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Joc Pederson was named last November as the Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He might become the first in organization history to win it in consecutive seasons.
The outfielder for the Chattanooga Lookouts is off to a sizzling start in his first Class AA spring, hitting .318 with five doubles, two triples, five home runs and 12 RBIs through 17 games. Named Monday as the Southern League hitter of the week, Pederson leads the league with 18 runs scored, and his 45 total bases entering Monday night were 10 more than the next closest player.
"He's just blessed with the talent to play baseball," Lookouts manager Jody Reed said. "He's got a lot of confidence, and he loves to play the game. I don't think there are any weaknesses in his game. He's just a very good all-around player."
Pederson became the league's first player to reach five home runs and 12 RBIs after hitting a pair of two-run homers in last Wednesday's 5-4 win over Birmingham. He accomplished those feats as a 20-year-old before turning 21 on Sunday.
Turning heads as the youngest member of the Lookouts is no big deal to Pederson, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder from Palo Alto, Calif., who is also 6-for-6 so far in stealing bases.
"I have two older brothers, and I always grew up playing with them," he said. "It's also no different from high school, when I was a 14-year-old freshman playing with 18-year-olds. It's just baseball, and I don't think age has anything to do with it if you're playing the game the right way."
His manager is a bit more impressed.
"The comparison I guess would be to a guy like Mike Trout, who's been in the big leagues doing those types of things," Reed said. "Any time you see guys like Ken Griffey and even Alex Rodriguez back in the day -- these guys who can do it at 19, 20 and 21 are amazing."
Last season at Rancho Cucamonga in the high-Single-A California League, Pederson hit .313 in 110 games with 26 doubles, 18 home runs and 70 RBIs. He batted .336 with runners in scoring position and stole 26 bases.
Pederson came to Chattanooga last September and played in the final three playoff games for the Lookouts, who lost the North divisional series to Jackson three games to one. He went 3-for-11 (.273) in the series, getting a hit in each game, and entered this year rated the No. 4 Dodgers prospect by Baseball America.
"Any time you get to play at a higher level than where you were, you kind of get acclimated to the field and the playing ability," he said. "Just being here gave me an extra edge coming into this season, but I knew that nothing was guaranteed. Just because I was here didn't mean I would do well."
That briefly turned out to be the case when Pederson went hitless in Chattanooga's first two games earlier this month. He homered in his third and fourth games, however, and has proceeded from there.
"At the start of the season, everybody presses a little bit," Pederson said. "If you don't start off great, you don't want to panic, but it happens because there just aren't that many at-bats. You have to stay calm and trust your ability and get your work in every day before the game."
Said Reed: "I think everybody was pressing the first couple of games, and we addressed it. Since he's calmed down, he's taken some good lines to the ball and is swinging the bat very well right now."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...