Yasiel Puig was one of the top Cuban players available last year. The Dodgers paid him like he will be a superstar. Are they right?
The times are indeed changing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After seeing the once-proud franchise rot under the ownership of Frank McCourt, the Dodgers find themselves in the enviable position of having a new pack of owners with deep pockets who are willing to spend at all costs to bring a championship back to Los Angeles.
However, as great as it is on paper to see a team spending a lot of money, baseball fans know all too well that just because you hand out cash like it's going out of style doesn't guarantee you anything.
All of the moves that have been made in the last nine or so months have certainly upgraded the big-league team, and the Dodgers are in a good position to compete for a playoff spot.
The farm system is still pitching heavy, especially at the top. The team did try to bring in some high-upside position players by signing Cuban defector Yasiel Puig to a huge contract and drafting Corey Seager in the first round of last year's draft.
The Dodgers' focus in 2013 certainly won't be on the farm system, partly because of all the money spent on the big-league team and partly because the impact players are in the lower levels of the minors, but there is talent to be found.
Here is a full look at the Dodgers' system heading into 2013, as well as a look at the top prospects, a breakout prospect to watch and a prospect who could make an impact in the big leagues.
Note: All stats and ages courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
No. 1 Yasiel Puig, Outfielder
9 G, .400/.500/1.000, 12 H, 3 3B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K, 1 SB (Rookie)
14 G, .327/.407/.423, 17 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 8 K, 7 SB (High-A)
Puig was one of the most sought-after international free agents in 2012. He ultimately signed with the Dodgers for a surprising $42 million over seven years. It was surprising because no one expected him to get an offer like that, but the Dodgers have proven they will do anything they can to add talent.
That is not to say Puig doesn't have the talent to make that look like a bargain. He is a terrific athlete with a strong, powerful body. He has big power and great bat speed, so he can play in games right now.
However, he does need to work on developing a better plan and approach at the plate so he isn't chasing anything around the zone.
Defensively, Puig projects well as a right fielder. He has the offensive profile and plus arm for the position. He needs to get acclimated to the position, especially in the routes he takes to the ball.
As much upside as Puig has, the risk is enormous because, aside from the 23 games he played in 2012, he hadn't played organized baseball since 2011. He was barred from the Cuban professional league for trying to leave the country.
No. 2 Corey Seager, Shortstop
Age: 18 (Turns 19 on April 27)
46 G, .309/.383/.520, 54 H, 9 2B, 2 3B, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 21 BB, 33 K, 8 SB (Rookie)
Seager was the Dodgers' first-round pick in last June's draft and one of the most exciting offensive players available. He made a brief stop in rookie ball after signing and showed advanced tools that could make him a fast mover.
He has a great, easy swing that allows him to hit for average and power. He is comfortable making adjustments in an at-bat and taking the ball the opposite way. His best skill is his advanced approach and pitch recognition that allows him to wait for his pitch.
At 6'3", 195 pounds, it is possible that Seager will have to move off shortstop eventually. He has the arm and instincts for the position as he moves up, but it remains to be seen if his range will allow him to stay there.
Because Seager's offensive profile is already so strong and figures to get better as he gains more muscle (and power), he should still be a star at third base.
No. 3 Zach Lee, Starting Pitcher
12 G (12 starts), 2-3, 4.55 ERA, 55.1 IP, 60 H, 31 R (28 ER), 9 HR, 10 BB, 52 K (High-A)
13 G (13 starts), 4-3, 4.25 ERA, 65.2 IP, 69 H, 37 R (31 ER), 6 HR, 22 BB, 51 K (Double-A)
Lee has never taken that step forward so many predicted for him when he was a first-round pick in 2010. He still possesses elite athleticism for a pitcher, a solid four-pitch mix and good command.
The biggest knock against Lee is that he doesn't have a true swing-and-miss pitch. His fastball has above-average velocity and movement. His slider is his best offspeed pitch, but the curveball is at least average. He is still refining a changeup that projects as a plus pitch.
Because he is such a smooth athlete, Lee has a simple, clean delivery and has learned how to pound the strike zone. His ceiling is that of a No. 3 starter because he doesn't have a knockout pitch, but it shouldn't take long before he is a fixture in the Dodgers' rotation.
No. 4 Onelki Garcia, Starting Pitcher
1 G (1 start), 0.00 ERA, 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K (High-A)
Garcia's journey to professional baseball in this country is like something you would see in a courtroom drama. He defected from Cuba in 2011 and was supposed to be in the draft that year, but Major League Baseball never got around to settling his residency case until last year.
The Dodgers grabbed Garcia in the third round of the 2012 draft. He has a power pitcher's frame and a good arsenal from the left side to back it up. He has a plus fastball with movement and plus curveball he can use already.
His changeup still needs to be refined and should be as he gains more experience. He is a little old for a pitcher in High A, but because he already has a good feel for two pitches and the potential to add more, he shouldn't take too long to reach the majors.
No. 5 Chris Reed, Starting Pitcher
Age: 22 (Turns 23 on May 20)
7 G (6 starts), 1-4, 3.09 ERA, 35 IP, 25 H, 12 ER, 1 HR, 14 BB, 38 K (High-A)
12 G (11 starts), 0-4, 4.84 ERA, 35.1 IP, 31 H, 19 ER, 2 HR, 20 BB, 29 K (Double-A)
Despite pitching as a reliever in college, the Dodgers' drafted Reed in the first round of the 2011 draft with every intention of making him a starter. His solid three-pitch mix certainly made it possible that he could handle the transition.
Even though there were ups and downs in his first full season, Reed has the potential to be a good No. 3 starter in the future. His fastball is an average pitch right now with the chance to become more thanks to its downward movement. His slider gives him a potential strikeout weapon, when it is on.
The biggest issues that he has to work on are command and control, as he still walks too many hitters to last in a rotation, and being more consistent with his slider and changeup. He also stays too low to the ground when he throws, robbing his pitches of downward plane.
Jim Shonerd of Baseball America (subscribers only) said it best when talking about the Dodgers' farm system. He said that, even with the loss of so many young arms due to trades, the "strength of system remains pitching."
A big reason the Dodgers had to, and were able to, trade a lot of young hurlers to acquire the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino (now with Boston) and Carl Crawford is because of their pitching depth in the minors.
Even with all the subtractions, it is still the strength of the system. There may not be as many high-upside arms left, or at least not as many close to the big leagues, but looking up and down the farm it is hard not to notice how deep they are on the mound.
Position players have not been kind to the Dodgers in recent years. They have a superstar at the big-league level in Matt Kemp. Puig might have that kind of upside, though he is a long way from reaching that ceiling.
After Puig, Seager and Joc Pederson represent the best hopes for at least an above-average everyday position player.
Rodriguez doesn't overpower you with stuff, but he knows how to use his entire arsenal to get you out.
As you can tell based on everything that has come before this part, there is not likely to be a lot of help from the farm system this season if the Dodgers have a need due to injuries or poor performance.
The best bet to make an impact in the big leagues in 2013 is someone who spent some time there last season but still has rookie eligibility left: Paco Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was the first player from the 2012 draft to make the big leagues. He breezed through the minors, giving up just 11 hits and two earned runs while striking out 32 in 20 innings before being brought up in early September.
He made 11 appearances for the Dodgers, giving up one earned run in seven innings of work. He was a polished college reliever when the team took him in the second round, so it was not a shock to see him move so quickly.
Rodriguez is not a pitcher who is going to overwhelm you with stuff. He has a low-90s fastball that does have movement. He gets hitters out with a cutter that destroys righties. He also throws a slider and changeup, but both are below average right now with a chance to get better in time.
He will likely end up being the seventh-inning guy since the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen to close games and did, in fact, actually give Brandon League a three-year deal to be a late-inning reliever.
Even though Alex Santana was drafted as a shortstop in 2011, his body filled out very quickly and he was forced to move to third base.
While some prospects would have a difficult time keeping their ceiling so high after moving off shortstop, Santana is an exception because his offensive profile will fit nicely at the hot corner and he has all the tools to be a good defender.
The risk is huge, as he has spent two years in rookie ball still adjusting to the pitching and learning how to utilize his power and be more selective at the plate.
But since Santana will play most of the season at 19 (he turns 20 in August), you can dream on him turning into a strong defensive third baseman with plus power and the ability to hit for average.
The Dodgers have invested a lot of resources and picks into upgrading their position player crop. It is an intriguing group coming up, but they also have a lot of question marks.
Even Yasiel Puig, the big bonus baby, has yet to play more than a handful of games above Low-A. He has tremendous upside, which is why the Dodgers were so willing to go above and beyond what anyone else was, but he has only played in about 25 games in the last two years.
It would be nice to see some of their position players take a step forward, like Alex Santana, or prove that their hype right now is more than justified, like Corey Seager.
With Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez on the wrong side of 30, the margin of error for them to succeed continues to decrease. Ethier has been a platoon player for years, but the Dodgers aren't going to sit him against lefties because he makes too much money.
Gonzalez's significant drop in power last season is a cause for concern. If he can't hit home runs, he turns into James Loney with a better batting average.
The pitching is still strong and there are a number of high-upside arms. They do come with obvious risk, though there is a good balance of low-risk, low-ceiling pitchers not that far away from making it to the big leagues.
It is a system that has a lot of questions, though there could be some great answers coming if a few things break the right way.