Spring training is a time for veterans to hone their game before the season starts and for coaches and managers to get a feel of who will bring what to their club in the coming season. For prospects, however, it is the ultimate battle ground for testing their mettle with the big league team.
Young players can kill or strengthen their chances at a major league call-up with their spring training performances. And because the general mood is mostly lackadaisical, these are the guys that hardcore fans come to watch.
The Dodgers have just started rebuilding their farm system, though they do have some very good prospects like Yasiel Puig, Zach Lee and Joc Pederson (the latter two are not with the big league team in spring training) to look forward to.
With most positions blocked for the next couple years at least, prospects on the Dodgers really have to shine in February and March to have any shot at making the Opening Day roster. And while I can't tell you who will or won't make the team, I can give you a rundown on each one of these young players.
Stephen Fife, P
We first saw Fife for a few spot starts in 2012, and Dodger fans had to be pleased with his overall body of work. While he didn't (and still doesn't) necessarily profile as a long-term solution in the rotation, Fife does have a great frame and good control of his fastball.
The curveball is coming along and could be a weapon, but if he develops the changeup as a third pitch, Fife is a legitimate rotation candidate. He doesn't have the velocity or the bite on his breaking ball that lends itself to multi-inning success, but at the very least, he could be a great long reliever for the Dodgers in 2013, mixed in with a few more spot starts here and there.
Paco Rodriguez, RP
Rodriguez was a revelation when he was called up late in 2012 to fill a gaping void in left-handed relief on the big league club. He was the first member of the 2012 draft class to reach the majors, and the composure this kid showed in big situations after just a couple months in the minors was outstanding.
This southpaw doesn't have an overwhelming fastball, but he has above-average command of his pitches and can mix in a cutter with movement. His lower-than-usual delivery angle also helps him fool hitters. Rodriguez's slider is devastating, and it's because of that pitch that he should stick in the Opening Day bullpen.
I'll give Ames a pass for going to a rival school of mine (Gonzaga, versus my alma mater Washington State), because he's been destructive in the Dodgers minor league system since being drafted in 2009. Originally a starter, the righty was converted to a relief pitcher and had a lot of success as a closer in recent years.
He has a decent repertoire of pitches, but relies mostly on his fastball and slider in his relief role. The power isn't overwhelming, but he locates his fastball very well and can then get hitters to chase the breaking ball. Ames' bread and butter is attacking early with fastballs and getting ahead of hitters in order to better utilize that slider.
The Dodgers are very high on Magill, and for good reason. Even without overpowering stuff, Magill has been fantastic as a prospect in the Dodgers organizations so far, registering a high strikeout-per-inning rate. He is also a mostly fastball-slider guy, but seems to get more swing-throughs than Ames does.
With Magill's strikeout-to-walk ratio, he should at least get a shot at some spot starts in the near future in the majors. He strikes out nearly three times as many batters as he walks, which is impressive, considering he struck out 168 batters in 146.1 innings last year for Double-A Chattanooga.
Since the Dodgers gave up on Wall as a starter, he has excelled in a relief role.
Last year he closed out 28 games for Triple-A Albuquerque and struck out just about one batter per inning. Since becoming a reliever, Wall has added a little git-up to his fastball, and even was said to hit 100 miles per hour on occasion.
As we've seen in the past, though, speed doesn't equal success. Wall still has control issues and relies on the fastball too much to get him out of jams. He has the physical make-up to be a good right-hand specialist, but Wall only has a couple minor league options left and his time to make an impact in the big league bullpen is dwindling.
Formerly a first-round pick of the Dodgers (back in 2007), Withrow struggled with consistency and injuries as his minor league career began. But the fans and the front office have been high on Withrow because of the dazzling potential in that right arm. Recently, the Dodgers officially converted him to a reliever.
Some coaches think that Withrow has shown flashes of Eric Gagne in his new relief role, and his power arm certainly has that potential. Withrow can throw mid-90's and has a good breaking ball—his arsenal was always a little bit better suited for a relief role anyway, and he may get a look in 2013.
Tim Federowicz, C
Widely lauded for his all-around game before coming over from Boston a few years ago, Federowicz will be the Opening Day backup to A.J. Ellis barring catastrophic slumping or an injury. Granted, it's Triple-A, but Fed-X (as he's known) put up very impressive offensive numbers in 2012.
He has a good power stroke and can really hit the gaps (34 doubles in Triple-A last year). Throw in a .371 on-base percentage, above-average eye and the fact that he caught 39 percent of runners attempting to steal last year, and we have ourselves a massive upgrade from Matt Treanor last season.
The Dodgers are excited about Federowicz for good reason.
Alex Castellanos, OF
In just over 400 at-bats in Triple-A last season, Castellanos absolutely mashed (.328, 17 homers, 52 RBI, 16 steals). It's a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League down there, and his batting average on balls in play was freakishly high, but even when all the stats averaged out he would have been a top prospect last season.
The most promising aspect of Castellanos' game is that he's been improving his walk rate and decreasing his strikeout rate every year. His .420 on-base percentage in 2012 means he needs to be right in line with Yasiel Puig to get the call if an injury occurs. He got a taste of the bigs last year, and we saw glimpses of the power and speed that could make him a star, but time is running out.
Yasiel Puig, OF
Before Puig even suited up for a minor league game last year, he drew comparisons to Oakland A's insta-stud Yoenis Cespedes. It's not just the Cuban descent that makes scouts salivate—it's the fact that the young slugger is huge (6'3", 215 lbs) for someone with his speed and athleticism.
We've seen flashes already in spring training of a guy with tremendous power potential and dazzling speed. If Puig works on his mental mistakes and cuts down on his free-swinging tendencies, the Dodgers could possibly make him the first minor league hitter to join the show in 2013.
De La Cruz
I had to do a bit of extra research to dig up info on Infante. But I'm glad I did. Though I have yet to see him play in person (or on TV for that matter), he's apparently been lights-out since the White Sox converted him to a relief role a couple years ago.
Infante is a big, right-handed pitcher who throws an effortless mid-90s fastball. According to scouting reports from 2010, he was still in need of sharpening his curveball, and I have no information on whether he has harnessed it. If he can throw 95 and develop an above-average breaking ball, the Dodgers may have landed a pretty good arm.
Another mystery pitcher is 27-year-old Abreu, who may be an older version of Infante but with more polished stuff. In 6.2 innings in 2011 for the Astros, he put up a nifty 2.70 ERA and almost two strikeouts per inning.
Granted, that's a tiny sample size and a full season apart from what we're looking at now.
Word is that Abreu also has a mid-90s fastball with a good breaking ball, and has potential to be a shutdown reliever. At his age, the peak is nearing, and the Dodgers have many more options already ahead of him for the bullpen. Abreu's minor league track record is spotty at best, so unless he puts together an incredible spring, he's probably not a memorable name.
Kelvin De La Cruz
This 24-year-old southpaw starting pitcher seems to have unlimited potential, but has never been able to put together a consistent season in the minors in which his command didn't waver. He's a tall, skinny pitcher with a very deliberate motion to the mound and then a quick, whip-like release.
He sits in the low to mid-90s with his fastball, which apparently has great sink to it. A plus pitch in his repertoire is the curveball, which drops 12-to-6. But for De La Cruz, the command is still lacking and he needs a third pitch to have any prayer at becoming a starter down the road in Los Angeles.
Osvaldo Martinez, IF
Martinez is a middle infielder who the Dodgers acquired in the middle of last season from the Chicago White Sox. Coming into 2013, he only has about 70 big league at-bats, and the results haven't been spectacular. In those plate appearances, Martinez has hit .258 with a .300 on-base percentage.
Aside from a pretty solid 2010 season in Double-A, Martinez seems to be in camp as a very deep backup option. You know, just in case Hanley Ramirez gets hurt, Dee Gordon regresses and Nick Punto gets traded.
But with no bat, and a fielding percentage that makes Gordon look like Cal Ripken, Jr., chances are Martinez is just in for a look and won't hang around with the Dodgers for long.
Jeremy Moore, OF
If Moore could cut down his strikeouts and improve his base-running instincts a little bit, this guy could be an off-the-bench steal. Moore has spent his full career to this point in the Angels minor league system, where he accumulated a .277 average, 75 homers and over 300 RBI (not to mention 124 steals) at five different levels over seven seasons.
According to some scouting reports from his time on the Angels, Moore is projected as a fourth outfielder who is nearly major league-ready. That's good news for a Dodgers team that could use a little depth off the bench in the outfield. If Moore shows good gap power, above-average defense and good speed this spring training, he might get a shot at Triple-A and an eventual call-up in 2013.