Editor’s note: Chris Jackson returns with a look at the organizational depth in the corner outfield; consider this your well-deserved reward for making it through the endless slog of the infield.
Oh, corner outfield, that giant mixed bag of big and small, short and tall, fast and slow. Home to plodders and sluggers, a speedster here and there, and a whole slew of random types. As it is with most of the other positions already covered in this series, corner outfield has some legitimate prospects, a few sleepers, and a bunch of guys who will likely never see Albuquerque, much less Los Angeles.
This group features a prospect without a defined position, a certain Cuban defector who has merited a vast amount of attention, and a number of other players who are a bit mysterious in terms of “will they or won’t they break through?” It is, in some ways, the opposite of shortstop, where the talent is at the lower levels and there are only suspects up top. Instead, similar to first base, there is a logjam of players between Albuquerque and Chattanooga, one that the Dodgers will have to sort out in spring training.
Onward with this long list of names …
Alex Castellanos: The 26-year-old Florida native only played four games, two each in left and right, in the outfield last season, but I am listing him here if for no other reason than there does not seem to be another obvious place to put him. Castellanos hit a robust .328/.420/.590 with 17 home runs with the Isotopes last seas, but finding the right position for him was the main focus. He played 50 games at second base early in the year and seemed, from this reporter’s perspective, to slowly get comfortable there. He has the range and reaction skills to play second, and once he settled in his throwing yips went away. Then he got called up to the Dodgers and only played outfield. After being sent back down he was moved to third base, where he struggled, particularly with his throws. Castellanos played solely in the outfield in the Venezuelan Winter League. Until he pops up somewhere else, it is assumed that the Dodgers have accepted his future role is primarily as an outfielder. Stay tuned as this narrative could easily change again multiple times in 2013.
Brian Cavazos-Galvez: The 25-year-old got a rare opportunity in 2012 and ran with it — playing in his hometown. The first native Burqueno to play for the Isotopes (there were a few over the years to pop up with the Dukes), Cavazos-Galvez capped an up-and-down year with a strong finish, though he did miss the end of the season with an ankle injury. Between three levels he hit .310/.340/.534 with 15 home runs. As usual, he was allergic to walks (13 total), but he offsets that somewhat with low strikeout totals (48). The problem Cavazos-Galvez now faces is in the scrum for playing time. There are other players considered to be ahead of him in the pecking order. He will have to fight for the right to return home to play for the Isotopes in 2013, but the odds may be against him.
Jeremy Moore: The Dodgers quietly signed Moore in the middle of the off-season. A former Angel, for all of eight at-bats in 2011, Moore was coming off hip surgery that cost him the entire 2012 season. He was surprisingly invited to the Dodgers’ annual prospect minicamp, suggesting his standing within the organization is already high, something that could spell trouble for other players like Cavazos-Galvez and a few listed below in terms of their chances to fend off Moore for an Albuquerque roster spot. A former football player in high school, Moore is still just 25 and has a reputation for athleticism instead of polish. In his last healthy season at Salt Lake in 2011 he hit .298/.331/.545 with 18 triples, 15 home runs and 21 stolen bases. On the downside, he drew just 21 walks while striking out 114 times in 426 at-bats. Moore has over 140 games of experience at each outfield position. If he is healthy, he will likely be the Isotopes’ version of a utility outfielder.
Scott Van Slyke: Andy’s son put together a perfectly nice Triple-A season (.327/.404/.578, 18 HR, 67 RBI), but flopped in the big leagues, save for one pinch-hit home run. Somewhat like Castellanos, the Dodgers could never seem to settle on what is Van Slyke’s best position in the field. One minute he was an outfielder only, then a first baseman, then an outfielder only again by season’s end. He was not called up in September when rosters expanded and he was dropped from the 40-man this off-season. The Isotopes would welcome Van Slyke’s power bat back into their lineup, but at this point it seems fairly clear that the Dodgers have all but given up on him, so a change of scenery could happen some time this spring.
Bobby Coyle: Injuries have taken a big bite out of the Fresno State alum so far in his career, limiting him to just 221 games since he was drafted in the 10th round in 2010. When he has played, Coyle has hit, including an eye-popping .370/.403/.580 line between Chattanooga and Rancho Cucamonga last season. If Coyle could ever stay healthy he might at least establish himself as a future lefty bat off the bench for Los Angeles. Depending on how the rosters shake out, he could return to the Lookouts or get sent back down to the Quakes.
Yasiel Puig: The man, the myth, the legend. That pretty much sums up Puig, a physical specimen who defected from Cuba and then received a stunning, seven-year, $42 million contract from the Dodgers. Puig looked like a man among boys in 82 at-bats between the rookie Arizona League and Rancho, batting .354/.442/.634 with five home runs. Since the regular season ended, however, nothing has seemingly gone right for the 22-year-old. He missed the Arizona Fall League with a wrist injury and instead went to Puerto Rico, where he mysteriously hurt his knee “at home” (often code for “you really don’t want to know”). Puig hit just .232/.308/.333 with one home run for Mayaguez, striking out 19 times in 69 at-bats. He fared a bit better in the extended Puerto Rican playoffs, but there still seem to be more questions than answers about Puig at this time. The Dodgers have said they expect him to start in Chattanooga, but if he struggles in spring training, he might be back in Rancho. Either way, a conservative big-league ETA is probably 2015, but at this point, there is really no way to know what is going to happen with Puig until we all see a full season out of him.
Kyle Russell: Once upon a time Russell was looked up as a future super-slugger who could come off the bench and blast mammoth home runs with his smooth left-handed swing. Then again, he was also looked at as someone who might enter into the Adam Dunn/Mark Reynolds/Rob Deer realm with his surging strikeout totals. At this point, however, Russell may simply be running out of time. Now 26, he was limited to just 229 at-bats last season at Chattanooga and a cup of coffee in Albuquerque. Russell hit .262/.379/.493 with 11 home runs and 69 strikeouts, somewhat on par with his career numbers (.271/.365/.523, 94 HR, 666 Ks in 1850 AB). Barring trades or injuries, there does not seem to be room with the Isotopes, meaning it could come down to him and Coyle for one of the bench spots in Chattanooga.
Blake Smith: Very quietly, Smith was Chattanooga’s most consistent hitter on a team that seemed to suffer through a season-long batting slump. The Cal-Berkeley alum hit .267/.358/.432 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI for the Lookouts, while often showing off his cannon-like arm in right field. Now 25, Smith is another player for whom time is running short. While he seemingly did everything possible to earn a promotion to Albuquerque for this upcoming season, with Castellanos, Cavazos-Galvez, Moore and Van Slyke ahead of him, he will need the Dodgers to make some room. Otherwise he might have to return to Chattanooga, a move that could push him to left field if Puig opens there. Smith’s ceiling might just be as a backup lefty-hitting outfielder, but if the path ahead does not clear up soon, he might end up another journeyman.
Jonathan Garcia: If anyone on this list needs a mulligan for 2012, it’s Garcia, who went from being ranked No. 13 on Baseball America‘s top 30 Dodgers prospect list to suffering through a fairly dismal year at Rancho. Garcia’s plate discipline, never a strong suit, disappeared almost completely with the Quakes as he hit just .233/.266/.386 with 12 home runs. He drew just 15 walks while striking out 134 times in 378 at-bats. Garcia seems destined to repeat Rancho, but if he cannot pull himself together at the plate, then he will never advance further up the ladder.
Nick Akins: An organizational player, Akins bounced around the system last year, batting .241/.328/.399 with 10 home runs. A 19th-round draft pick out of Vanguard in 2009, Akins is already 25 and figures to be a backup at Rancho or Great Lakes again.
Scott Schebler: A borderline prospect and potential sleeper, the 22-year-old Schebler was drafted in 2010 in the 26th round out of an Iowa junior college. He put up a semi-respectable .260/.312/.388 line with Great Lakes last year. He can play all three outfield positions and, at the very least, figures to stick around for a few years, at least as a backup. He will move up to Rancho this year.
Devin Shines: The son of former Expo Razor Shines, Devin was picked in the 38th round out of Oklahoma State in 2011. He has exceeded expectations so far, batting .267/.328/.469 with 11 home runs overall last season, finishing at Great Lakes. Much like Schebler, he could end up developing into a fringe prospect, but he is just as likely to serve as a backup in the low-to-mid minors and nothing more.
Joseph Winker: Another organizational player, Winker was drafted in the 28th round out of Mercer in 2011. He hit just .225/.289/.385 with 11 home runs and 64 RBI with Great Lakes last year, spending time in right field and at first base. He figures to move up to Rancho this year, but is doubtful the 23-year-old, lefty hitter will ever be seen as anything but depth.
Theo Alexander, Joey Curletta: Two possible sleepers who were drafted back-to-back last summer. Curletta, 19 in March, was a sixth-round pick out of Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix. He waited until the deadline to sign and hit just .149/.235/.176 in the Arizona League. Curletta could end up at first base down the line, or he has a strong enough arm to potentially move to the mound. As for Alexander, he was a seventh-round pick out of Lake Washington High (Kirkland, Wash.). He hit just .237/.283/.247. Both players figure to be held back in extended spring training, but both have some potential for the future if the Dodgers can refine their raw tools.
Pat Stover, Cory Embree, Devon Ethier, Gregory Pena: The various organizational players who saw a fair amount of playing time at Ogden or in the Arizona League last season. Stover, 22, was a 40th-round pick out of Santa Clara last summer. He hit .270/.351/.331 with Ogden. Embree, 20, was a 38th-round pick out of Maple Woods JC (Kansas City, Mo.) and hit a solid .320/.409/.493 in the Arizona League against younger competition. Ethier is the younger brother of Andre, which is probably the only reason he is still in the organization. The younger Ethier’s batting line in 2012: .169/.244/.234. Ouch. Pena is a 21-year-old who was born in New York but grew up in the Dominican Republic. He signed in 2010, but has hit just .260/.362/.333 with 44 stolen bases to date.
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Puig might be the only potential star out of this group, but there a few others who might at least make up some of the Dodgers’ future bench, or they could be traded and start or platoon for the second-division teams out there.
This caps the Dodgers’ position players. Overall it is a thin group, with only a few players who rate as above-average. This does not mean the Dodgers should focus solely on position players in this year’s draft (they should always draft the most talented player available regardless of position), but it might not hurt to bring some more bats into the organization in the top rounds. The Dodgers have also become more aggressive in signing players out of Latin America in recent months, another way to improve the depth and talent in the positional ranks.
Next up, the small but intriguing group of left-handed starting pitchers in the organization.