Los Angeles Dodgers: Ranking the Top 10 Prospects Ahead of Spring Training
The Los Angeles Dodgers have finished with a losing record twice since the turn of the millennium and have won four straight division titles. Still, they boast one of the best farm systems in baseball. That's impressive.
"There are systems that run deeper in likely regulars, because those teams have been able to focus just on building without having to balance that and contention," noted ESPN.com's Keith Law, "but for a team this good to have this kind of star potential in full-season ball is remarkable."
Yes, L.A.'s minor league depth took a hit Monday when the team traded prized right-hander Jose De Leon to the Tampa Bay Rays for second baseman Logan Forsythe.
The Dodgers still have a nice pile of MiLB chips, however, some of whom figure to crack the 2017 Opening Day roster.
As we head into spring training, here's a look at the team's top 10 prospects based on a combination of talent, potential and MLB-ready polish.
No. 10: Brock Stewart, RHP
The Dodgers used 15 starting pitchers in 2016, and Brock Stewart was one of them.
The 2014 sixth-round pick debuted on June 29 and wound up posting a 5.79 ERA with L.A. in seven appearances, including five starts.
More promisingly, Stewart put up a 1.79 ERA between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, and he went 4-0 with a 2.49 ERA in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League.
His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and his changeup has developed into a quality secondary offering.
The Dodgers' rotation and bullpen mix is crowded, meaning it would take a superlative spring and probably some injuries for Stewart to crack the 25-man roster.
Expect to see him on the big club at some point this season, though, particularly if L.A.'s rotation revolving door repeats itself.
No. 9: Austin Barnes, C/INF
Austin Barnes has appeared in 40 games with the Dodgers over the past two seasons, posting a .180/.315/.230 slash line. He's also 27 years old, so we're stretching the definition of "prospect."
Barnes holds his rookie status, however, which means he makes the cut.
Through six minor league campaigns, Barnes has hit .299 with an .828 OPS. He's an adept defender who saw innings at second base and third base with L.A. as well as behind the dish.
Barnes appears to have the inside track on the backup catcher gig if you believe manager Dave Roberts (which you should).
"It's his time," the Dodgers skipper said, per Alanna Rizzo of SportsNet LA.
No. 8: Jordan Sheffield, RHP
The 36th overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft, Jordan Sheffield flashed swing-and-miss stuff in a brief minor league audition, fanning 13 in 12 innings between the rookie league and Single-A.
The 21-year-old Vanderbilt alum can touch the high 90s with his fastball, while his slider and changeup are also potential plus pitches.
He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013, so health questions will linger until he undergoes the rigors of a full pro season. Control remains a concern as well. He walked six in his 12 minor league frames and averaged 4.61 walks per nine innings in two college seasons.
He has the ability to become a top-of-the-rotation starter, though, and the Dodgers have no need to rush him.
No. 7: Gavin Lux, SS
The 20th overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft, Gavin Lux hit .296 with an impressive .375 on-base percentage in 56 rookie league games.
The 19-year-old has the arm, quickness and hands to stick at shortstop, a position occupied on the Dodgers by a guy named Corey Seager.
That's a question for another day. Lux is young and raw and at least a few seasons away from sniffing the MLB roster.
He's already making physical strides, however, as Dodgers scouting director Billy Gasparino noted in June.
"One of the things we were impressed with was just how much strength he's put on in the last six months," Gasparino said, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times.
No. 6: Yusniel Diaz, CF
The Dodgers tossed $15.5 million at Cuban defector Yusniel Diaz in 2015 and paid a penalty in the same amount for going over their international allotment.
That's a big expenditure for a kid who turned 20 in October.
Diaz teased huge potential in one season with Cuba's Serie Nacional, slashing .348/.447/.440 in 65 games. Last year, he put up a .267/.326/.415 line in 85 games between the rookie league and High-A.
Diaz has speed, a solid arm and developing power. After not hitting a single home run with the Industriales of Serie Nacional, he clubbed nine in the Dodgers' system.
He saw the most MiLB action in center field and could stick there, though he also logged innings at the corner outfield spots.
No. 5: Andrew Toles, LF
You know the legend of Andrew Toles. After briefly falling out of baseball and getting a job at a grocery store, Toles debuted with the Dodgers in July and hit .314 with an .870 OPS in 48 games.
If it were a heartwarming Disney movie, you wouldn't believe it.
Toles kept his rookie status and thus qualifies as a prospect. He also raised his status from relative unknown to the likely starting left fielder for the defending National League West champs.
It's not as if Toles came out of nowhere. He hit .309 across four minor league seasons. But his 2016 emergence was unexpected, to put it mildly.
He turns 25 in May, meaning this will be a pivotal year in which we find out if he's a legitimate big leaguer or a flash-in-the-pan footnote.
No. 4: Willie Calhoun, 2B
Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer recently wrote about MLB's second-base power explosion. Soon, Willie Calhoun might join the party.
A fourth-round pick in 2015, Calhoun hit 27 home runs in 132 games at Double-A last season after clubbing 11 in 73 games between the rookie league and High-A in 2015.
He's struggled defensively, making 39 errors in 746 minor league chances at second, so a move out of the middle infield may be in his future.
This much is certain: If the 22-year-old can keep clearing fences, the Dodgers will find a spot for him somewhere.
No. 3: Yadier Alvarez, RHP
As with Diaz, the Dodgers paid double to acquire Cuban right-hander Yadier Alvarez.
Los Angeles gave Alvarez $16 million and ponied up the same amount in penalties. That's a lot of scratch for a slender pitcher who won't reach legal U.S. drinking age until March.
Still, it's easy to see why the Dodgers are excited about Alvarez. His electric fastball touches triple digits, and he struck out 81 in 59.1 innings between the rookie league and Single-A in 2016 while posting a 2.12 ERA.
L.A. was unwilling to part with Alvarez during its search for a second baseman, according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, meaning the club was higher on the lanky flame-thrower than it was on De Leon.
No. 2: Alex Verdugo, CF
A high school pitching prospect with mid-90s velocity, Alex Verdugo was drafted by the Dodgers in the second round in 2014.
The catch? They made him into an outfielder.
So far, Verdugo has looked the part, slashing .302/.352/.439 in three minor league campaigns. He has so-so speed for a center fielder but hit 23 doubles and 13 home runs at Double-A in 2016, suggesting he has enough pop to slot into a corner outfield spot.
Add a pitcher's arm, and you've got the makings of a complete-package MLB regular.
Verdugo won't enter the Dodgers' crowded outfield mix this spring, but if he continues to climb the minor league ladder, he could receive a September call-up.
No. 1: Cody Bellinger, 1B
The heir apparent to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, Cody Bellinger has posted an .843 OPS with 60 home runs in 343 MiLB games and drawn praise for his defense.
"He has a Gold Glove-caliber fluidity at first base that draws comparisons to Wes Parker, J.T. Snow, Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly," wrote MLB.com's Ken Gurnick.
The 21-year-old finished last season with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers, and he will get a chance to tear up the Pacific Coast League in 2017 before a possible late-season call-up.
He won't supplant Gonzalez this year, but he could push the veteran for playing time in 2018 and will be in line to take over at first base in 2019.