Minors : : General
Friday, February 10, 2012

Top Prospects: Los Angeles Dodgers

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Nick Anderson Great Lake Loons

General Manager: Ned Colletti
Assistant GM, Player Development: De Jon Watson
Assistant GM, Amateur and International Scouting: Logan White

AAA: Albuquerque Isotopes (Pacific Coast League) 70-74
AA: Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League) 77-62
Hi A: Rancho Cucamonga (California League) 80-60
Low A: Great Lakes Loons (Midwest League) 72-67
Rookie Adv.: Ogden Raptors (Pioneer League) 41-35
Rookie: AZL Dodgers (Arizona League) 34-22

System Overview

The Dodgers have been one of the most controversial franchises in baseball over the past few seasons due to outgoing owner Frank McCourt’s financial issues. Those issues may quickly be resolved as the sale of the franchise is expected to occur this spring.

Due to McCourt’s bankruptcy which forced sale of the team, Dodger Stadium and other assets, the new owners will likely be lighter in the wallet by at least $1.5 billion. However, given the groups bidding for the club all indications suggest that new ownership will not be cash poor. They will have purchased one of the best brand names in professional sports along with a loyal and hungry fan base that will be positioned to go crazy with enthusiasm at the change.

Just as importantly, the Dodgers will have perhaps the two best players in the National League in 23-year old Cy Young LHP Clayton Kershaw and near triple crown winning OF Matt Kemp. Kemp, who would probably win a recount of the NL Most Valuable Player balloting given Ryan Braun's potential 50 game suspension, is signed through 2019, while the Dodgers still control Kershaw’s contract for three more years at minimum until his first free agent year in 2015.

The Dodgers have not been bad on the field over the past few years, either. They are 25 games over .500 over the past six seasons, including a 95-77 mark in their last playoff season of 2009, and finished 82-79 last year amidst despite all the turmoil and uncertainly surrounding the club.

The main issue will be rebuilding depth at the Major League level to support Kemp and Kershaw and other veterans such as OF Andre Either, 1B James Loney, LHP Ted Lilly and RHP Chad Billingsley. GM Ned Colletti was able to do that, at least on paper, with a flurry of low budget veteran free agent signings during the offseason. Infielders Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Adam Kennedy as well as LHP Chris Capuano and RHP Aaron Harang all should contribute in various support roles.

One area the Dodgers need no help is with their bullpen, which is stocked with power arms, including two potential closers in Javi Guerra and Kenley Jansen.

The Dodgers minor league system is a very well stocked with power arms that should guarantee the big league team with in-house pitching options for years to come, along with giving Colletti a deep inventory of possible trade chips. The organization’s scouting philosophy for years has been to bring in high ceiling and athletic, if not sometimes raw and inexperienced, pitchers with plus fastballs and try to develop them. That has led to some frustrations with command (Chris Withrow, Ethan Martin) but also has led to Kershaw and the potential for other impact pitchers.

On the flip side, the system is short in middle of the field athletic talent below the Major League level. Kemp and SS Dee Gordon make that a less pressing need, as they figure to be manning centerfield and shortstop for years to come, but it is an area that the Dodgers could address.

2011 Draft

The Dodgers 2011 draft was clearly impacted by the franchise’s financial issues, as the team spent less than $3 million for their top 10 picks, sticking at slot money or below, and didn’t stretch for any players after the 10
th round.

This comes a year after the Dodgers shocked the draft world by signing RHP Zach Lee out of his football scholarship to LSU with a $5.2 million bonus and also made a million dollar plus run at another LSU signee, RHP Kevin Gausman, in the seventh round. Los Angeles also paid 11
th round pick OF Joc Pederson $600,000.

That isn’t to say that the Dodgers didn’t get good value for the picks they made, just that they didn’t go outside the box for any players.

Stanford LHP Chris Reed may have worked out of the bullpen in college, but virtually every scout saw him as a starter as a professional and the Dodgers sent him out as such after picking him with the 14
th overall pick. They also made the unusual move of jumping him straight to Hi A ball to begin his professional career.

3B Alex Santana was somewhat of a surprise selection in the second round, but the Florida high school product was a 17-year old senior with a very projectable 6-4/190 build and a combination of a plus arm and potential plus power.

RHP Scott Barlow was the only other high school player the Dodgers signed, perhaps as much an indication as any how much flexibility they had with their budget. The sixth rounder is a classic projection right hander with a fastball that can touch the low 90s now with more to come in the future.

In the third through fifth rounds the Dodgers drafted mature college players, each of whom has a chance to move quickly through the system. North Carolina State catcher Pratt Maynard is a switch-hitter whose offense is ahead of his defense at this point. With the development of switch-hitting AA catcher Gorman Erickson and the late season acquisition of Tim Federowicz from the Red Sox, the Dodgers have quickly improved their prospect level catching depth over the last year. They also drafted two very accomplished college catchers, Oklahoma’s Taylor Ogle and Wichita State’s Chris O’Brien in the ninth and 18
th rounds respectively.

Both Ryan O’Sullivan and Scott McGough, taken in the fourth and fifth rounds, are hard throwing right handers capable of sitting in the mid 90s, and both had the stuff to go higher in the draft but took steps backward during the spring. O’Sullivan, the brother of Royals RHP Sean O’Sullivan, spent two years pitching and playing shortstop at San Diego before not playing last spring due to eligibility issues. McGough, another former shortstop, was Oregon’s closer but battled ineffectiveness and perhaps a case of draftitis during the spring and saw his stock drop.

A later round sleeper could be 3B/RHP Jesus Valdez. An unsigned fifth round pick of the Angels out of high school as a right handed pitcher in 2010, the Dodgers signed Valdez in the 17
th round as a third baseman after one year at Oxnard Junior College. The organization has a long history of drafting players with two-way talent (Ethan Martin, Blake Smith, Aaron Miller) and has been very open to converting players as professionals (Kenley Jansen) as well.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Zach Lee
Baseball-reference player profile

Lee was a solid pitching prospect at McKinney High School on the north side of Dallas but was far better regarded as a top level quarterback prospect with a ride to Louisiana State. His star wide receiver, All-American SS Matt Lipka (now with the Braves) was considered a better baseball prospect.

That changed his senior year when Lee went from throwing 88-91 to 92-95 mph with the same type of precision command and control he had previously shown. He was considered a consensus first round talent by the scouting community but never wavered in his commitment to LSU, and was thought to be perhaps the most unsignable player in the 2010 draft. Thus eyebrows were raised when the financially strapped Dodgers picked Lee with the 28
th pick in the first round. It looked like another LHP Jeremy Sowers situation from 2000, when the Reds picked Vanderbilt signee Sowers with no intent of spending the money.

To everyone’s surprise, the Dodgers signed Lee to a heavily back loaded $5.2 million dual sport contract just before the deadline and after Lee was already in Baton Rouge attending classes and doing football workouts. Lee didn’t skip a beat in his baseball career, posting a 9-6, 3.47 mark in 24 starts in Low A ball while showing even better stuff and pitching polish than he shown in high school.

With LSU falling a quarterback short of winning the national title in football in 2011, one wonders if Lee signing with Dodgers might have had an effect on college football world.

2. RHP Allen WebsterBaseball-reference player profile

The Dodgers top prospect list is full of examples of unheralded draft choices who have really developed as professionals (Nate Eovaldi, Shawn Tolleson, Joc Pederson, Gorman Erickson), but there is no example of excellent scouting/player development than Webster. The Dodgers took him as an unknown North Carolina high school shortstop in the 18
th round in 2008 and signed him for $20,000, then converted him to a pitcher and let him learn in rookie ball for two years.

Webster has a complete package of pitches, any one of which can be a plus big league offering in any particular start. He pitches in the 92-94 mph range with great sinking life at times and gets the same type of life on his low 80s change up. He throws both a curveball and a slider as well.

The Dodgers have no lack of starting pitching at either the big league level or in the upper minors, so they can afford to still be patient with Webster, who still has less than 400 innings of experience on his arm, but his time should come soon.

3. RHP Nate EovaldiBaseball-reference player profile

Eovaldi is a prototypical Dodgers draft under VP Scouting Logan White, a hard throwing and raw athlete who the Dodgers have developed into a Major League pitcher much quicker than anyone would have guessed after signing him in the 11
th round in 2008.

Eovaldi attended the same high school (Alvin HS) southwest of Houston as the legendary Nolan Ryan. He missed his entire junior season after undergoing TJ surgery and essentially threw just fastballs as a senior while recovering. However, many of those fastballs were in the 93-95 mph range and the Dodgers were able to steer him away from a Texas A&M scholarship for a $250,000 signing bonus.

Although many expected the Dodgers to develop Eovaldi as a power reliever, they started him from the onset and were rewarded when he made his big league starting debut last August. They handled the 21-year old with kid gloves, essentially shutting him down the last month of the season, and he finished the year with a career high 138 innings between AAA and the big leagues.

Eovaldi is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, although his changeup is improving, but those pitches are both plus pitches. His fastball will sit at 94-96 mph through a start and touch higher, while his upper 80s slider is sharp and hard. Although the Dodgers did bring in some veteran arms to compete for spots in the starting rotation, Eovaldi should be right in the mix to win a job.

4. OF Alfredo SilverioBaseball-reference player profile

The Dodgers have been incredibly patient with Silverio since signing him as a 16-year old out of the Dominican Republic in 2004. He spent four full seasons in rookie ball and played his first full year at AA in his eighth professional season in 2011. But it all finally clicked for Silverio, as he hit .306-16-85/.882 with 42 doubles and 18 triples.

Silverio has an edge on another older AA outfielder, Scott Van Slyke (.348-20-92/1.022) in overall tools and the ability to play all three outfield positions. With the Dodgers short on athleticism among their upper level outfielders, the 24-year old (25 in May) has a good chance at stepping into a big league role over the next two years.

5. LHP Chris ReedBaseball-reference player profile

Reed was undrafted out of high school and posted ERA’s of 15.43 and 6.10 his first two seasons at Stanford before starting to come on the summer after his sophomore year while pitching in the Alaska Summer League. Still, it took scouts a while to warm up to him as he was being used as Stanford’s closer, thus limiting scouts ability to break down his stuff after seeing him so little in the past.

What they saw was a strong 6-foot-4 closer with an above average fastball and hard mid 80s slider, plus a surprising feel for a changeup that he was able to work in despite his role. The solid three-pitch arsenal made scouts think he was a future starter, which immediately raised his draft stock from the second/third round firmly into the first as the draft drew closer.

6. OF Joc PedersonBaseball-reference player profile

Pederson is the son of former Dodgers outfielder Stu Pederson, who appeared in eight games for Los Angeles in 1985 after starring at USC. It looked like the younger Pederson would follow the same initial track, attending the same high school, Palo Alto, as his father and signing with USC. But the Dodgers stepped up and paid Pederson $600,000 to sign as an 11
th round pick in 2010. His father had been a ninth round pick in 1981.

After a slow start in the Midwest League, Pederson tore up the Pioneer League as a teenager, hitting .353-11-64/.997 with 24 steals. He is a very polished left handed hitter with a strong line drive swing that he repeats mechanically with maturity. Pederson’s athletic ability is above average as well and he has the tools to play all three outfield positions, although he may not have enough speed to play centerfield at the upper levels as he continues to fill out.

(Author’s Note: I pitched against Stu Pederson in 1977 or 1978 while in high school, although I don’t remember the results. It probably wasn’t pretty.)

7. RHP Garrett GouldBaseball-reference player profile

Gould was a well known prospect from a Kansas high school going into his senior season but took a huge jump up scout’s lists with a dominating performance at the 2008 WWBA World Championships in Jupiter, where he won Most Valuable Pitcher honors. The Dodgers paid Gould $900,000 as a second rounder in 2009 to buy him away from a Wichita State scholarship.

Gould’s success is predicated on one third stuff, one third pitchability and one third deception. His delivery in high school was consistently described as “not pretty” in scouting notes, and the Dodgers have done a good job of getting Gould to repeat his mechanics better after he got off to a slow start as a professional. Gould’s fastball is in the low 90s but his out pitch is a hard 12/6 downer curveball that can reach the low 80s and is a strikeout pitch. His changeup is also a big league offering and he shows a mature feel for using all three pitches to different spots in the zone.

8. RHP Chris WithrowBaseball-reference player profile

Withrow was the Dodgers first round pick in 2007 but signed late and missed most of the 2008 season with arm problems. He made up for lost time by reaching AA during his first real season in 2009 but has been stuck at that level ever since.

Withrow might have the best overall stuff in the Dodgers system. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and is capable of reaching 98 mph, and he throws both a slider and a curveball as well as a nice sinking changeup. He has made no progress at all with his ability to pitch, however, and has walked 144 batters in 259 innings the past two seasons while going a cumulative 10-15. Withrow turns 23 at the start of the season, so he is still plenty young enough to make the mental adjustments to becoming a major league pitcher, but his career as a top prospect is on the clock.

9. RHP Shawn TollesonBaseball-reference player profile

Tolleson was a highly acclaimed high school prospect before he hurt his elbow at the beginning of his senior high school season in 2006 and underwent Tommy John surgery. He subsequently redshirted at Baylor in 2007 and was never completely able to regain his raw stuff and feel for pitching while working primarily as a starter for the Bears.

That all changed after the Dodgers drafted him as an afterthought 30
th rounder in 2010 and put him in a short relief role. Tolleson is now sitting in the mid 90s from a deceptive mid three-quarters release point while complementing his heat with a hard mid to upper 80s slider that is a strikeout pitch. He has moved through four levels in a bit more than a year since signing, and is a cumulative 8-3, 1.01 with 45 saves, 23 walks and 144 Ks in 97 total innings, 44 innings of those at AA during the second half of 2011.

10. OF Angel SongcoBaseball-reference player profile

Songco was the Dodgers fourth round draft pick out of Loyola Marymount in 2009 and has exceeded all expectations with his left handed bat. He put up one of the top seasons in the minor leagues in 2011, hitting .313-29-114/.948 with 48 doubles in the California League. While the Dodgers probably don’t have Songco ranked this high on their own internal top prospect list, there is something to be said for doing something and doing it well and Songco can flat hit. He played centerfield in college but split time almost evenly between left field and first base in 2011.

Others in the Conversation: OF James Baldwin, IF Ivan DeJesus Jr., C Tim Federowicz, C Gorman Erickson, RHP Ethan Martin, RHP Angel Sanchez, OF Blake Smith, OF Scott Van Slyke

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