Even before Joc Pederson made his major league debut last September, expectations were sky-high: As one of the top prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers' organization, it seemed all but certain he'd push his way into an already crowded outfield – and push one of the team's established stars out of town.
Turns out, that was exactly what happened; in December, the Dodgers traded Matt Kemp to San Diego, clearing the way for Pederson to play despite logging just 28 career at-bats. But the 23-year-old centerfielder didn't shrink from the spotlight – he started strong, clubbing 13 home runs and driving in 24 runs over the season's first two months. And as summer began, Pederson kept swinging a big stick, earning a starting spot in the All-Star Game and thrilling fans in the MLB Home Run Derby.
Still, Pederson will be the first to admit that his first full campaign is still very much a work in progress, but as he adjusts to the rigors of MLB's 162-game slog (and tries to cut down on those strikeouts), he's beginning to settle in to his big league routine. On Thursday, as the Dodgers prepared for a four-game series with the New York Mets, Young Joc spoke with Rolling Stone about eating breakfast with Adrian Gonzalez, getting advice from E-40 and loving life in Dodger Blue.
So how's your morning been in New York?
I woke up too early; I think my alarm went off at 10:20 a.m., normally on the road I'd still be sleeping right now. I usually wake up around 11 or 12ish.
I would imagine having a routine is essential during the course of the season. When you're on the road, what's yours like?
Well, like I said, I like to sleep in if I can, and Andre Ethier, he's played everywhere and he's really into food, so I'll text him to figure out a good spot to eat breakfast. I usually get to the field early, and Mark McGwire gets there really early, so I'll get my hitting in before a lot of other people. And then you hang out and have a good time with your teammates. We play this dice game, where you try to get to 100. You have two dice, and say you get a 6 and a 4, so you have 10 points. If you roll doubles, it's worth double points, but if you roll doubles, you have to roll again, and if you roll three doubles in a row, you have to go back to zero. Basically you don't want to roll snake eyes or a 7, and I roll a lot of snake eyes [laughs]. It gets crazy; I'll be at, like, 98, then I'll roll snake eyes and go back to zero. I have bad luck with that game. Justin Turner's, like, the dice champion of the locker room.
You mentioned breakfast; I'm wondering, when you're out with your teammates, who picks up the check?
I went with [Scott] Van Slyke the other day, and we got to play credit card roulette, and that was cool. Adrian Gonzalez, I go with him a lot, and I always ask him to let me pay but he never lets it happen. It's kind of awkward at times. He's done so much for me that I really want to pay – it would be nice to buy one breakfast or something.
You recently retweeted some sage advice from E-40, are you a fan?
Yeah, being from the Bay Area, E-40 is rad. You can't go wrong with Drake or Lil Wayne or Fetty Wap either, but my sister is the one who tells me what to listen to. At the field there's a sound system, and usually Van Slyke holds down the music. It's usually him or Justin Turner, and we get a little bit of everything – Frank Sinatra makes an appearance if it's an early game – then an hour before the game it changes and they're playing "Intoxicated," all these crazy songs to get you fired up. During BP it's country; you get everything. And then after games, when we win, we've been doing this rave thing, at home it's crazy; the lights are off, there's a fog machine and strobe lights, disco sticks and loud, loud music.
Who has the best at-bat music in baseball?
That's tough to say, because a lot of places don't have the same sound system we do in L.A., but I was pretty impressed when Mike Trout walked out in Anaheim. They turn it up really loud and you get chills and the whole stadium vibrates when he comes up. It sets the tone for the player. Other places you play, you can't even hear the music.
So how else do you relax on the road? Are there any shows you binge watch?
I wish I did. I'm supposed to get this thing downloaded on my iPad, because my mom told me to start watching Ray Donovan, apparently it's really good. I'm too dumb to understand Game of Thrones; there's too many different plots. I tried watching it and I was lost in the first 30 minutes.
As a 23-year-old guy on the road, how often are you checking Tinder?
Never. I don't have that app on my phone. I am not on Tinder [laughs]. I don't use Snapchat either; my brother and sister are one that, and they're always holding their phones up, taking selfies. Let's just say a lot of negatives can come from apps like that, as opposed to positives.
Fair enough. Speaking of positives, this year's Home Run Derby made for great TV; what was it like to not only participate, but make it all the way to the finals?
It was probably the coolest baseball memory I've had so far; and I got to share it with my family and the guy who was throwing batting practice to me, Johnny Washington, has kind of been with me since Day One, since I signed. The experience was fantastic and I thought it was kind of cool how Todd Frazier pulled it off in front of his home fans, but I went into the Derby wanting to win. He out-hit me, so I tip my cap to him, but yeah, I wanted to win it. Still, it was fun to watch and fun to be a part of.
Some guys don't want to do the Derby because they think it'll mess up their swing –
Yeah, well, I was going into the Derby in a pretty good funk, so I was hoping it would help my swing [laughs]. I'm starting to feel a lot better, but it's a process.
Speaking of that, you're currently tied for the MLB lead in strikeouts, but you've also hit 20 home runs and drawn more walks than any of your teammates. Has it been a struggle to find the balance between aggression and patience at the plate?
Yeah, that's what we've been working on; understanding how the pitchers are going to pitch you in certain situations, and when to be aggressive and when to let the game come to you. It's frustrating, and you want it to happen overnight, but it's a long process. The pitchers up here want to execute a game plan, and you're not going to get a lot of mistakes – when you do get a mistake you don't want to miss it. Small details win and lose ballgames, so it can get frustrating.
And when you're struggling, I'm sure the fans let you know about it.
[Laughs] Yeah. There are places, like St. Louis, that I enjoy playing in; the stadium's nice, the red seats are cool and the fans are nice. But in Chicago, they said some pretty gnarly things at me, San Francisco, just going back home, they're the loudest; their go-to is [sings] "What's wrong with Pederson? He's a bum," which is pretty lame. They could do better than that. And then they just flip you off a lot. It's actually pretty funny, especially because half the time I look up there and see someone I know.