Stock Up, Stock Down for Los Angeles Dodgers' Top 10 Prospects at Midseason
In the preseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system was considered to be in the middle of the pack. Baseball Prospectus ranked them 14th, Minor League Ball ranked them 11th and ESPN’s Keith Law ranked them 11th (subscription required). To this point in the season, they’ve performed up to that level.
The top of the system has been as advertised: Corey Seager and Joc Pederson have had excellent years, and Julio Urias has demonstrated that the future is bright. Behind those elite players, the results have been a mixed bag. The lower levels of the minors have seen some young starting pitchers show flashes of dominance, but the higher levels are essentially populated with low-impact future relievers who have been quite ordinary.
Notes: All statistics courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. All statistics updated through June 20 unless otherwise noted. Prospect list courtesy of MLB.com. Nos. 8 and 9, Ross Stripling and Onelki Garcia, are injured, so nos. 11 and 12, Jose Dominguez and Matt Magill, will take their place.
10. Matt Magill, RHP
2014 stats: 53.2 IP, 4.70 ERA, 44 K, 33 BB
Magill began the season as a starter, but poor performances and an inability to find the strike zone led the Dodgers to move him to the bullpen. Unfortunately for the righty, the shorter stints from the bullpen have not helped him improve his command. He actually has a worse strikeout-to-walk ratio as a reliever than he did as a starter.
When pitchers are moved from the rotation to the bullpen, it is an acknowledgement that they are no longer capable of turning a lineup over several times. The shift to the end of games is a last-ditch effort to get something of value out of a talented arm, and to this point at least, Magill has not demonstrated that he deserves a big league shot.
9. Jose Dominguez, RHP
2014 stats: 6.1 IP, 11.37 ERA, 12 K, 6 BB (majors); 21.1 IP, 3.80 ERA, 24 K, 12 BB (Triple-A)
A young Dominican righty with a dynamite fastball, Dominguez made a brief and unsuccessful cameo in the majors this year. In the minors, though, he’s been much better.
Historically, Dominguez has struggled with his control, which remains the case. In the minor leagues, his career walk rate is 4.3 per nine innings; in 2014, it is 5.1. The difference between him and someone like the aforementioned Matt Magill is the strikeouts: Dominguez is striking out over a batter per inning. While the command struggles will likely keep him from being an elite major league reliever, it is his ability to get swings-and-misses that will keep getting him big league shots.
8. Pedro Baez, RHP
2014 stats: 19.1 IP, 2.79 ERA, 18 K, 9 BB (Double-A); 9.0 IP, 4.00 ERA, 9 K, 3 BB (Triple-A); 1.0 IP, 18.00 ERA, 2 K, 1 BB (majors)
Baez has appeared at three different levels thus far in 2014, and his promotions have been well-earned. His brief major league resume notwithstanding, the young righty has been impressive—especially once we consider that this is only his second season as a pitcher.
Like many relievers, Baez struggles with his command. Over both levels of the minors this year, he has struck out just over twice as many as he has walked. This ratio is fine but by no means elite. However, he is helped by the same phenomenon that has aided Jose Dominguez’s rise: strikeouts. Striking out nearly a batter per inning will get Baez a shot in the major leagues at some point soon.
7. Tom Windle, LHP
2014 stats: 73.2 IP, 3.79 ERA, 67 K, 22 BB
After being selected in last year’s June draft, Windle threw only 53.2 innings last year, so he was a bit of an unknown quantity coming into the season. However, 2014 has been an overall success.
The Cal League, where Windle’s Rancho Cucamonga team plays, is notoriously hitter-friendly, so a 3.79 ERA is quite impressive. Additionally, the Dodgers will be impressed with his 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Finally, because Windle is a lefty, it’s worth taking a look at his righty/lefty splits. When lefties struggle to succeed in the rotation, it’s often because they cannot get right-handed hitters out. Windle, though, has not had that problem: Righties are hitting .270 against him and have struck out 48 times (compared to 13 walks).
6. Chris Reed, LHP
2014 stats: 83 IP, 3.25 ERA, 83 K, 33 BB
Reed is now 24, so the Dodgers would expect to see a bit of growth from the young lefty. And in fact, in his second full season in Double-A, he has improved. His ERA has dropped over half a run, and—most significantly—his walk rate is over a full percentage point lower. All of this has occurred while the Stanford product has improved his strikeout rate.
Throughout his career, Reed has struggled against righties. In 2014, though, he has seen no such problem. Right-handed hitters have a .202 batting average against him. If Reed truly has solved his platoon issues—and it’s very obviously a small sample size—then he looks like a legitimate big league starter rather than just a future reliever.
5. Chris Anderson, RHP
2014 stats: 64.1 IP, 5.18 ERA, 72 K, 33 BB
Like teammate Tom Windle, Anderson pitches in the hitter-friendly Cal League, which has undoubtedly inflated his numbers. He has proved exceedingly hittable—73 hits in 64.1 innings—and his command has not been very good either—4.6 walks per nine innings.
Baseball Prospectus writer Ron Shah recently saw Anderson throw, and he came away unimpressed. His full scouting report is worth reading (linked above and here), but the conclusion is noteworthy: “I haven't seen enough to believe this player can stick in a starting rotation. Instead, I see him becoming a power reliever in a bullpen.”
4. Zach Lee, RHP
2014 stats: 83 IP, 4.45 ERA, 60 K, 25 BB
Lee is pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, so his numbers are inflated, but even taking that information into account, his year has been a disappointment. He has allowed 89 hits in 83 innings, and nine of those have been home runs. That number is a bit high and probably aided by the PCL, but he has simply allowed too many balls to be put in play.
His strikeout rate is just 6.5 per nine innings, which compares favorably to noted strikeout artists Wei-Yin Chen and Tom Koehler—except Lee is still in the minors. Additionally, his walk rate of 2.4 per nine innings is not indicative of someone with elite control.
Prior to the year, he seemed to be on the short list to be called up if the Dodgers needed an emergency starter. Now, though, he has clearly hurt his case.
3. Julio Urias, LHP
2014 stats: 42.2 IP, 3.59 ERA, 47 K, 18 BB
At just 17 years of age, Urias is still being protected by the Dodgers’ developmental plan. However, he has been quite impressive in his short outings. If we consider just the context of his age and experience, a 3.59 ERA is excellent. If we then remember that the Cal League is extremely hitter-friendly, it’s even more remarkable.
Urias’s strikeout and walk totals are great for a teenager: He is striking out over a batter per inning and demonstrating good enough control. It’s not elite—3.8 per nine—but it’s certainly not horrible.
2. Joc Pederson, CF
2014 stats: .323/.435/.582, 11 2B, 17 HR, 19 SB
Pederson’s successes are well known at this point. He has been so good that he is knocking on the door of the big leagues, but there simply remains no spot.
He has played 58 of his 70 games in center field and is probably the best defensive choice of the realistic options (Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke), but he is still just 22, so the Dodgers want to make sure he continues to get regular playing time in Triple-A.
The outfielder’s name is up and down the PCL leaderboard: He’s seventh in batting average, second in OBP, third in SLG, third in home runs, third in steals and second in OPS. However, he still probably won’t see real playing time until at least one of the expensive outfielders (Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Ethier) is traded.
1. Corey Seager, SS
2014 stats: .348/.399/.602, 25 2B, 12 HR, 5 SB
Seager has been absolutely incredible this year and has solidified his status as the Dodgers’ infielder of the future. He is just 20 years old, and he is putting up great numbers in full-season ball.
As has been mentioned several times in this article, the Cal League is notoriously hitter-friendly, so Seager’s raw numbers are a bit inflated. However, we can still see the extent to which he has dominated by looking at his places on the Cal League leaderboard: second in OPS and AVG, first in SLG and third in total bases.
The ultimate timetable for the young infielder is still undetermined, but he is definitely knocking on the door. There probably isn’t much of a challenge left at High-A, but the Dodgers won’t want to push him too fast. After 2015, when Juan Uribe’s contract ends, the team will need someone to play on the left side of the infield. And, not coincidentally, that is where Seager plays.