Projecting the Dodgers’ Minor-League Rosters: Double-A & Triple-A

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson rounds off the minor league roster projections with Chattanooga & Albuquerque. Also, don’t forget to enter the Opening Day roster contest — open through 9pm PT tonight!

Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Scott Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A Southern League)

Starting rotation: Onelki Garcia, Zach Lee, Aaron Miller, Rob Rasmussen, Chris Reed

All prospects, all the time, in east Tennessee this year! Garcia has the most pure stuff, but the least experience. Lee and Reed will hope their potential matches the results this season. Miller will have to fight to keep his starting spot after a middling season. Rasmussen will get some attention as the new guy in the organization.

Bulllpen: Geison Aguasviva, Steve Ames, Kelvin De La Cruz, Eric Eadington, Jordan Roberts, Andres Santiago, Chris Withrow

That is a lot of lefties, but it is hard to figure out where else to put them. De la Cruz is not a LOOGY and will give them a second long reliever to go with Santiago, who could start if Miller struggles. Aguasviva could fight his way to Albuquerque. Roberts is 27, so if he can’t stick here, his time with the Dodgers may be done. Ames and Eadington figure to share the closing job, though Withrow could see saves, too, now that the Dodgers have committed to him as a reliever. Just missed: Javier Solano

Catchers: Gorman Erickson, Christopher O’Brien

Erickson will be looking for some redemption after a lousy 2012. O’Brien was decent enough at Rancho to merit the promotion.

Infielders: 1B–J.T. Wise, 2B–Rafael Ynoa, SS–Alexis Aguilar, 3B–C.J. Retherford, UTIL–Joe Becker, Omar Luna

Wise and Ynoa have played well enough to earn promotions, but they are blocked at Albuquerque barring some trades. Aguilar is the pick I am least confident in; it could be a half-dozen other guys. In other words, please, Dodgers, sign some random Cuban defector shortstop to spare the poor fans in Chattanooga watching a guy with a career .662 OPS. Retherford had a big year at Rancho, but struggled with the Lookouts, so he will return here. Luna and Becker didn’t play a lot of shortstop last year, but they sure could this year. Just missed: Chris Jacobs 1B, Elevys Gonzalez 3B/2B, Miguel Rojas 2B/SS

Outfielders: LF–Yasiel Puig, CF–Joc Pederson, RF–Blake Smith, OF–Nick Buss, Bobby Coyle

Puig and Pederson are premium prospects. They both figure to play all three outfield spots here. Smith deserves to move up, and he certainly could, but for now I have him starting with the Lookouts. Buss and the talented but oft-injured Coyle return. Just missed: Kyle Russell

Final analysis: If some of the pitchers can translate their potential into results, then this team could be the favorite to win the Southern League. The rotation is six-deep and strong, while the bullpen is strong from both sides of the mound. The outfield should carry the offense, with shortstop being the only real concern on the infield. The Lookouts should be fun to watch this season.

Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)

Starting rotation: Fabio Castro, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Matt Palmer, Mario Santiago

Magill is the legit prospect here. Fife returns and will be the first called up in the event of an injury to a starter in L.A. Palmer can chew up innings, but that is it. Castro was terrible last year with the A’s organization and might not last long in Albuquerque. Santiago is a gamble, with the Dodgers/Isotopes hoping he can carry over the success he found in Korea last year with the SK Wyverns.

Bullpen: Michael Antonini, Blake Johnson, Hector Nelo, Red Patterson, Paco Rodriguez, Cole St. Clair, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall

Antonini’s health is in question, so he might not crack this group. Rodriguez and Tolleson both deserve to pitch in the Majors, but I have Javy Guerra and Ted Lilly taking the last two spots. Johnson and St. Clair return in the long relief roles. Wall should close again. Patterson moves up, but it could easily be Ames instead. Nelo, a minor-league Rule 5 pick, gets the nod over the plethora of Triple-A vets signed this off-season. I am also betting that the veteran trio of Kevin Gregg, Mark Lowe, and Peter Moylan will opt out at the end of the spring. Just missed: Juan Abreu, Victor Garate, Gregory Infante, Wilmin Rodriguez, Luis Vasquez

Catchers: Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach

Flores could easily be subbed out for Federowicz if the Dodgers opt to have the prospect play every day and the veteran back up A.J. Ellis. Consider them interchangeable. Wallach has never hit, but he plays good defense and seems like a safe bet to the backup. Just missed: Eliezer Alfonzo, Wilkin Castillo, Ramon Castro

Infielders: 1B–Nick Evans, 2B–Elian Herrera, SS–Dee Gordon, 3B–Dallas McPherson, UTIL–Rusty Ryal, Justin Sellers

Evans always earned rave reviews for his defense, which could be a big help for Gordon’s wild throws (remember how Mark Teixeira made Derek Jeter look better back in 2009?). While it can be speculated that Gordon could or should be in the Majors, until he proves otherwise, I have him here. Sellers is another guy most people are counting out, but the Dodgers have not dumped him yet, even after his arrest in Sacramento. Herrera can, and likely will, play everywhere, but he should play almost every day. McPherson will DH against AL teams, since his back is unlikely to hold up for 144 games. Ryal gets the nod because the Isotopes need the left-handed bat. Just missed: Alfredo Amezaga UTIL, Brian Barden 3B, Ozzie Martinez SS

Outfielders: LF–Scott Van Slyke, CF–Tony Gwynn Jr., RF–Alex Castellanos, OF–Jeremy Moore

Unless Castellanos returns to the infield, this outfield is tough to figure out. Both he, Moore and Van Slyke are all right-handed hitters, so it would make a lot of sense for someone like Smith (who hits left-handed) to move up from Chattanooga. Unless the Isotopes only carry seven relievers (which, fat chance), it won’t happen unless the Dodgers move Van Slyke in a trade. Moore gets that backup spot because he can play all three positions and because the Dodgers obviously think very highly of him as he was the only free agent to participate in their prospect minicamp last month. Just missed: Matt Angle, Brian Cavazos-Galvez

Final analysis: This team does not look as talented as last year’s playoff squad, at least on paper. The rotation looks awfully suspect behind Fife and Magill. The bullpen could be good, at least. The lineup lacks left-handed bats, but should be able to score enough runs to keep games interesting. If the Dodgers can’t find any additional starting pitchers, however, it could be a long summer of 12-10 scores in Albuquerque, which this reporter is not very interested in watching anymore.

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Coming up Short at Shortstop

Egads, shortstop. The one position I have been dreading writing on since I conceived of this multi-part project earlier this month. It is one of the toughest positions to fill at the minor-league level, chock full of athletes with a variety of issues that will probably keep them from ever attaining the status of everyday player at the big-league level. Many shortstops in the minors end up playing second, or becoming utility guys, or just disappearing into the netherworld of the Quad-A player who bounces from team to team, city to city.

Will Dee ever translate his speed and other tools into being a solid, stable, big-league shortstop? (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Will Dee Gordon ever translate his speed and other tools into being a solid, stable, big-league shortstop? (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Even going to Asia is usually not an option for these guys, as Japanese and Korean teams almost universally keep domestic players at all the up-the-middle positions. The life of a vagabond minor-league shortstop is a lonely one, usually without much pay and even less stability. Still, teams have to fill out their full-season rosters, so someone has to play there.

For that, teams usually prize defense at an average level when seeking out shortstops for their Single-A through Triple-A teams. Guys who can swing a bat, too, usually do not stay in the minors long. A total of 13 MLB teams last season employed a foreign-born player at shortstop for the majority of the season. The American-born shortstop is often referred to as an endangered species, but in truth they still constituted the majority last season.

Nonetheless, the elite shortstop is a prize possession. Just ask anybody who plays fantasy baseball, the good ones go fast in the draft, even though there might be outfielders, first basemen, and pitchers who offer up more statistical value.

The Dodgers, with their lack of international spending, are not surprisingly quite short at shortstop down on the farm. Things are so thin that right now there is no obvious starter at Double-A Chattanooga after Jake Lemmerman was traded to the Cardinals for Skip Schumaker.

So read on for what little there is down on the Dodgers’ farm at the upper levels, while taking note of some talent forming up in the lower levels.

Dee Gordon: Pretty much everybody knows Gordon’s pluses and minuses. He can make the spectacular play with his tremendous range and cannon arm … but he often botches the routine play. He has game-changing speed … but does not hit much at all and he can’t take a walk to get on base. Plenty has been written about his transition from basketball to baseball as a teenager, his raw tools, his baseball bloodlines, etc. The Dodgers have had the opportunity to trade him, but for now it looks like he’s staying put, though it seems almost certain he opens with the Isotopes barring an injury to Hanley Ramirez or the complete implosion of Luis Cruz.

Justin Sellers: In a perfect world, Sellers would be the Dodgers’ late-inning defensive replacement, a slick fielder with a good, accurate arm but not much of a bat. The Dodgers, though, under Ned Colletti, have shied away from handing such responsibilities to young players, instead acquiring the Nick Puntos of the world. Sellers is clinging to a 40-man roster spot by the skin of his teeth, and he could get bumped off should someone else get signed to a big-league deal or one of the non-roster invitees forces his way to Los Angeles. For now, Sellers projects to serve as a utility player at Albuquerque, on tap for a call-up in the event of an injury to someone on the bench or a short-term injury to someone like Ramirez, Cruz or Mark Ellis.

Osvaldo Martinez: The Dodgers acquired him from the White Sox last summer for depth purposes. He is not on the 40-man but opted to stay with Los Angeles this off-season. Martinez hit .255/.296/.275 in 102 at-bats with the Isotopes and just .203/.246/.244 overall last year. He was once a high-average hitter with some speed but little pop, earning him the lofty status of being Baseball America’s No. 5 Marlins prospect after the 2010 season. Now he just seems to be a good glove off the bench, searching for the swing that left him. With plenty of other middle infield types in the mix for an Isotopes roster spot, Martinez is not guaranteed to still be with the organization come April.

Alfredo Amezaga: The ex-Marlin has returned to the Dodgers organization after playing in one game with Chattanooga in 2010 before missing the rest of the season due to problems with his surgically-repaired knee. A super utility player, Amezaga can play second, short, third, and the outfield. He will compete for a bench spot with Albuquerque after hitting .274/.336/.372 with six home runs, 42 RBI, and 12 stolen bases at Iowa (Cubs) last year.

Miguel Rojas: Another free-agent signee, the soon-to-be 24-year-old comes over from the Reds organization where he hit just .199/.263/.224 between Triple-A Louisville and Double-A Pensacola last season. He has played the vast majority of his career (460 games) at shortstop with a reputation as a decent defender who simply cannot hit (.234/.301/.282 career). Yet with so few options, the Dodgers might not have much choice but start him at Chattanooga. One would have to hope that the organization takes a long look at Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz, who is a free agent, and could slot in nicely with the Lookouts.

Alexis Aguilar: One of the Three Shortstops of the Apocalypse at Rancho Cucamonga last year, the 21-year-old Venezuelan hit an unimpressive .255/.301/.313 with one home run and 15 RBI for the Quakes. With Charlie Mirabal (.191/.240/.245) having been released, Aguilar figures to get a shot at moving up to Chattanooga by default and competing with Rojas for the Lookouts’ starting gig. Fans in Southeastern Tennessee might want to close their eyes for the season. Aguilar has played 126 games at shortstop, 50 at second base and 24 at third base in his career, so at worst he is a utility player with average defensive skills.

Casio Grider: The final member of the aforementioned TSA at RC, Grider hit a dismal .217/.286/.329 with two home runs and 11 RBI. At 25, he is getting awfully old for what he is, basically a utility player who spent more time at shortstop last year than second base, his previous position. Grider was a 14th-round pick out of Newberry College in 2009, marking him as purely an organizational player who hopes to move up to Double-A and keep his career going at least one more season.

Darnell Sweeney: Caution, this young man might actually have a future beyond the minors. A nice sleeper pick, the Dodgers selected him in the 13th round of last year’s draft out of Central Florida. Sweeney responded by hitting .294/.374/.430 with five home runs, 33 RBI and 27 stolen bases between Great Lakes and Ogden. John Sickels ranked him No. 18 among Dodgers’ prospects over at Minor League Ball. Dustin Nosler had him one spot higher at No. 17 on his list at Feelin’ Kinda Blue. Keep a close eye on Sweeney’s development, which will likely continue this year at Rancho Cucamonga. He lived up to expectations defensively, but keeping up his lofty debut hitting stats will be the challenge as he faces more advanced pitching.

Pedro Guerrero, Justin Boudreaux, Delvis Morales: Meet the trio of utility guys who actually appeared in more games at shortstop than other positions in 2012. Guerrero, no relation to the former Dodger, hit .220/.265/.387 with 10 home runs. He is a 24-year-old Dominican with no previous showing of any power (career .361 slugging). Boudreaux was the Dodgers’ 14th-round pick out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2011; he hit .201/.304/.312 with three homers and 36 RBI last year. Morales is a 22-year-old Dominican who hit .261/.341/.328 with zero homers, 23 RBI and 12 stolen bases. They will battle for bench spots at Rancho and Great Lakes.

Corey Seager: The crown jewel of Dodgers minor-league infielders, Seager may seem destined for third base but I will list him as a shortstop until the day he stops playing there. The 2012 first-round draft pick is one of the organization’s top prospects, ranking as high as No. 2 (Minor League Ball) on the preseason lists. Seager hit an impressive .309/.383/.520 with eight homers and 33 RBI at Ogden, going up against mostly older competition. The younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey should move up to Great Lakes. At 6-3, 195, he is built like a third baseman, but there is always the chance he sticks at shortstop, with a big-league ETA of 2015 or 2016, at which point he could fill a major hole for the Dodgers.

Jesmuel Valentin: The son of former Dodger Jose Valentin, Jesmuel was drafted in the supplemental first round last summer. He showed decent, if not great, defensive skills in the Arizona League, while batting .211/.352/.316 with two homers and 18 RBI. Valentin’s bat has a ways to go, though the fact he drew 35 walks versus 24 strikeouts is encouraging. FanGraphs ranked him as the Dodgers’ No. 5 prospect, though most other lists put him in the 12-13 range. He could end up at second base or in a utility role down the line, but the Dodgers will try to keep him at shortstop as long as possible, hoping his bat develops and defense solidifies at shortstop. Valentin should hang back in extended spring training until Ogden’s season starts in late June.

So that wraps up shortstop, which is bleak at the top and somewhat promising down below. There are no guarantees for the Dodgers, much less any other team, but in Seager, Sweeney, and Valentin, at least there are some options coming along. The key to the present will likely be in whether or not Gordon can ever refine his tools, while one of the three of Seager/Sweeney/Valentin develops into a long-range replacement.

Next up, third base, where the hot corner is barely even spitting out a wisp of smoke.

Welcome Back-Ish, Alfredo Amezaga

Amezaga with the I-Cubs, from MiLB.com

Amezaga with the I-Cubs, from MiLB.com

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Dodgers have signed utilityman Alfredo Amezaga to a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training, and… wait, why does that sound familiar?

Ah, yes, that’s right. The Dodgers have done this once before, back in February of 2010, and we’d heard his name connected to the team since at least 2009, in a post I fondly remember titled, “Geez, At Least Nick Green is Ambulatory“. Or as I said at the time:

“Oh, good lord. What, going after any old 32-year-old who can’t hit isn’t enough, we need to find one who’s coming off major experimental knee surgery? To say that Amezaga isn’t an offensive threat is understating the situation; in parts of 8 seasons spanning nearly 1500 PA, his line is a sparkling .251/.311/.341. Do we really think Chin-Lung Hu couldn’t put up that line in the bigs?

I’ll grant that Amezaga is a pretty good fielder, as FanGraphs has him with positive values at CF, SS, and 2B. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s 32 and coming off major experimental knee surgery.

Amezaga played just a single game with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts that summer, as the knee cost him basically the entire season, and he’s bounced between the Colorado, Florida, & Chicago Cub organizations since. Over the last four seasons, his big-league experience has consisted of a .199/.256/.226 line in 162 plate appearances, not seeing the big time at all in 2010 or 2012, and he’ll be 35 on January 16.

So there’s that, although as Rosenthal notes, he did win the Mexican League batting title this winter, and he’s a switch-hitter who offers good versatility in both the infield and outfield. Though he’s ostensibly in the mix for a bench job in camp, he’s much more likely ticketed for Albuquerque, to serve as depth.

Never Doubt the Power of the Beard

Last Sunday, I looked into how poorly Casey Blake has played, as he was hitting just .233/.323/.397 with only three homers, and I concluded that the only way he was going to turn it around was if he was forced to grow the beard back. On Monday, when we weren’t busy fawning over John Ely, Blake doubled in two runs and I posted a picture from the game showing that the beard was indeed returning.

And on Tuesday? Blake got three hits, including a homer, and Tony Jackson confirmed that the beard was back to stay. I’ll leave it to the commenters to suggest that my post got him moving, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s all beard, all the time. Mostly, I like how vocal people are about it, because not only did people yell at him from the stands to bring it back, even his own teammates were on board:

There is a T-shirt that has been popping up around the ballpark lately — Blake said Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp actually has one — that reads, In Beard We Trust. Well, the beard is back now.

Of course, let’s not let facial hair joking overshadow Hiroki Kuroda, who may be the most underrated pitcher in baseball. His 2009 season was a disaster thanks to injuries both annoying (a strained oblique) and near-tragic (a liner to the head) and a NLCS meltdown, but when he’s healthy he’s one of the more effective starters in baseball. He’s not flashy – that’s not his nature – but he’s made it into the 6th inning in every start this year, which is a lot more impressive than it sounds like on a team like this. At 35 and in the last year of his contract, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with him next year, but for now he’s the reliable rock of the staff.

******

From the same Jackson article comes word that Alfredo Amezaga has begun playing games for AA Chattanooga in his return from microfracture surgery. I wasn’t a huge fan of Amezaga when he was signed, but as we’ve seen how the roster construction of the team ended up progressing, I’m warming to the idea a bit more, if he’s healthy. He’s not much of a hitter, but he is a plus fielder at SS, 2B, and CF, and he’s a lefty. For as well as Jamey Carroll’s filled in at SS, he’s by no means a “plus fielder” there, nor is Blake DeWitt at 2B. Besides, Joe Torre doesn’t seem to want to let anyone besides Matt Kemp play center, so adding a good glove who can play all over can only help.

Besides, think about it. When Furcal returns, Nick Green is likely DFA’d. Assuming that Ethier is back before Amezaga is ready, there’s really only one option to go… your lefty-hitting backup outfielder who can’t field as well as Amezaga, play as many positions, or let’s face it, even hit as “well” as AA can. That’s right, this could be how we’re finally rid of Garret Anderson.

In any case, if Amezaga proves his health, Jackson thinks he’s got an excellent chance to make the club considering the factors involved:

Amezaga, 32, spent the past four seasons with the Florida Marlins, but he missed most of last year with the knee problem. His contract with the Dodgers contains a pair of escape clauses if he isn’t in the majors, the first of which he can exercise on June 15 and the second of which triggers a month later. Given the time, effort and resources the Dodgers have put into his rehab, they aren’t likely to let him get away.

The Lesser of Three Evils

TrueBlueLA, citing Ken Rosenthal, confirms something we’ve been worried about since early December: the Dodgers have signed former Marlins utilityman Alfredo Amezaga to a minor-league contract worth “650K if he makes club plus potential for 800K more in bonuses”.

You’d be surprised, but I don’t hate this as much as you’d think I would. No, he’s not a good player (in parts of 8 seasons spanning nearly 1500 PA, his line is a sparkling .251/.311/.341) and I’m not all that thrilled to have to log into the administrator panel of the blog and add him to the “non roster invite” section you see over at the right.

It’s just that with all of the roster manipulations we’ve been considering since the unexpected signing of a right-handed outfielder in Reed Johnson, the mostly lousy Amezaga may actually save us from the entirely lousy Nick Green and the so-bad-I-may-renounce-my-fandom-if-he-sticks Angel Berroa.

Think about it this way: since the Dodgers don’t appear to have any faith in Chin-Lung Hu and Jamey Carroll can’t really handle the gig, one of this unholy Amezaga/Green/Berroa trio is going to have to make the team as Rafael Furcal’s backup. It’s a sorry situation, but it’s true and I think we all know this.

So, no, Amezaga can’t hit a lick, and we know this. Neither can Green (.239/.307/.352 in over 1100 MLB PA) or Berroa (I won’t sully this blog with his stats).

But he is a plus fielder at SS, 2B, and CF. Green is decent at best at SS, and Berroa, well, he’s basically the worst major leaguer in baseball history. Perhaps most importantly after the signing of Johnson, Amezaga is a switch-hitter, as opposed to the righties Green and Berroa. With a bench leaning heavily towards the right, having a lefty who can handle shortstop could be incredibly valuable. Not that he’s really much of a bat from either side, of course, but it’s still someone who can stand in the correct box with a bat in his hand.

I think it’s clear how desperate the situation is for this roster spot when I’m actually championing Alfredo Amezaga, but this is the pickle we find ourselves in, isn’t it? When you look at the other options… well, I can’t help but agree with TBLA:

Is Amezaga worth a roster spot? In a vacuum, probably not.  But, given that the choice is likely between him, Nick Green, or Angel Berroa, I’ll take Amezaga.