A Brief Look At Your 2012 Chattanooga Lookouts

Last week, I took a look at a prospective roster for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes and enjoyed the process enough that I thought I’d do the same thing for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, in no small part because this pitching staff has the potential to be loaded with talent. It helps, of course, that the Dodgers tend to keep their pitching prospects in Chattanooga and skip them straight to Los Angeles, rather than promoting them to the high altitudes of the PCL. Though the Isotopes are in the “highest” league, Double-A often has more talent, since so many clubs use Triple-A as something of a Quad-A dumping ground for fill-in veterans as needed.

In a lot of ways, trying to predict the Double-A team is more of a crapshoot, both because it’s tough to guess how the organization sees a young player who could either start at Hi-A or Double-A, and also because in many ways, it’s a simple numbers game as far as spots available. On the other hand, you generally don’t have to worry about 15 non-roster invite veterans floating around like you do with the Triple-A club. Obviously, this is just a best guess because injuries and trades can and will happen, and it can also be sometimes difficult to find updated information on some of the older players who may be minor league free agents, so I’m sure there’s at least one position here where I’ve completely whiffed on someone.

And before you ask, no, there’s no shot I’m going to keep going and try to look at what the lineups could be at Rancho Cucamonga or Great Lakes.

C: Gorman Erickson – who some prospect hounds prefer to Tim Federowicz – had something of a breakout season in 2011, most of which was spent at Rancho Cucamonga. After 157 plate appearances with the Lookouts, he should return there in 2012, though it’s not unreasonable to think he could be in Albuquerque later in the season if big-league injuries force Federowicz to be recalled ahead of schedule. Matt Wallach, who like Erickson was invited to the club’s developmental camp at Dodger Stadium, should also return after spending most of 2011 with the club. I suppose that means that J.T. Wise, 26 in June, may have to return to Rancho Cucamonga at least to start the season; he probably deserves a promotion, though you feel less bad for him when you look at his home/road splits.

1B: Scott Van Slyke should be headed to Albuquerque, so first base for the Lookouts could be something of a share between 2011 star Angelo Songco (29 homers at 22 in Hi-A) and Austin Gallagher, also coming off a good year for the Quakes. Songco will probably split his time between first and left field, so Brian Cavazos-Galvez, like Songco an outfielder who plays first, may see time here as well – though I expect him to make it to Albuquerque at some point this year.

2B: Jaime Pedroza has spent most of the last two seasons in Chattanooga, but since there’s not much room in the Triple-A infield with Ivan DeJesus, Jr. and Justin Sellers likely starting there, he’s probably coming back for year #3. He might be stuck in a numbers crunch moving up, but it’s not like there’s much behind him yet; last year’s Rancho second baseman, Rafael Ynoa, had just a .697 OPS despite playing in a high-offense league, so I expect him to repeat Hi-A.

3B: The hot corner is a mess. Sound familiar? The primary third baseman last year was Travis Denker, who keeps putting up superficially good stats but has been in five organizations in the last four seasons and was outright released by Seattle in 2010. Behind him was Corey Smith, a fun story at 29 who finally made it up to Triple-A, and Pedro Baez, who continued his long string of disappointing play before missing much of the season with a shoulder injury. If healthy, Baez should see plenty of time, though keep an eye out for second baseman-turned-catcher-turned-third baseman Tony Delmonico, who had a .387 OBP for Rancho in his first fully healthy season since 2009.

SS: Chattanooga’s primary shortstop last year was 28-year-old Ivan Ochoa, who hit a robust .233/.309/.326 for the Lookouts before becoming a minor league free agent. I think it’s safe to say he won’t be back; far more interesting is Jake Lemmerman, who struggled in a brief Double-A cameo near the end of the year after producing well in rookie ball and Rancho. The 2010 fifth-round pick should be the main Lookout shortstop for most of the season, and with Dee Gordon in the bigs and DeJesus lost in the Twilight Zone, Lemmerman is the top-rated middle infield prospect in the system.

LF: With Van Slyke, Alfredo Silverio, Kyle Russell, and Alex Castellanos all probably headed to New Mexico, the Lookouts could be starting just about from scratch in the outfield. Songco should see some time here, unless the organization now considers him strictly a first baseman, and Cavasos-Galvez will get some looks as well.

CF: Nick Buss. That’s all there is, and while he’s coming off a good season in Hi-A, he didn’t even make the honorable mention in John Sickels’ top 20 prospects list. Sure, Anthony Jackson – yes, the guy they got for Octavio Dotel – could be back, but who really cares? At this level, center field is something of a hole. Fortunately, the big club has that spot filled for the next eight years or so.

RF: Blake Smith, subject of a nice profile at LA Dodger Report this week, will move up after a big 2011 in what should be a very interesting season as far as determining what sort of prospect he’s going to be.

Others: The Lookouts had a pair of multi-positional non-prospects in Elian Herrera and Wilberto Ortiz, who could each return, and similar type Ramon Jean might move up. It’s also possible that outfielder Tyler Henson lands here. Henson was acquired from Baltimore in the Dana Eveland trade, and while I’ll admit that I completely forgot about him when I was writing about Albuquerque despite the fact he had 498 Triple-A plate appearances last year, he was also pretty awful for Norfolk and may be the victim of a numbers game in Albuquerque, considering how many outfielders Chattanooga is likely to send up.

Starting Pitching

Now we’re talking, because the Lookout staff is the strength of the team and arguably of the entire system. Three-fifths of the main 2011 rotation – Michael Antonini, Will Savage, and Nathan Eovaldi – probably aren’t coming back, but that’s okay, because there’s better talent coming. As always, these are educated guesses, because spring performances, injuries, or other trades could impact placements up to Triple-A or down to Hi-A.

SP1: Allen Webster, 22 in February, made 17 starts for Chattanooga last year and ended up with an unsightly 5.04 ERA. That’s somewhat inflated by three poor August starts (20 ER in three games), because otherwise he was very good, and is still highly regarded enough that he’s #3 on Sickels’ list. It’s not out of the question that he could be seen in Dodger Stadium as soon as late 2012 – he’s three days older than Eovaldi – so this is a big year for him.

SP2: Yep, Chris Withrow is still here, ready for his fourth season in Double-A unless the club decides to let him sink or swim and push him to Albuquerque. While this isn’t exactly the career path anyone expected from the 2007 first rounder, the talent is still clearly there (130 strikeouts in 128 innings pitched last year) and he won’t even be 23 until April. It’s not a huge leap to think that he finally puts it together and makes it to the bigs; conversely, it’s not hard to see him flaming out completely.

SP3: I wasn’t a huge fan of Stephen Fife when he came over in the Trayvon Robinson deal, and I’m still not, really; the dwindling strikeout rates are a big concern. It’s possible he gets bumped up to Triple-A after spending the last two years in Double-A for Boston before a small look in Chattanooga, though we know how the Dodgers feel about young pitchers there. He, like Webster and Withrow, was invited to the offseason developmental camp; I’m guessing he at least starts out here.

SP4: There could be a few names here – we’ll get to those in a minute – but for the moment, I’ll go with Jon Michael Redding, who increased his K/9 rate from 5.4 to 8.5 while repeating Hi-A. Redding isn’t really considered a major prospect, though I’m intrigued by a starter who strikes people out while allowing just nine homers in 137 innings in the pinball California League.

SP5: Please. Half the teams in the bigs don’t know who their #5 starter is, and you want to know who it might be from a Double-A club? Let’s go with “an ever-changing cast of characters”. Matt Magill probably deserves a promotion from Hi-A; the team’s most recent two first rounders, Zach Lee & Chris Reed, could each make it here later on in 2012, and Rubby De La Rosa could return to rehab his elbow surgery. I’ll also throw out an interesting name – Red Patterson, who was a 29th rounder in 2010 but has struck out nearly four times as many as he’s walked and will be 25 in May. Lee’s 2011 teammates Garrett Gould and Angel Sanchez were very impressive last year, but probably won’t jump two levels so quickly.

Relief Pitching

In addition to starters De La Rosa and Eovaldi, the Dodgers plucked Javy Guerra and Josh Lindblom from Double-A in 2011. That doesn’t appear to be a fluke, because the Lookouts bullpen is going to be stocked with more than a few interesting arms in 2012. Chief among them are Shawn Tolleson, who blew through three levels in 2011, striking out 105 in 69 innings, and Steve Ames, who has 169 whiffs in 105 career innings. Both are invited to the offseason camp along with Josh Wall, a converted starter making a painfully slow path up the ladder, as this will be his eighth minor league season. Another former starter is Ethan Martin, the 2008 first rounder who looks to finally have moved to the bullpen. (Hey, maybe they can move him back to third base and finally put Baez on the mound where he belongs.) Like Martin and Withrow, 2009 first-rounder Aaron Miller has struggled and may or may not still be tried as a starter; either way, he’s probably in Double-A. Cole St. Clair, Logan Bawcom, and Javier Solano should also see plenty of time, plus the usual other names that come up from Hi-A throughout the season as this bullpen gets raided to support the big club.

******

There’s a few interesting names on offense – Erickson, Songco, Lemmerman, Smith, but for the most part, the talent here is concentrated on the mound. That alone makes the Lookouts interesting, since it’s so overwhelmingly likely we see a few of these arms make it to Dodger Stadium at some point this year.

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