Los Angeles Dodgers: 10 Crucial Prospects to Keep an Eye on in 2011
Now two weeks into the 2011 season, it is time for Dodger fans to look down on the farm and analyze the development of Dodger prospects.
After a disappointing 2010 season and a 2011 offseason in which the Dodgers did not spend as much money on free agents as some fans would have liked, it is up to the growth and production of homegrown talent to bring another World Championship to Los Angeles.
With general manager Ned Colletti at the helm, the Dodgers minor league system has faltered, but thanks to scouting director Logan White the system has been propped up for now.
Let's take a quick look at the top 10 prospects in the Dodgers organization and their hopes for cracking the big league club in the near future.
1. "Big Money Man" Zach Lee: The Arm That Cost Frank McCourt His Last Leg
Zach Lee: Great Lakes Loons (Low-A affiliate)
Zach Lee comes into the 2011 season with quite a bit of pressure.
For Lee, a 6'4'', 190 pound flame throwing right-hander, he must show definite signs of improvement to earn his keep, in his case the $5.25 million signing bonus he received in August.
Lee was planning on attending Louisiana State University and playing both football (in which he was a highly touted quarterback) and baseball. Lee is a true stud, which is why the Dodgers spent the big bucks on him.
The real package, Lee has command of four distinct pitches: a mid 90's fastball, a knee-buckling slider, a confusing changeup and a killer curveball. Lee starts the season as a Great Lakes Loon playing for the Dodgers' Low A level minor league, and his first start was extremely impressive.
Lee threw four shutout innings in the Loons' second game of the season, striking out five batters and only relinquishing two hits. His three walks are a testament to his minor issues with control, but the future looks extremely bright for this teenage millionaire.
2. Jerry Sands: Closing in on Los Angeles Shortly
Jerry Sands: Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A club)
During spring training, the talk of Camelback Ranch was definitely the performances of both Jerry Sands and our next prospect, Rubby De La Rosa.
Sands turned heads with his immense power and huge frame. He stands strong at 6'4'', 225 pounds, and he can straight up mash. Sands has rapidly made his way up the rungs, and after being drafted in 2008, he looks to make his debut in 2011.
In Double-A, Sands posted a .360/.529 with 17 homers in only 303 plate appearances, so the Dodgers are drooling at the mouth to throw his bat into the lineup. Sands was reassigned to Triple-A Albuquerque late in the spring, a good sign that his debut will be coming before this September.
Sands, at only 23 years old, has made huge strides in his defense versatility, as he spent time at both corner infield positions during the spring, along with his extensive time in the outfield. In 2012, look for Sands to be either the starting left fielder or third baseman.
Sands has been destroying minor league pitching so far this season, as he is 11-for-28 with four homers and 14 RBI on the season and has hit in every game so far. Not bad for the first week of games.
The Dodgers could definitely use some of that power, and they will be reaping those benefits as soon as Jerry can cut down his high strikeout rate.
3. Rubby De La Rosa: Drinking Legally Finally and Throwing Gems Too
Rubby De La Rosa: Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A team)
Talk about coming out of nowhere.
The story of Rubby De La Rosa gives hope to all pitchers and baseball players who are not considered to be top prospect material. Rubby was considered prospect material solely because of his young age, as he started in Ogden (Dodgers' Rookie affiliate) at 18 years, but quickly blossomed to become the Dodgers top organizational prospect last year.
After winning the top minor league pitcher award last season, Rubby was no longer a secret and this spring, he burst on to the scene even more by excelling in major league spring training games. The Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic native posted a stellar 2.29 ERA in 19 and 2/3 innings this spring.
Rubby possesses a mid 90's fastball that can jump up to hit 97 MPH or even 98 MPH on rare occasion, a changeup that baffles even the best of hitters and a hard biting curveball that drops in at a knee buckling 70 MPH.
Look for Rubby to achieve great things with the Lookouts this season and potentially get a longer look in September, whether the Dodgers are in the playoff hunt or not because Rubby can contribute. In his first start of 2011, Rubby was awesome with 9 K's in five innings, picking up his first of many victories.
Expect 2012's starting rotation to include the young man who eventually will have to have an awesome nickname with a name like Rubby.
4. Dee Gordon: A Major League Shortstop with a Junior Varsity Weight
Dee Gordon: Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A ballclub)
The blur of a human being speeding past others in Arizona this spring was most definitely Dee Gordon, the highly regarded shortstop prospect for the Dodgers.
Devaris is the son of major league relief pitcher Tom Gordon, who was nicknamed "Flash," and passed on his uber-quick genetics to his extraordinarily gifted son.
Although wafer-thin at a mere 150 pounds, and standing at 5'11'', Gordon has taken the minors by storm, and according to Baseball America, he is the Dodgers' best overall prospect.
Gordon has been the MVP of the Midwest League, a Southern League All-Star and has set the standard high for 2011 in Triple-A. In all of his three professional seasons, Gordon has led his respective teams in stolen bases and has had very solid batting averages (averaging out to be a .297 in his three seasons).
Gordon struggled with the bat in spring training, posting a meager .167 batting average with only one extra base hit in 24 at-bats. Little Dee did make some very nice plays in the field, and he brings a lot of range and agility to his home, roaming the dirt between second and third base.
So far in this young season, Gordon is 11-for-34 this season, with 10 runs scored, four RBIs and five stolen bases. Gordon has struck out 10 times and walked twice, along with four defensive errors.
Expect Gordon to try to mold his game to become a legitimate leadoff hitter with some gap to gap power this year, along with trying to cut down strikeouts, walking more and becoming more consistent on defense.
Gordon could be getting a taste of the big club soon, and I fully expect him to be a 2012 producer in Los Angeles.
5. Garrett Gould: Growing Gregariously and Grinding Away in Gorgeous Great Lakes
Garrett Gould: Great Lakes Loons (Low-A ballclub)
Like in any sport, there are some prospects that generate tons of media buzz and attention come draft time. In 2009, this was not the case for Mr.Gould. Originally from Wichita, Kansas, Garrett quickly signed and actually pitched for the Dodgers' Rookie League team, the Ogden Raptors, as a 17-year old.
Now at the ripe old age of 19, Garrett begins the season at the top of the Great Lakes rotation along with fellow youngster Zach Lee, and so far Garrett the Carrot has produced.
In his only start this season, he went six strong innings only allowing one run and a mere four hits. Last year in Ogden, Garrett posted a solid 4.06 ERA in almost 58 innings, averaging almost a strikeout an inning.
Gould has a mid-90's fastball that sits around 94 MPH, a killer curveball and a developing changeup. Gould's size (6'4") and big frame (190 pounds) is what leaves many in the Dodgers front office believing that Gould could be a front of the rotation type of starter for Los Angeles in just a couple years.
It will be a key point to watch and see if Garrett will be promoted to Double-A Chattanooga at some point this summer, as his development will be vital to the front office decisions of Ned Colletti come draft time in June.
6. Trayvon Robinson: Smelling the Show but Needing to Improve
6. Trayvon Robinson: Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A affiliate)
So close, Trayvon, you are so close to making it to the Big Show in Los Angeles. But for know, Trayvon will have to toil away in Triple-A, trying to refine his skills before he joins the Dodgers in an attempt to become the next Matt Kemp.
Robinson, a local boy from Crenshaw High School and the Los Angeles RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-cities) program, has many skills that would make him an excellent asset to the Dodgers today: wonderful speed, consistently around .300, occasional power to hit the long ball and very solid defensive skills.
However, Robinson's inability to put up exceptional numbers in any level of play, Double-A, Single-A, Arizona Fall League, Spring Training or even Winter League has made some skeptical of the talent that is supposedly there.
Last year at Chattanooga, Robinson hit .300 while stealing 38 bases and posting almost 40 extra base hits which was good enough to have him named to the Southern League All-Star team in 2010.
Robinson's chance at achieving a prominent role with the Dodgers this year is because of his leadoff capability, as his .404 on-base percentage ranked 10th in the Southern League last year.
With two home runs in six games this year at Albuquerque, Robinson could push his way into playing left field for the Dodgers this year and if not, will definitely be a member of the 2012 Dodger team.
7. Chris Withrow: Is It His Time or Is He Withering Away?
7. Chris Withrow: Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A affiliate)
Going into the 2010 season, Withrow was honored by Baseball America as the No. 48 prospect in all of baseball. Withrow had every right to be so highly touted, as the Midland, Texas native had struck out 131 batters in 2009 in only 112 innings, posting a solid 4.51 ERA in a hitter friendly league.
The Dodgers were riding high on Withrow's capabilities, a fastball that has been clocked at 99 MPH and consistently sits around 95, a 6'3" frame to build some muscle to his already 195 pound body, and a curve that is dirty when on.
However, Chris did not live up to the billing in 2010, struggling mightily with the Lookouts while posting a 4-9 record and a 5.97 ERA. Although he continued to strike batters out, his walks increased and his overall composure looked rattled.
He returns to the Lookouts this year in hopes of hitting his stride and in his defense, he is still only 22 and has the stuff to break out and make it to Los Angeles before September. However, Chris needs to improve fast as after an ugly first start in 2011, his ERA already sits perched high at 11.25.
Chris needs to be on his A-game for at least a couple months so people can forget about his erratic performance over the last 12 months. In the long term, Chris can be a top of the rotation starter if he puts his act together, and I foresee him improving and getting a call-up in the middle of 2012.
8. Allen Webster: Don't Call Me Carl, Just Watch Me Pitch
8. Allen Webster: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (High-A ballclub)
Allen, who fails to use his given first name of Carl (thus making his initials CAW), is our first Quake on the list.
Webster is not widely known except in the Dodgers' internal system, but has posted solid numbers considering his youth. At only 21 years old, some of the Dodgers current players didn't even know anything about him before Spring Training 2011, where he joined the big league team for a couple of brief appearances.
Webster threw three dominant scoreless innings with five strikeouts during the spring season, and he was assigned to Rancho as the No. 1 starter. I know what you are going to say, it's only three innings in Spring Training, but still he looked very impressive.
Webster is quietly highly-touted because in high school, he was a shortstop and not a pitcher, thus making his arm a lot more fresh than pitchers who have been putting strain on their arms since they were 10 or 11 years old.
Changing positions is a very difficult thing to do as you enter professional baseball, so it was understandable that the Dodgers were extra cautious with him. Webster has a low 90s fastball, a strong curve and a changeup that when it works, baffles even the best minor league hitters.
Plus, at 6'3" and only 185 pounds, Allen has a lot of room to fill out and add a couple miles per hour to his fastball. Although Webster has struggled mightily in his first two starts at Rancho (a 8.68 ERA and a 0-2 record), if Allen shows improvement there is no reason to think he cannot be in Albuquerque by the end of 2011 and looking to debut in either 2012 or 2013.
9. Jonathan Garcia: Barely Old Enough to Vote but Slugging His Way to the Top
9. Jonathan Garcia: Great Lakes Loons (Low-A ball)
Garcia would have graduated from high school in 2010, but instead the Puerto Rican native spent his graduation day batting .305 in a league where most of his competition was at least three years older than he.
Garcia, drafted in the 2009 Draft at the ripe old age of 17, started his Dodgers career only days after, as he mashed his way to a .304 batting average and a .500 slugging percentage before his 18th birthday. Last year, Garcia batted .305 and slugged 10 home runs at Ogden before making anyone's list of top prospects.
Although moderately undersized at 5' 11" and 175 pounds, the normal right fielder can play any of the outfield positions and is a great overall athlete. Not extraordinarily fast, he is quick in the field and has a decent knowledge of the plate.
His strikeouts will decrease over time, and they will need to if he wants to progress through the system, but being 19 years old in A-ball Jonathan has a leg up on most in the Dodgers organization.
So far at Great Lakes, J.G. has smashed three home runs in eight games, and I fully expect him to be making his way to Triple-A Albuquerque before he turns 21.
Whether or not he will have what it takes to break through with the big league club is yet to be determined, but it is excellent that the Dodgers have such a young talent coming through the system.
The key now is to hold on to him and help him progress, which respected manager John Shoemaker will hopefully help him do.
10. Nathan Eovaldi: A Surprise Pick, but He Has Earned It
10. Nathan Eovaldi - Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A ballclub)
The reason Nathan gets the call here over other potential No. 10 prospects such as Aaron Miller, Ethan Martin and Ralston Cash is because Eovaldi impressed me during Spring Training.
Whereas the 23-year-old Miller and the 22-year-old Martin did not throw a pitch during Spring Training, young 21 year old Eovaldi took the ball three times after only reaching High-A ball last year. Eovaldi impressed in some late innings, capturing a save and although he had one awful appearance, showed the tenacity and grit that both myself and the Dodger announcers love to see in a young pitcher.
In one of the first spring training games of the year, Nathan came in and blew away hitters in the 9th inning, and although he lost his command in both of his other performances, he did not lose his composure and finished his outings.
Nathan starts off the year as the No. 3 pitcher behind Rubby de la Rosa and 25-year Michael Antonini, and threw five decent innings in his first start giving up two runs while striking out four.
Nathan must improve his offspeed pitches, as both his curve and change can get away from him. However, his mid 90's fastball can blow away hitters and his tenacious approach on the mound will serve him well.
The probable plan for Eovaldi is to spend this year at Double-A and next season at Triple-A Albuquerque before making a late 2012 debut, still only at 22-years-old.
Conclusion: The Dodgers Prospects Have Upside, but They Must Prove It This Year
So in conclusion, the Dodgers' prospects are in good shape to produce in 2011 and make contributions to the big league team by the end of this season or in 2012.
Matt Kemp skyrocketed through the minor league system and became the superstar he currently is. Clayton Kershaw made the jump as a 20-year-old from Double-A and hasn't turned back since, garnering comparisons to Sandy Koufax throughout.
Will Rubby de la Rosa be the next one to excel and make his debut in Dodger blue? Or will Rubby follow the path of fallen Dodger angel Edwin Jackson?
The fate is unclear for these young men looking to reach the pinnacle of success, but one thing is certain, this summer will be very interesting to watch the growth and development of the future of Dodger baseball.