After spending much of last spring battling with Andre Ethier for the starting job in center field, Joc Pederson took hold of the position over the final exhibition games and was the starter on Opening Day of the 2015 season.
Pederson was heralded as a defensive standout that the Los Angeles Dodgers had sorely lacked over the past few seasons in center field, despite their glut of outfielders. He lived up to the billing, and also provided some power at the plate — at least during the first half of the season.
Not wanting to place too much on Pederson’s shoulders, former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly often had the then-rookie batting seventh or eighth in the order.
As Jimmy Rollins busted out of the gate slowly, Pederson found himself in the leadoff spot on April 29 in the finale of a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants.
At that stage of the season, Pederson led the Dodgers in walks (16), walk rate (21.9 percent) and on-base percentage (.458). He eventually took hold of the leadoff spot, batting .230/.364/.487 with 20 home runs and 40 RBIs in the first half.
Pederson did begin to show some signs of slowing down at the plate leading up to the All-Star Game, but he was named a Home Run Derby participant and started the Midsummer Classic in left field.
Pederson became the first rookie position player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game. Despite the 2015 season coming to a frustrating end, Pederson was told he appears relaxed this offseason.
In an interview with David Vassegh on AM 570’s Dodger Talk, the young center fielder explained his demeanor as having learned what to expect in a full Major League season:
“I learned a lot last year. Going into this Spring Training, I have an understanding of what to expect. I’ve been working hard with our strength coaches and our trainers trying to work on my swing, some speed and strength as well, to help me carry out a full season. Just understanding what you need to prepare for is more relaxing than the unknown.”
As for the constant advice received during his prolonged struggles at the plate, Pederson was aware some of it needed to be blocked out:
“That kind of comes with the territory. It’s part of maturing and understanding how to be respectful, but also tune out the stuff that isn’t going to help you. There’s not one way to do it, you can’t cookie-cut it. Everybody has their individual skills and strengths that make them successful. I needed this offseason to figure out what’s going to work best for me.”
Pederson finished the season batting .210/.346/.417 with 26 home runs, 54 RBIs, 170 strikeouts, 92 walks, a .335 wOBA and 115 wRC+. He was replaced down the stretch of the year as the everyday starter in center field by Kiké Hernandez.
Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi chalked up Pederson’s struggles last season to the rookie learning curve, and believes the center fielder will rebound in 2016.