Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Team #23 - Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are hoping that LSU's loss will be their gain

The Dodgers are by far the most difficult organization to grade/rank this year. While there is a lot of talent in the system, nearly every prospect comes with significant question marks that reduce the certainty side of the equation. That leads to a system where any of more than twenty prospects could make an argument to be included in the system’s top ten. This isn’t born so much out of strength as it is the uncertainty. Even choosing the #1 prospect was difficult, as we could make a solid case for any of our top three players. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to like, as the system is extremely deep through the ‘B’ Grade. There is a nice mix between high ceiling and high floor type players and a nice mix between players ready to contribute soon and players a few years away. Finally, there is tremendous depth among right-handed hurlers.

But there are also significant areas of concern. The Dodgers were once the biggest spender on the Latin American front, but haven’t signed a player of significance since 2008. The system had the reputation of working magic in their development of high school pitchers, but since Chad Billingsley in 2003, the Dodgers have taken pitchers in either the first or second round on twelve occasions and thus far have only Kershaw to show for it. Too many likely relief pitchers make up the upper tier of the organization’s prospects. Finally, a system that used to produce multi-tooled, high-ceiling, positional players like Matt Kemp, Carlos Santana and Josh Bell suddenly finds itself dotted with more of the Jerry Sands and Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s of the world. An honest appraisal of the system finds a lot of runners-up, but not many beauty contest winners. Our guess is that it won’t be long before Ned Colletti’s performance starts to attract the heat because this doesn’t appear to be a system on the upswing as the Dodgers’ rankings have fallen considerably over the last few seasons (TEAM #17 – Los Angeles Dodgers).

Best Pick from 2010 – Our best thing about our 2010 Dodger picks, is likely the continued note of caution that we have consistently sounded for two seasons now about Dee Gordon. We like him, we just find more warts than others do. We were pretty accurate in our 2010 write-up on Gordon, which bucked conventional wisdom at the time. Otherwise look at Jerry Sands at #18, which was higher than most last year or Jonathan Garcia who came in at #17.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Take your pick…we have struggled with this organization for two years now, continually disappointed by the organization’s top talent. Chris Withrow at #1 and Scott Elbert at #3 both look really poor in retrospect.

Grade A-

1) Zach Lee, RHP -

Lee is anointed top prospect in the system somewhat by default over a relief pitcher and a middle infielder with extremely little power. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the very athletic Lee. At 6’4”, 190lbs he oozes projection, and lasted until late in the first round because the industry was convinced he was attending LSU. It took the fourth highest bonus of the draft to change his mind. Lee already throws a mid-90s fastball and possesses a plus slider that should play well in the lower levels. If, however, he is to remain front of the rotation material, he will have to work on his extremely raw change. Even if it never develops, his fastball/slider combo would make him a devastating back of the bullpen option. Because Lee was a two sport athlete in high school, his baseball skills are not tremendously polished. Usually with a prospect of Lee’s stature we would expect him to debut in full-season A-ball. In this case, the Dodgers may hold him back for a few weeks in extended spring training.

2) Kenley Jansen, RP (2010 Performance Scores – Dominance 80; Control 24; HRrate 78; Stamina 27)

Jansen converted from catcher late in 2009 and has been turning heads ever since. 2010 saw Jansen begin the year in AA with 12 innings of Minor League pitching experience and saw him end it by fanning 41 in 27 Major League innings. The meteoric rise is primarily due to a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can be a high 90s offering. His slider has gone from non-existent to what is now a potentially plus pitch. The downside is that Jansen throws with tremendous effort and rarely seems to know what it will end up—as 15 walks accompanied those strikeouts. At 23yo, and given his rawness, there is every reason to believe that Jansen can become a significant back of the bullpen force. He will be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the Dodger bullpen this spring.

3) Dee Gordon, SS (2010– Power 27; Discipline 65; First Base Rate 51; Speed 79)

Regular readers are familiar with the fact that we have been tugging on the reigns of excitement over Gordon for two seasons now, as the profile just doesn’t predict stardom. That said, there is enough of a ceiling here to remain very interested. After a 2010 campaign in which Gordon skipped over Hi-A and posted the #23 Performance Score in the Southern League (SOL), Gordon went to Puerto Rico and put up solid numbers for 22yo. First the positives…Gordon has game changing speed that could eventually be a disruptive force at the top of the order. He shows above average plate discipline and solid contact skills. Defensively he covers a lot of ground and possesses a strong arm. The negatives lie in his size and location on the development curve. At 5’11”, 150lbs and turning 23yo during the first month of the season, there isn’t a ton of additional offensive projection. If he were to be able to bulk up and get to even a slightly below average power level it would likely come at the expense of his speed. We are talking about a player with 7 career home runs in more than 1600 PA’s (and only 50 doubles). That is a Juan Pierre like offensive profile. Don’t get us wrong, Gordon will very likely get a Major League shot—perhaps even sometime in 2011, but we don’t expect a lot with the bat.

Grade B+

4) Jerry Sands, 1B (2010– Power 80; Discipline 44; First Base Rate 58; Speed 58)

The hardest part about evaluating Sands, has been the Dodgers reluctance to have him face age appropriate competition. We wrote in last year’s guide that we would love to see the Dodgers jump him to Hi-A to begin 2010. But alas, as has been their wont, Sands began 2010 in the Midwest League (MWL) where he once again dominated inferior talent on his way to the League’s #6 Performance Score. Finally, in the second half things changed and Sands was skipped to the SOL where he was finally almost age appropriate. Sands posted the #5 Score there, before getting his most difficult challenge to date in the AZFL this fall. At least now we feel we can get a more accurate read on him. Sands is all about power—significant power. A surprisingly decent athlete, given his 6’4”, 225lb frame, Sands has the ability to create more value if he can prove that he can handle left field. With decent contact skills, his only weakness—outside of his position—is the propensity to chase breaking balls—something that was on display this fall. But he counteracts a 21% strikeout rate with reasonable plate patience. With the upside of a power hitting left fielder, Sands will finally be on everyone’s radar screen. The bat should be at least minimally playable as an everyday 1B/LF.

5) Jonathan Garcia, RF (2010– Power 74; Discipline 46; First Base Rate 37; Speed 50)

While others are enamored with ‘toolsy’ Trayvon Robinson, Garcia is our ‘toolsy’ Dodger outfielder of interest. An 8th round steal in the 2009 draft, Garcia is ‘sculpted’ like a prototypical power-hitting right fielder. Plus power is his top skill, but defensively he has the range of a center fielder and the arm of a third baseman. After a solid 2009 rookie league debut, the Dodgers sent the 18yo to the Pioneer League (PIO), in 2010, where he became the circuit’s third youngest position player, posting the #3 Performance Score while there. His only weakness is his overly aggressive plate approach that led to him fanning in 23% of his PAs. We doubt many will regard Garcia this highly, but this is the type of profile that we look for when uncovering ‘hidden gems’. Expect Garcia to begin 2011 with his first taste of full-season ball and expect everyone else to be discussing him this time next year.

Grade B

6) Trayvon Robinson, OF (2010– Power 49; Discipline 30; First Base Rate 75; Speed 77)

We truly wish we could get more excited about Robinson, but that nagging 25% strikeout rate that continues to increase just doesn’t allow it. It would be one thing to carry that type of offensive aggressiveness with you if you had plus power, but Robinson is a player that tops out at average power for even center field. Speed remains Robinson’s most potent weapon, although he makes solid contact and will take a walk—all of which should play well at the top of a batting order. Defensively, he plays a solid center field and should remain there. Robinson’s ‘tool set’ will get him an opportunity at the next level. For us, his lack of baseball instincts pose a problem and our expectation is that his weaknesses will be exploited by more advanced pitchers. Nonetheless, 2011 will find him in AAA to begin the year, with an appearance in Los Angeles at some point likely.

7) Chris Withrow, RHP (2010– Dominance 52; Control 32; HRrate 37; Stamina 66)

After topping this list in 2010, Withrow began the season by not being able to locate the plate. This led to adjustments with his mechanics, that resulted in his once mid-90s fastball becoming barely a low-90s offering. The scene seems eerily reminiscent of former Giants’ prospect Tim Alderson. Before we go writing him off though, there are a couple of points to remember: 1) Withrow played 2010 as a 21yo in AA and 2) there appears to be little, physically, that should prevent him from returning to mechanics that had produced significant success prior to entering this season. There is too much talent here to give up, so just write off the 2010season and monitor Withrow closely this year. Hopefully the Dodgers will return him to the SOL to begin 2011.

8) Allen Webster, RHP (2010– Dominance 46; Control 48; HRrate 67; Stamina 71)

Despite posting a top twenty Performance Score in the MWL during his 20yo season, Webster is a relatively low ceiling type of prospect. Lacking a true out-pitch, and possessing limited future projectability, Webster is unlikely to become much different from what we see right now. That said, what we see is an unbelievably polished product for a pitcher that was an 18th round draft pick and is only 20yo. Webster offers a low-90s fastball; that plays up due to his plus change. His curve is an average offering and he commands all of these pitches well enough to use them at any point. He wisely keeps the ball down—something that will likely further improve as he moves forward. All of it points to the makings of a solid #3/#4 Big League starter. While we aren’t overly enamored with Webster, his certainty scores appear to be high. Look for Webster to begin 2011 in Hi-A.

9) Rubby De La Rosa, RHP (2010– Dominance 50; Control 55; HRrate 69; Stamina 72)

De La Rosa would rate higher if we believed in his ability to develop his secondary offerings enough to remain in the rotation. Though he possesses a ‘jumping’, mid-90s fastball—one that could be a high-90s offering in relief—his weak curve and non-existent change make it hard to project De La Rosa as anything other than a relief pitcher. If he can’t improve at least one of his secondary offerings, it is even difficult to imagine success in that role. That said, you can’t teach velocity and De La Rosa has that with some to spare. The 21yo used it to post the #4 Performance Score in the SOL in 2010, and he’ll likely get a chance to improve upon it in 2011 because he is almost certainly headed there for a return engagement to work on the secondary pitches. While we would be remiss to discount his ability to remain in the rotation completely, it doesn’t appear likely.

10) Ethan Martin, RHP (2010– Dominance 47; Control 21; HRrate 52; Stamina 63)

Martin was a two-way player in high school, whom most industry observers believed was better suited for the mound and believed that the Dodgers were the ideal destination for him in which to successfully transition to a full-time starter. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as drawn up. In 2010, all of his raw talents deserted him, and he appeared to be lost mechanically, as his 6.5 BB/ 9 IP was disastrous. The pure stuff still exists, and we are willing to write off the season and give him a mulligan. That said, 2011 becomes critical—as a repeat performance may leave the Dodgers considering a return to third base for him. Expect him to move up to AA so that he can cleanse his 2010 experience.

11) Garrett Gould, RHP (2010– Dominance 44; Control 50; HRrate 58; Stamina 66)

We had higher expectations for Gould in 2010 than he was able to deliver on. That said, he did post the #4 Performance Score in the Pioneer League (PIO). At 6’4”, 190lbs, the ‘beefy’ Gould should still add a couple of ticks to his low-90s fastball. He combines that with a curve that is a potential plus offering. Ultimately, however, his success will be determined by the development of his change—as it remains a raw offering. Only 19yo, Gould has the upside of a #2 workhorse. We would like to see more progress when he moves to full-season ball in 2011 and should have a better read on him this time next year.

12) Ivan DeJesus, SS (2010– Power 34; Discipline 65; First Base Rate 38; Speed 62)

DeJesus appeared poised to make his Big League debut in 2009, before a broken leg in spring training caused him to miss the bulk of the season. Coming back in 2010, DeJesus appeared to be a step slower defensively than his pre-injury level and offensively he never really got on track. While he didn’t light things up in the AZFL, this past fall, he did show enough for us to believe that 2011 will see a return to pre-injury form. While his speed and defense are merely average for the shortstop position, DeJesus’ plate discipline and ability to get on base are above average skills. Ideally, we can envision him as a solid Major League #2 hitter at either of the middle infield positions (above average offensively for the position). He may end up as merely a backup, but in either case, he appears destined to play at the next level. Look for him to return to AAA to begin 2011, but he is Big League ready.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects

13) Aaron Miller, LHP; 14) Leon Landry, OF; 15) Scott Elbert, LHP; 16) Javier Solano, RHP; 17) Angelo Songco, OF.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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