As the Chattanooga Lookouts kick off their 2013 season against the Huntsville Stars on Thursday, the biggest buzz surrounds Cuban-born outfielder Yasiel Puig, who hit .526 in 26 Cactus League games. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he already has drawn comparisons to Bo Jackson.
Scouts and savvy fans also will be watching out for fellow outfielder Joc Pederson, who has made quite an impression in the Dodgers system since being selected out of Palo Alto (Calif.) High School in the 11th round of the 2010 Draft.
Pederson, who turns 21 later this month, hit .353/.429/.568 for Rookie-level Ogden in 2011, then jumped a level to post a .313/.396/.516 at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga last season. Pederson, a lefty, tied for the Dodgers organizational lead by scoring 96 runs in 119 games. He also swiped 26 bases.
The son of former outfielder Stu Pederson, who played eight games with the Dodgers in 1985 and spent 12 seasons in the Minors, Joc combines good tools with a grinder's mentality, a great feel for the game and a tremendous work ethic. He has the range to play center field, the arm to play right, excels at getting on base, can hit the ball to either field and has demonstrated adequate power. Pederson hit 18 homers for the Quakes in the longball-friendly California League last year. He was caught stealing 14 times in 40 attempts last season.
Pederson's experience is more extensive than that of most young players -- despite having just 197 pro games (none above Class A) under his belt, he was a member of the Israeli National Team during its quest to qualify for the World Baseball Classic last September. Team Israel went 2-1 in the qualifying round in Jupiter, Fla., but failed to advance after falling to Spain, 9-7, in the final game. Pederson played right field in all three contests, going 4-for-13 with a pair of walks and three stolen bases.
Following his WBC experience, Pederson was a taxi-squad participant with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. Primarily playing center and left, he was significantly less successful, collecting just five hits in 52 at-bats (.096). Nevertheless, he was putting the ball in play -- he struck out just six times -- and was a Rising Stars Game selection.
Pederson didn't see much game action in Spring Training, hitting one double in 10 at-bats with the Dodgers, but having already exceeded most expectations of an 11th-round pick, remains on the fast track to the Majors.
As the youngest player on the Lookouts' Opening Day roster, Pederson is perfectly positioned to learn a great deal in the Southern League. And with Puig hitting behind him, he's also perfectly positioned to score a lot of runs this summer.