% of their plate appearances in either Class AAA league is quite small (400+ plate appearances): Ryan Ludwick, Brandon Moss, Chris Dickerson, and Justin Ruggiano. None would become a star. Their career wRC+ totals:

Ludwick: 110 (3,986 PA)

Moss: 115 (2,130 PA)

Dickerson: 97 (820 PA)

Ruggiano: 106 (1,249 PA)

Taking it one step further and comparing Pederson to the average, Pederson’s 26.9% K-rate last season was 37% higher than the Class AAA average. So here’s a list of additional solid big league bats to strike out at a rate 35% more often than the Triple-A average since 2006:

Justin Maxwell: 97 wRC+ (919 PA)

Chris Carter: 114 (1,541 PA)

The group of six, on the whole, leaves an awful lot to be desired for one of the annual top minor league performers.

Adding insult to injury, CAL, the Comparison And Likeness prospect classification system I developed, isn’t a fan either. Entering his age-23 season, his Top 5 comparisons:

Brett Jackson (75 wRC+ in 147 PA)

Kirk Nieuwenhuis (98 wRC+ in 552 PA)

Trayvon Robinson (70 wRC+ in 319 PA)

Joe Benson (67 wRC+ in 74 PA)

Adam Jones (109 wRC+ in 4,487 PA)

In the end, Pederson has nothing to prove at the minor league level. Soon enough we’ll have a good idea of what caliber big league hitter he’ll be.

. . .

For more prospect analysis, check out Joe's newest book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, here.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site, You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey