High expectations have followed the Los Angeles Dodgers' Joc Pederson wherever he has gone for the past few years.
He was ranked the 15th-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com prior to the 2014 season, and he even made a short cameo in The Show at the end of last year. All he did in 2014 was become the first Pacific Coast League player in 80 years to hit at least 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.
He wasn't too impressive in his first taste of big league pitching—he hit .143 with 11 strikeouts in 28 at bats—but he did enough in Triple-A to impress the front office.
So when the Dodgers traded Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres last offseason, Pederson was naturally the one to step in.
Through two full months of the 2015 season, Pederson has not only stepped in, he has starred in his new role.
He has been so good that he is the front-runner for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, according to Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer.
Pederson has always profiled as a potential five-tool player. Here is what MLB.com's scouting report said about the young outfielder:
While none of Pederson's tools truly stand out, he has the potential to be a five-tool player. Pederson has a patient approach at the plate and big raw power. He has proven to be vulnerable against left-handed pitching, and he will need to shore up that part of his game.
So far in his rookie season, he has displayed all his tools on a regular basis, but it has been the power that has really stood out.
His 17 homers are tied with power stalwart Giancarlo Stanton for third in all of baseball, but it has not been just the number of homers that has been mind boggling; it has been the fashion in which he has hit them.
He doesn't just hit them over the fence; he hits them way gone.
He hit two home runs in the Dodgers' doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies on June 2. The first was a 467-foot bomb, and then the second was a 480-foot blast that was the longest homer of the season according to ESPN Home Run Tracker.
Pederson generates his power with a beautiful left-handed swing that starts with a high leg kick that is rare in today's game. Ryan Parker of Baseball Prospectus said it well in a recent column about the 23-year-old's mechanics.
"Pederson’s swing is just that: A blend of old and new school that is beautiful to watch and has created impressive results," Parker wrote. "Pederson has the loose, relaxed upper body reminiscent of hitters of yesteryear with the big leg kick, and the aggressive lower body movements favored by the best modern hitters."
He is only 6'1", 215 pounds, but he possesses tremendous power that goes beyond his frame. He hits the ball harder than anyone in baseball except Stanton, as his average batted-ball velocity of 95.52 miles per hour trails only the powerful Miami Marlins slugger, per Baseball Savant.
Pederson not only hits the ball really hard, but he does it really often. His hard-hit percentage of 42.4 percent ranks eighth in baseball per FanGraphs, sandwiched right in between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, two of the most feared hitters in all of MLB.
He has the highest home run average so far this year, according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, and the amazing thing is that some think the best still lies ahead.
"I still think the best is yet to come for Joc," manager Don Mattingly said via Mark Saxon of ESPN.com. "That doesn't mean he's going to hit 60 homers or anything, but I think just the consistency of at-bats will get better and better. "
At this point, Rookie of the Year isn't the only thing in Pederson's reach; he has been one of the best players in the league.
His OPS+ of 175, an advanced statistic that takes the traditional on-base-plus-slugging percentage and adjusts it to ballpark features, ranks seventh in the MLB, according to Baseball-Reference.
His wrC+ of 172, which measures how many runs a player creates for his team, is the eighth-highest total in MLB, and his wOBA of .420 ranks seventh, each per FanGraphs.
To put those numbers in perspective, he is ahead of stars Mike Trout, Prince Fielder and Josh Donaldson in all of the aforementioned Sabermetrics.
Pederson might strike out too much—he is on pace for 192 strikeouts—but he provides unparalleled power from the leadoff spot and his .391 on-base-percentage is plenty high enough to stay at the top of the order.
It's his incredible patience that allows him to walk so much, and that patience is what might allow him to challenge another record that has stood for over half a century.
No rookie has amassed 100 walks in a season since 1953, according to Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal, and Pederson's current total has him on pace to walk 105 times. Who knows; as pitchers keep seeing Pederson blast home run after home run, they might start pitching around him more and allow him to break Ted Williams' rookie walk record of 107.
Through 53 games, Pederson has already amassed two impressive streaks, one of which is still current. The first came at the end of April and the beginning of May, when all seven of his hits over the span of nine games were round-trippers.
Also, he has currently homered in five straight games. The MLB record for consecutive games with at least one home run is eight, and it will be interesting to see if Pederson can continue his own streak.
Ultimately, Pederson swings and misses—sixth most in the league, according to FanGraphs—and strikes out a little too much for someone with his talent, but that should not take away from the remarkable season he is having.
Only 10 rookies in MLB history have hit 35 home runs, per Baseball-Reference, and Pederson is already nearly halfway there with a little more than a quarter of the season gone.
A plethora of exciting young superstars has overtaken the MLB recently, such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant, but don't forget about Joc Pederson. He is for real, and I expect him to improve his contact ability—which should lead to a higher batting average—and continue to hit boatloads of home runs in the future.
He might win Rookie of the Year this year, but that is only the first major award he will win. He better clear out some space in his trophy case, because he is going to win plenty more in the future.
Maybe even the MVP someday.