A reader recently asked me if I regretted not praising New York Mets outfielder Cesar Puello as a top-notch prospect, given his hot start to the 2013 season. Another reader asked me for my take on Los Angeles Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson, who is also off to a strong start in '13. Puello and Pederson are mirror images of each other, so I thought it might be illustrative to do a Prospect Smackdown comparing and contrasting them.
BACKGROUND AND INTANGIBLES
Joc Pederson: Pederson was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round in 2010, from high school in Palo Alto, California. He was considered a third or fourth round talent but fell in the draft due to a Southern California college baseball scholarship, but the Dodgers were able to sign him for $600,000. His father is former major leaguer Stu Pederson. Joc's work ethic and overall makeup are considered outstanding, clearly reflecting his baseball family background.
Cesar Puello: Puello was signed by the Mets out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, earning a $400,000 bonus. He was part of an impressive international group signed that summer that included Wilmer Flores and Jeurys Familia. Puello's personality and maturity were questioned earlier in his career, particularly a lack of effort on defense. The Mets felt he just needed to grow up and adapt to North America, and indeed he's shown a better work ethic over the last two seasons.
Advantage: Pederson has the edge here.
TOOLS, PHYSICALITY, AND HEALTH
Pederson: Pederson is a 6-1, 185 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born April 21, 1992. He doesn't have a bad tool, but he doesn't have an excellent one either, with average raw power and arm strength and slightly above-average speed. His instincts help the raw tools play up, though physically he profiles better at left field than in right or center. His clean swing mechanics help him tap into his power and he shows a good batting eye. He has had no serious physical problems.
Puello: Puello is a 6-2, 195 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born April 1, 1991. All of his tools are considered solid or better, particularly impressive raw power and a strong throwing arm. His speed is also above-average and he's evolved into an efficient and effective stealer. His arm is strong enough for right field and he's shown enough range for center. Offensively, has 20/20 potential if everything comes together, though scouts have questioned his swing mechanics and problems with breaking pitches. Injuries have been a problem: he has had a variety of nagging physical maladies, especially in 2012 when he was limited to 66 games by a broken hamate bone and a persistent hamstring injury. So far he's been healthy in 2013.
Advantage: Puello has more raw power, more natural speed, and a stronger throwing arm. His tools and athleticism stand out on the field more readily than Pederson's. On the other hand, Pederson has better instincts, uses his tools more consistently, has been less vulnerable to injury, and is a year younger.
Pederson: Pederson entered 2013 as a career .314/.401/.506 hitter at the rookie and A-ball levels, and is currently hitting .324/.403/.535 with 25 walks and 38 strikeouts in 185 at-bats for Double-A Chattanooga. He's stolen 15 bases in 17 attempts this year. He shows good plate discipline, handles both breaking pitches and fastballs well, hits line drives to all fields, and has had no problems hitting minor league pitching for both power and average. His transition to Double-A has been easy thus far. His 169 wRC+ thus far in 2013 is the best of his career.
Puello: Puello entered 2013 as a career .278/.346/.390 hitter at the rookie ball and A-ball levels, and is currently hitting .291/.367/.503 with 10 walks and 36 strikeouts in 151 at-bats for Double-A Binghamton. He's stolen 11 bases in 14 attempts this year. His plate discipline was poor and breaking pitches flummoxed him in the past, but he has made progress in that department this year and is making a successful transition to Double-A. Observers report that he's made strides tightening up his swing and he is drawing more walks this year. His 136 wRC+ thus far in 2013 is the best of his career.
Advantage: Puello has made progress but Pederson's overall performance record is superior.
Pederson: Despite his track record and youth, not all evaluators are sold on Pederson as a future regular. Some see him fitting best as a fourth outfielder since his organic physical tools aren't spectacular. Optimists believe that his outstanding instincts and feel for the game make up for any other issues, pointing to his excellent track record and the fact that he's performed consistently well against older competition.
Puello: On a physical basis, Puello has a higher ceiling than Pederson. But his floor is also much lower, too. He could develop into an All-Star outfielder, but he could also end up as a Triple-A lifer or a journeyman type who gets lots of chances but never lives up to his full potential.
In the end this is a matter of taste, but I prefer Pederson's profile. I see him as a future regular who contributes in many categories. While his highest maximal ceiling may not be quite as good as Puello's, his floor is also higher and it isn't like Pederson's tools are substandard. I do think Puello has made progress, but ultimately I'm more confident that Pederson will actually fulfill his potential. The fact that he is a full year younger than Puello also makes a big difference.