Los Angeles Dodgers: Ranking the 10 Most Talented Prospects on the Farm
It's that time of the year when baseball publications and blogs far and wide weigh in with their opinions as to which players deserve mentioning on their respective teams' Top 10 prospects lists, and for the Los Angeles Dodgers, those number of listings are seemingly endless.
Periodicals such as Baseball America, Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, and a number of blogs from SB Nation are among only a few who have published prospect lists in the past week alone.
More than a month ago, Dodgers writers here at Bleacher Report compiled their own list of prospects based on their overall tools and readiness as to when their major league debuts will arrive. We've even gone as far as composing a slideshow which featured the Top 20 outfielders in the entire Dodgers organization who may make some type of impact in the near future.
In this latest installment, we've gone off the radar a bit and put together a list which features the Top 10 prospects in the farm system based on talent alone. While the overall speed, arm strength, power or superior glove work of a player may set them apart from others, sometimes the critical intangibles such as plate discipline, defensive range and overall savvy for the game take a number of years to develop.
Admittedly, most of the published lists themselves are nothing more than a random grouping of the top names on the farm, as each publication is subjective and has its own opinion. However, although entirely opinionated, the following list features a few statistical angles and facts about each player typically not known by the average fan.
Also, feel free to check back at Bleacher Report throughout the course of 2011 for periodical updates on how all of the Dodgers' top prospects are progressing.
10. Allen Webster, Pitcher
Primarily an infielder in high school, Carl Allen Webster was selected by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Dodger scouts had recognized something in his throwing mechanics and immediately began teaching him how to pitch.
From the moment he made his debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, Webster began to soar through the Dodgers farm system.
After a quick stop in Rookie League with Ogden in 2009, Webster posted a 12-9 record with a 2.88 ERA in 23 starts with Single-A Great Lakes last year.
His natural gift is his mechanics and his command. Last week, Baseball America rated his changeup as the best among all of the Dodgers' pitching prospects. However up until recently, his overall velocity was much lower than scouts and coaches had hoped. It seemed that whenever he tried to crank up his speed, he immediately became wild.
Nevertheless, after a full season with Loons manager Juan Bustabad and his staff, Webster is showing significant improvement.
“My fastball is probably in the mid-90s most of the time,” Webster told a reporter from The Saginaw News. “The big difference was I wasn’t as wild.”
Webster said he spent a huge amount of time working with the pitching coaches trying to perfect his throwing motion. “I worked on my mechanics and changed my delivery a little so that I could repeat it, so that it was the same every time I threw.”
Webster is set to begin 2011 with the Loons, but he may be set to see time with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga before midseason.
9. Kyle Russell, Outfield
Kyle Russell was selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft and is best known for his place in the University of Texas record books for producing far and away the most home runs in school history.
Russell, 24, is 6'5" and 220 lbs, has excellent speed for his size both defensively and on the base paths, and scouts rate his arm strength as above average. In 2009 for Single-A Great Lakes, he produced 26 home runs, 102 RBI, 90 runs scored, 39 doubles, seven triples, and 20 stolen bases in 133 games.
Along with his natural talent of driving balls into the seats comes his problems with plate discipline and making ball contact. Russell spent the first half of 2010 with Single-A Inland Empire and things seemed to be on the right track. His walk percentage rose from 12.8 percent to 13.4 percent, and his strikeout percentage decreased from 37.4 percent to 32.3 percent.
However, after a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga at midseason, the strikeouts came in droves. While with the Lookouts, he struck out a total of 113 times in only 273 at-bats, which calculated to a 41.4 percent K percentage. His average dropped from .354 while at Inland Empire to .245, and his BB percentage fell from 13.4 percent to 9.4 percent, albeit in the confines of the pitcher-friendly Southern League.
Chances are he'll spend most of 2011 with the Lookouts, at least until he shows more improvement with his strikeout percentage and/or walk ratio. Besides his power at the dish, his speed, arm strength and glove in the outfield are his best assets—three qualities the Dodgers could use on the big league roster at the moment.
8. J.T. Wise, Catcher
Within another year, Jeremy Tyler Wise could very easily be rated as the best catching prospect in the entire Dodgers franchise.
Wise was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Oklahoma, and immediately made his presence known in Rookie League play with Ogden. In 2009 after appearing in 39 games with the Raptors, Wise hit .338/.401/.566 with eight home runs and 23 RBI. Last year with Great Lakes, he carried a .309 average while adding 12 home runs and 62 RBI in 86 games played.
Besides his fine offensive skills, Wise also possesses tremendous arm strength and his release mechanics are excellent. With the Raptors he caught 24 of 47 would-be base stealers, and last year with the Loons he nailed 32 percent of runners attempting to steal.
Right now, the area in which Wise needs to improve the most is his defense, most specifically blocking the plate. He was responsible for 10 passed balls in only 24 games in 2009, and although that number decreased last year, coaches expect him to progress more.
After starting 2011 with the Loons, Wise should see a reasonable amount of time in Single-A this year with Rancho Cucamonga, where he should have no problem maintaining his strong offensive production. If his defense improves behind the dish, there's a chance he'll make the jump to Double-A Chattanooga.
7. Brian Cavazos-Galvez, Outfield
Brian Cavazos-Galvez was selected by the Dodgers in the 12th round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft and although he hasn't yet competed in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, continues to impress scouts and coaches.
In 2009 with the Raptors, Cavazos-Galvez earned the Most Valuable Player Award in the Pioneer League after leading the league in hits, runs, doubles and home runs. Last year for Single-A Great Lakes, he hit an impressive .318 while tallying 43 stolen bases, 76 runs, 43 doubles, 16 home runs and 77 RBI in 121 games.
Defensively, he's seen equal action in all three outfield spots, and possesses a rifle for an arm. His father, Balvino Galvez, was a pitcher for several Major League squads before competing in Japan in the early 1990s.
Although his offensive production does reflect a rare blend of both power and speed, his biggest weakness is that he's overly aggressive at the plate, having drawn just 12 walks in 513 plate appearances last year. He does make contact however, which is indicative of only 60 strikeouts in 490 at-bats last season.
After Cavazos-Glaves settles in at the Double-A level, scouts will have a much better take on the amount of skill he commands.
6. Chris Withrow, Pitcher
Chis Withrow was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft, and if it wasn't for an elbow injury that sidelined him for most of 2008, chances are he would be starting the year in Triple-A ball.
Withrow's best assets are his arm strength and his athleticism. When in control of his mechanics, his fastball and harder breaking pitches show plenty of cutting action, which is very rare for a 21-year-old. His father, Mike, was also a pitcher who spent several years with the Chicago White Sox organization in the early 1980s.
Withrow threw his first career shutout for the Loons last year, yet at this stage of his career his highly effective streaks are sometimes followed up with games where it seems that he's lost his primary command. When he's at his best, he looks like he's ready for the bigs, but during his flashes of inconsistency he seems to digress.
If Withrow shows any type of success with Chattanooga in 2011, a promotion to Triple-A by the midseason mark shouldn't be out of the question.
5. Zach Lee, Pitcher
Heading into the 2010 MLB Draft, Zach Lee was easily among the most talented players available, however, he was also a highly recruited high school quarterback, having already committed to play at Louisiana State University.
Dodgers management and Assistant GM Logan White took a huge amount of criticism for selecting Lee with their first-round choice, as many labeled it as a move to prevent any type of big spending. But the gamble paid off in the end, and the Dodgers could very well have attained the steal of the entire first round.
Many scouts already say that his stuff is as good as they've seen for a pitcher at 19 years of age. He touches 96 with his fastball, his changeup is exceptional, and his slider is already fully functional. And he's not afraid to use any of the three when he's behind in the count.
He's extremely athletic, and in terms of physical development, he's light years ahead of most athletes his age.
Lee did compete this past fall in the Arizona Instructional League, however, accurate minor league scouting reports should begin to surface not long after Lee makes his debut for the Ogden Raptors this season.
4. Rubby De La Rosa, Pitcher
There's no question that Rubby De La Rosa's velocity sets him apart from any other pitcher in the Dodgers' farm system. At only 21 years of age, some scouts say he has the hardest fastball in the entire Southern League.
De La Rosa was originally signed as a free agent by the Dodgers out of Santo Domingo in 2007, and after two seasons throwing in the Dominican League and a brief stop in the Midwest League, has already made the jump to Double-A ball.
His fastball normally ranges from 96 to 100 mph, and it's not rare to see the radar gun top speeds of 102 mph. At times he also shows a bit of cutting action which leads to an overwhelming number of ground-ball outs. His curve ball and changeup are still raw, but when his throwing motion is optimal, show the potential of being plus pitches in the future.
In eight starts for the Chattanooga Lookouts last season, De La Rosa compiled a 3-1 record and posted an impressive 1.41 ERA. Considering his level of success for both the Loons and the Lookouts, De La Rosa was named the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010. He is one of a few prospects who have earned an invitation to spring training, and may contend for a roster spot at some point during the 2010 campaign.
De La Rosa's biggest problem at this point is consistently repeating the same throwing motion. When he deviates from his normal mechanics, he loses command and he tends to walk a high number of hitters. If he polishes his delivery in the near future, his ceiling may be very high in terms of how far he can advance at the big league level.
3. Trayvon Robinson, Outfield
Considering the Southern League is widely known for its pitching domination, Trayvon Robinson's .300 batting average, 23 doubles, nine home runs and 57 RBI last year suggest he's one step closer to arriving in the bigs. Primarily batting from the leadoff spot, he added 38 stolen bases to his statistic line on top of his already impressive offensive numbers.
In 117 games with Inland Empire in 2009, he hit .306 while adding 28 doubles, nine triples, 15 home runs, 54 RBI and 43 stolen bases.
While in high school, Robinson had an ambition to succeed as a football player on the gridiron, however his coaches convinced him that baseball was his natural talent, and all indications are they weren't wrong.
Robinson was selected by the Dodgers in the 10th round of the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft directly out of high school, and after having steadily improved in each of his five minor league seasons, may be the most major league-ready of all the Dodgers prospects.
Although Robinson has played mostly center field during his minor league career, his mediocre arm strength suggests he may be more suited as a left fielder heading into the big leagues.
His biggest weakness has always been his high number of strikeouts—especially for a player who appears near the top of the batting order. However, Robinson continues to improve upon his plate discipline, which was evident by his 73 walks last year.
Robinson was also one of several prospects who earned an invite to spring training to compete for an Opening Day roster spot, but all indications suggest he'll spend at least the first half of the year with Triple-A Albuquerque. While most fans will be impressed with his offensive numbers in the desert, coaches will be keeping a keen eye on his contact skills while in the batter's box.
2. Jerry Sands, Outfield/First Base
Among Jerry Sands' accolades for 2010 were being named the Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Year, being named Midwest League Player of the Week three times, and earning Top Star MVP honors at the Midwest League All-Star Game. His 35 home runs last year were good enough to tie him for third place in all of minor league baseball.
Sands was selected in the 25th round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, and there have been fewer players who have climbed through the rankings of the Dodgers farm faster. In the first part of 2010, Sands appeared in 69 games for Great Lakes, while hitting an impressive .334 with 16 doubles, 18 home runs, 46 RBI and 14 stolen bases.
During the second half of last year in the pitching-dominated Southern League, Sands hit .270 while tallying 12 home runs, 17 doubles, two triples and 47 RBI while appearing in only 68 games.
Although it's not yet evident at the minor league level, Sands' lack of speed may prevent him from success as an outfielder. However, his defensive skills at first base are excellent. Last year in Great Lakes, Sands was voted as the best defensive first baseman in the Midwest League by the league's managers and coaches.
He's very quiet, yet he's an extremely hard worker. To add to his versatility, Sands has been receiving instruction at the third base spot and may be seeing more action there in the future.
He's also often criticized for his high number of strikeouts, however, those numbers continue to improve. His strikeout rate fell from 25.1 percent in 2009 to 23.9 percent last year, and his 73 walks last year were far and away the most in his three-year minor league career.
Sands was also one of several prospects invited to compete for a roster spot at spring training, but will likely begin the year at Triple-A Albuquerque. If Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti decides to shake up his team's roster sometime before the 2011 trade deadline, Sands may be a regular in Dodger Blue by year's end.
1. Dee Gordon, Shortstop
When Baseball America presented the Dodgers' Top 10 prospects list just last week, Dee Gordon was recognized as the best hitter for average, the best defensive infielder, the best athlete, and the fastest baserunner among all Dodger prospects—all this after only his second season of professional baseball.
Gordon was selected by Los Angeles in the fourth round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft, and is quickly living up to expectations.
In 2009 while playing for Single-A Great Lakes, Gordon appeared in 131 games, registered a .301 batting average, scored 96 runs and produced 17 doubles, 12 triples and three home runs while stealing a staggering 73 bases. His 73 steals set a single-season record for the Loons. Last season with Double-A Chattanooga, Gordon hit .278 with 17 doubles, 10 triples and 53 stolen bases.
With his very small frame, Gordon will never hit for much power, and coaches continue to stress plate discipline while hoping he improves upon his ability to draw more bases on balls and reduce his number of strikeouts.
He's rated as a superior defender, however, his high number of errors are mostly attributed to his unrefined throwing mechanics.
While Gordon was among the handful of prospects invited to spring training, he's certain to spend the bulk of the season with Triple-A Albuquerque, where he'll have the opportunity to polish his skills further. If everything goes well, Gordon may appear in Dodger Blue when rosters expand in September.