Down on the Farm: Los Angeles Dodgers May Minor League Update
Frustration. The optimal word to describe the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers campaign thus far. At 21-27 and currently standing in fourth place, disappointing only encapsulates some of the feelings the Dodgers and their fans have been forced to accept this spring.
With rampant injuries to both the pitching staff and the starting lineup, the Dodgers have trotted out a team more akin to a spring training or Triple-A squad than a true Dodgers team. Now this is no disrespect to Juan Castro, Aaron Miles or Russ Mitchell, but at the end of the day it is far-fetched to expect them to produce at the plate when established cornerstones like James Loney and Juan Uribe are having trouble batting their weight.
With eight men currently on the 15-day disabled list and two more potentially joining them after suffering injuries in Sunday's game against the Chicago White Sox (Andre Ethier and Rod Barajas), it is vital to check up on how the prospects are doing in the minor league system.
More than just a recap of the minor league system for each youngster, you'll also get my quick determination to whether each prospect is ready to move up to the next level, be it the major leagues or even High-A ball from Low-A ball. It's always good to think about the future, and with such a painstakingly tumultuous present, let's transfer some energy into the next crop of Dodger stars.
First Off: A Look at Dodger Minor League Injuries
It has been a horrendous year for injuries on the Los Angeles Dodgers major league roster. In only eight weeks of the 2011 season, 12 players have been on the disabled list, and currently, eight reside on the DL. The starting shortstop, Rafael Furcal, has only played eight games, the starting third baseman Casey Blake has been banged up all season long and the bullpen has been completely decimated by injuries.
However, in the minor league system, the top prospects in the Dodgers farm clubs have been spared by too many injuries. Most notably, Aaron Miller (pictured here) was placed on the DL with an undisclosed arm injury and only appeared in his first game last night. He was extremely impressive for High-A Rancho, posting his first win of the year while striking out nine batters in six innings.
The 24-year-old out of Baylor University was extremely successful last year at High-A Rancho, posting a 2.92 ERA, so the Dodgers are anxious to get him moving up the organizational ladder.
Also, first-round selection right-handed pitcher Zach Lee had an MRI after feeling some arm soreness, but the MRI found no structural damage, and he is scheduled to return in two weeks. Carlos Monasterios is also currently on the seven-day DL, and he has only thrown once for the Albuquerque Isotopes this season. However, after throwing in the Arizona Fall League and the Venezuelan Winter League, it is only reasonable that they needed to shut his arm down.
Chattanooga third baseman Pedro has been shut down since May 10th but has not made news with a major injury, so it is safe to assume he will also return in a manner of time.
Luckily, the minor league Dodgers have been able to escape the injury bug. Now let's look at those hot prospects who can contribute to the major league squad.
Hot Hot Hot: Rubby De La Rosa, a One-Way Trip to LA Nearing
What would you do if an entire organization told you, "So listen buddy, you are going to have to be our future, our pride and our ticket to success"?
Well personally, I think I would crack under the pressure. For Rubby De La Rosa, it's all a day's work. After being named the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year last September, all De La Rosa has done is impress everyone in spring training and translate the success to Double-A Chattanooga.
The 22-year-old is 2-2 so far this season in his 40.2 innings. His 2.92 ERA leads the starters and his 52 strikeouts leads the Southern League even though he was pulled after only two innings in his last start. Some thought that his removal from the game meant he would be on a plane to meet the Dodgers on their road trip, but no announcement has been made.
Whatever the case, De La Rosa has proven in these first eight starts that he is ready to be a crucial part of a major league pitching staff, whether coming out of the bullpen or being a starter.
Would De La Rosa supplant struggling Jon Garland or Ted Lilly? I do not know, but one thing is certain. The Dodgers need De La Rosa more than they need Lance Cormier, so Ned Colletti needs to make a change and get the best pitchers up immediately.
Until Rubby gets the official call, we will sit and admire his flaming fastball and his filthy off-speed stuff.
Coming out of Nowhere: Scott Van Slyke and the Slew of First Basemen
Reflecting on the first eight weeks on the minor league system, there have been a lot of Dodger minor leaguers who have stood up and made people notice them. Especially with the dismal performance of major league first baseman James Loney, the Dodger's minor league first basemen have done tremendous jobs thus far at producing at the plate.
Whereas Loney is only batting .240 this season, Chattanooga first baseman Scott Van Slyke is batting .340 with an extremely impressive .424 on-base percentage. Although not mashing to the level that Van Slyke is, Triple-A Albuquerque first baseman Corey Smith posts a .511 slugging percentage and a .307 average.
Van Slyke has been a huge surprise though. After batting a cumulative .270 among three different teams last season, no one expected Scott to produce to this level. 16 doubles, four home runs, 30 RBI, 80 total bases and a .567 slugging percentage have made Van Slyke the biggest offensive threat in the Southern League.
Even at the lower levels, the first basemen have been moderate surprises. Austin Gallagher of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes is currently batting .295 with a .370 on-base percentage and a .457 slugging percentage. The 6'5", 23-year-old slugger has yet to crank up the power numbers, but does have four home runs so far.
In the great state of Michigan, Blake Dean has struggled a little bit for the Great Lakes Loons, but the left-handed swinger still has time to turn it around. Batting .250 with only two home runs and 17 RBI, Dean has only struck out 14 times (he has walked 15 times), so that is promising.
Overall, James Loney should be feeling the pressure to perform not just by the appearance of Jerry Sands and Russ Mitchell on the big league squad but also by the prospect clambering to make some noise at the highest level.
Holding the Cards: John Ely, Nathan Eovaldi Among Pitchers to Perform Well
So far this season, Dodger minor leaguer pitchers have been solid. With the exception of the anomaly of Albuquerque, each Dodger minor league team’s ERA is in the top half of their respective leagues.
Chattanooga’s pitching staff, anchored by the aforementioned Rubby De La Rosa, the 4-1 Will Savage and former first-round draft pick Cole St. Clair, posts a 3.70 ERA good enough for second best in the Southern League. Rancho Cucamonga’s 4.18 ERA is also second best in the California League (High-A ball), their rotation headed by the dominant trio of Allen Webster, Matt Magill and Jon Michael Redding.
Great Lakes has a combined 3.54 ERA due in large part to the performance of two future stars: starting ace Garret Gould and closer Shawn Tolleson.
John Ely (pictured here) has impressed the staff in Albuquerque, throwing two complete games and a shutout in only eight starts. Ely’s command seems to be more under control, with only 17 walks in 52.1 innings (and he had six walks in his first two starts). Ely’s 37 strikeouts shows an improvement of being able to put away hitters, as the batting average against John is currently only .241.
However, three mediocre starts have diminished his success this season and has caused him to be passed over a couple times for call-ups. I believe Ely will get another call soon though because he is a competitor and doing all he can to improve.
Nathan Eovaldi, a rising 21-year-old at Chattanooga, has been extremely impressive so far this season. In his eight starts, Nathan has only allowed more than two runs twice and currently posts a 2.97 ERA and a 3-2 record. Eovaldi’s 44 strikeouts to 17 walks ratio is superb and a sign that he can handle any level of play.
Eovaldi has yet to throw over 100 innings in a season, so if he were to get called up at some point this season, a mixture of bullpen and starting would probably suit him best with plenty of rest in between. Considering Nathan has already thrown 40 innings, the Dodgers need to show caution with the gritty, hard-throwing right-hander.
Elsewhere, in Michigan, there are a bunch of unsung producers for the Great Lakes Loons whom most people have never heard of. Ryan Christenson, a 21-year-old left-hander from Oklahoma, has been dominant so far this year posting a 3.27 ERA and a 5-1 record. After a disappointing 2010 at Great Lakes, look for Ryan to be moved up to Rancho Cucamonga (High-A) and potentially even a shot at Double-A Chattanooga before the end of the year. His command is impeccable with only nine walks to 43 strikeouts.
Reliever Logan Bawcom has also impressed so far for Great Lakes, with a 3-0 record and a 3.42 ERA in 23.2 relief innings. His .207 batting average against reflects how difficult it is to face the flame-throwing Texas native. With his upside, Bawcom could be looking at being the Double-A closer soon and being a part of the 2013 Dodger bullpen.
Searching for Answers: Slow Starts Scare Some
For some prospects, the 2011 minor league season has been just as troubling as the 2011 major league Dodger campaign. The inability to buy a hit for some hitters, the puzzling loss of control for some pitchers and the hope that they don't get the dreaded demotion call for those whose talents are beginning to be questioned.
This slide is not about ragging on young guys who are struggling mightily and toiling away on bus rides. It's about bringing to light the flaws in minor league prospect ranking systems.
Currently, three of the top 10 prospects (according to MLB.com) in the Dodgers system have really found trouble. By putting so much pressure on them to perform as the No. 3 prospect in the organization, the kids often believe they have to hit 30 home runs and break out of who they are as players.
For Justin Sellers at Triple-A Albuquerque, this year has been tough. The Bellflower, Calif. homegrown Isotope second baseman is a testament to hardworking guys, overcoming the fact his physique is pedestrian. At 5'10" and 160 pounds, Sellers is not expected to be a power threat. After hitting 14 last season, he has hit five this year but suffered through a season-long slump with an average now at .205.
Sellers has 27 strikeouts, which is about 12 too many for this point in the season, but his .340 on-base percentage has made up for shortcomings. On the older side at 25 years old, Sellers must improve mightily if he wants to get a phone call to try to help out the paltry Dodger offense in Los Angeles.
In a the nearby desert to Los Angeles, Ethan Martin has been sweltering in the warm Rancho Cucamonga spring. In 38 innings, Martin has allowed 28 runs, a 6.63 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP. The 24 walks are not a positive sign for the big 21-year-old righty, but hopefully he can figure it out soon.
Lefty pitcher Greg Wilborn had some intrigue surrounding him at the end of 2010 but has struggled as well at Rancho with a 7.04 ERA in 30 innings. Since Wilborn is 24 years old, time is running out if he wants a shot at the big time.
Others who have failed to impress have been Jon Link, the Triple-A pitcher who was shuttled back and forth from Los Angeles countless times last season. Link has a 5.25 ERA in 20 innings, trying to carve out his niche as either a starter or a reliever but not finding success either place.
Speaking of pitchers shuttled back and forth last season, Travis Schlichting has also found trouble on his way to a 6.00 ERA in 15 innings of relief. Both pitchers could easily be considered for call-ups if the current trend of Dodger pitching continues but have not proven they deserve it yet.
Rounding out the disappointing list is Chattanooga's Chris Withrow. Chris, No. 6 on the list of top 10 prospects, is currently 0-4 with a 5.23 ERA. His WHIP is 1.52, and he hasn't been able to put hitters away, with only 34 strikeouts. The 21-year-old has shown promise, posting a 2.45 May ERA but still has to climb out of the hole of being the worst starter on the Lookout squad.
Conclusion: Dodger Future Looks Brighter Than Present, Not Saying Much
Overall, the Dodgers minor league squads have been about average thus far. Sure, there have been some nice surprises and some moderate disappointments. After only one month, it's hard to judge a bunch of kids not old enough to drink legally or rent a car, but they are expected to do a lot.
When the world looks at 21-year-old Marlins slugger Mike Stanton, they don't remember he was in high school only four years ago. As June rolls around, most 21-year-olds are graduating college, trying to find entry level jobs or internships. Many are preparing for graduate school, not making SportsCenter highlight reels with monstrous blasts and tremendous athletic catches in the outfield.
It's important to remember that the guys in the minors are being groomed, slowly but surely, but it's important also for them to be find the success so they can establish a winning attitude that can surely translate throughout an organization and hopefully inspire a diminished big league squad find some luck in a woebegone season.
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