2013 Dodgers in Review #35: RP Chris Withrow

90topps_chriswithrow2.60 ERA / 3.57 FIP 34.2 IP 11.16 K/9 3.38 BB/9 (A)

2013 in brief: Called up mid-season and was surprisingly effective in relief.

2014 status: Will compete for a spot in the bullpen during spring training, and will likely get it.

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Today’s review comes from the talented mind of D.Brim, who is now doing some great work of his own at Blog to the Score.

It would have been tough for a player to start out the 2013 season with lower major league expectations than Chris Withrow. He was the Dodgers’ first round draft pick in 2007 (a compensation pick for losing Julio Lugo), and was considered one of the top prospects in the McCourt-weakened system for several years.

However, he stalled out in AA, playing four consecutive seasons there, struggling with health and control problems. He was transitioned relief in 2012 with limited success, walking 5.4 batters per nine innings. Prospect evaluators either did not rank him at all (Baseball America) or had him anywhere between 8th (Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus) and 21st (FKB) in a relatively weak farm system.

Despite Withrow’s lack of effectiveness in 2012, he started the season with a promotion to the Albuquerque bullpen. While walks were still a problem (4.44 BB/9), his strikeout rate increased dramatically (11.28 K/9). In the offense-prone PCL, he allowed 10 runs (5 earned) in 26-1/3 innings, and did not surrender a home run (these stats include a couple of brief stints in AAA after the initial call-up).

Withrow was initially called up on June 11th, the day that Brandon League was mercifully relieved of his duties as closer (a day better known for other reasons). He made his debut against the Diamondbacks the next day, allowing one run and a walk in 2/3 of an inning. His results in his first five appearances were rocky, allowing four runs (and three walks) in his first six innings of work.

However, after his rough start, Withrow began to lower his walk rate and became trusted in higher leverage situations. This was especially important after Paco Rodriguez began to falter. His background as a starter helped him go multiple innings when needed, greatly improving his flexibility. He was a huge asset during the team’s 42-8 run. He pitched 18-2/3 innings during that stretch, striking out 24 and walking 5 with an ERA of 1.93.

While there’s some obvious caveats while breaking down small samples into even smaller samples, some of the month-by-month breakdowns on Withrow’s pitches are interesting and show some evidence supporting why he improved after his initial rough start. Here are his pitch usage and velocity, courtesy of BrooksBaseball:

withrow_pitch-type_2013

Withrow began to lean on his slider much more heavily as the season progressed, using it in 17.27% of his pitches in July and 38.75% in September. The usage declined in October, but that only includes four appearances. As Withrow began leaning more heavily on his slider, his fastball velocity declined a bit, from 98.17 MPH in June to 95.95 MPH in September. However, his slider velocity increased sharply at the same time.

The reason why he leaned on his slider more as the season went along is because it worked. Over the season, he generated swings and misses on 18.5% of his sliders, the highest percentage of any of his pitches. As the velocity on his slider increased, he generated more swings and misses:

withrow_slider_2013

When a batter did swing at his slider and make contact, they didn’t hit it very hard. According to brooks, 20 of Withrow’s sliders were put into play in 2013. Here’s the batted ball breakdown:

Hit type

Raw

Percentage

Groundball

11

55%

Flyball

7

35%

Popup

1

5%

Line drive

1

5%

Amazingly, Withrow allowed only one line drive on his slider all year. The line drive was during his first appearance of the year, and it was recorded as an out. He only allowed two hits on his slider all season, allowing a line of .063/.143/.156 against his slider overall.

The success of Withrow’s slider was something of a pleasant surprise. While some scouting reports cited it as a potential plus pitch, it tends to get lost with his aesthetically pleasing curveball and high fastball velocity. Given the success of his slider and his move to the bullpen, it’s not difficult to imagine him phasing out some of his curveball and changeup usage to throw it even more.

Chris Withrow had a strong campaign in 2013. But there are still some questions about his effectiveness going forward. Even with his improving slider, he struggled off-and-on with control. He also had an extremely high strand rate of 88.5%, and an unsustainably low BABIP allowed of .205. These can be indicators of sequencing and batted ball luck, although we cannot make a better judgment of this until after Withrow throws more innings in the big leagues. These luck factors are somewhat offset by a potentially unlucky HR/FB rate of 14.7%.

Ultimately, Withrow had an adjusted ERA- of 73 (ERA 27% better than an average pitcher, adjusted for park), but a FIP- of 99 (FIP 1% better). The ERA- is 71st among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, but the FIP- is 143rd. Withrow’s potential for regression is something that the Dodgers will be watching very carefully next season.

Even with the questions about his peripherals, given MSTI’s expectations-based grading policy, it seems impossible to give Withrow anything other than an A.

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Next! I’m so sorry that we need to talk about Matt Guerrier!

Chris Withrow Might Be More Than Just a Guy

withrow_2013-09-08

While everyone’s excited about last night’s walkoff by Scott Van Slyke, I want to focus on the other excellently-mustachioed hero of last night’s game, Chris Withrow, who relieved J.P. Howell to get the final four outs of the night.

I’m going to be totally honest here: entering the season, I had zero expectations for Withrow ever having a career. The 2007 first-round pick had spent four seasons failing to break out of Double-A, held back by various injuries and massive control issues, and it seemed like he was getting bumped up to Triple-A this year only because a fifth season at Double-A felt unthinkable. Albuquerque’s not exactly the greatest place to turn around a career, so you might have been safer predicting that he’d be off the 40-man roster by the end of 2013 than becoming a big part of the bullpen.

Now here we are in the second week of September, and Withrow is not only in the bigs, he’s looking like he might actually have a nice career ahead of him. After a series over the weekend in Cincinnati that featured two of the baddest closers around in Aroldis Chapman & Kenley Jansen — or at least if would have if Jansen had made an appearance — Withrow didn’t look at all out of place, especially not when he struck out eight of the ten hitters he faced on the trip, none of whom reached base.

Armed at one point with four pitches, Withrow has relied mostly on his fastball (averaging north of 96 MPH, a top-ten mark in the bigs) and his slider, using his curve and change only about 12% of the time combined. As the season has progressed, he’s gained more confidence in the slider, and that’s helped him set the fastball off a little bit:

withrow_pitches_2013-09-09

Here’s a look at that hammer in action, from Friday against the Reds:

That’s a legit big-league pitch, especially when paired with the fastball, and coming out of the bullpen, you can be successful for a long time with just that combo. But none of that really matters if you can’t get the ball over the plate, and for years as a starter in the minors that was Withrow’s biggest problem — he’d walked five batters per nine innings, basically making him Edinson Volquez.

Withrow has walked only eight in 28.2 innings with the Dodgers, and while that’s not bad by itself, he’s actually showing improvement there. Six of those free passes came in his first nine games; in his last twelve, he’s walked just two, and that’s what’s going to make or break his success. You can have a bit of wildness as a reliever, and he’s unlikely ever to be any sort of control artist, but as long as you can limit the walks while still missing bats, you’re going to be useful.

In the ever-changing Dodger bullpen, Withrow has gradually increased his role, and the idea of a young R/L/R trio of Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, & Withrow headed into next season, none older than 26 — as well as the playoffs this year, of course — is more than a little appealing.

For a guy who few thought would amount to anything, Withrow’s 2013 to date has been nothing but a fantastic success. And good lord, that mustache.

Dodgers Top 20 Prospects: A Midseason Update

corey_seager_spring

Four days without Dodger baseball! For a blogger, this is both a welcome respite and a terrifying gap. With the big league team off the radar right now, let’s dip into the farm system and get a quick update on the progress the top prospects in the organization have made in the first half of the season. There’s a million different pre-season rankings, so let’s keep it simple and go with MLB.com’s top 20 from last winter, along with my non-scientific informal up/neutral/down grade.

1) Zach Lee, P, Double-A Chattanooga (up!)

In Lee’s first attempt at the Southern League last year, he was fine but not great, with a 4.25 ERA and 3.89 FIP in 12 late starts. Still among the youngest players in the league at just 21, Lee’s made a huge step forward this year, increasing his whiffs (6.99 per nine to 8.21), reducing his walks (3.02 per nine to 2.37), and cutting down on homers as well. The end result is a 3.01 ERA / 3.15 FIP and increased chatter that we could be seeing him in the big leagues at any time, though we’ll probably not see him before September. Lee still isn’t likely to be the “ace” we’d hoped he could be when he was drafted, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a solid #3 starter.

2) Joc Pederson, OF, Double-A Chattanooga (way up!)

Pederson is one of the very few players in Double-A younger than Lee, and he’s also one of the few who has increased his stock more than his pitching teammate as well. Pederson’s .407 wOBA is the top mark in the entire league, and he’s made believers out of prospect hounds who had previously been uncertain of his ceiling. One of those was ESPN’s Keith Law, who offered a very positive takeaway from seeing Pederson in the Futures Game. Baseball America‘s Ben Badler had a similar impression:

Best U.S. Batting Practice: Joc Pederson

Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson has mature approach for his age and a knack for barreling the baseball. He has no problem backspinning a ball, which helped him hit 18 home runs last year in the hitter-friendly California League, but the power—and really everything about Pederson’s game—has taken a step forward this year. The 21-year-old lefthander already has 14 home runs in the Double-A Southern League, where he’s hitting .296/.386/.516.

His batting practice display was as dazzling as anyone’s, with rainbow home runs that repeatedly cleared the right field fence. He may have been trying too much to put on a show by getting underneath the ball too often, but he also hit some of the furthest home runs of the day, including one that nearly cleared the second deck in right field.

But will we see him in Los Angeles? Though there was some thought to calling him up instead of Yasiel Puig, I’ve already called him “the best prospect you’re never going to see,” and the stuffed outfield situation makes him an ongoing subject of trade discussion. Even if he never plays a game for the Dodgers, he’s greatly increased his trade value.

3. Corey Seager, SS, Single-A Great Lakes (up!)

Three-for-three as far as good performances, because Seager has been outstanding in his age-19 season, hitting .299/.380/.488 for Great Lakes as one of the youngest players in the Midwest League. Perhaps more impressive, DeJon Watson insists that he’s staying at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Remember, he still doesn’t even turn 20 until next April, and he has the talent to be a star, ranking at #35 on Baseball Prospectus’ mid-season prospect list. Just don’t hold your breath on seeing him before 2015 or likely 2016.

4. Julio Urias, P, Single-A Great Lakes (way up!)

Urias is 16. Urias is 16. Urias is 16. Urias is 16. Sorry, I got stuck there for a second. Speaking of massively talented young players who aren’t close to Dodger Stadium, there’s Julio Urias, who is easily the youngest player in full season minor league ball. (Did you know he’s just 16?) If Urias had merely managed to avoid getting embarrassed with the Loons, that would have been an achievement, but he’s done more than that — he’s excelled, striking out 39 in 33.1 innings while holding down a 2.70 ERA, good for a #41 ranking on on Baseball Prospectus’ mid-season prospect list. Urias is obviously more than a few years away from the bigs… but then, no one’s really ever seen a pitcher this young succeed like this before.

5. Chris Reed, P, Double-A Chattanooga (neutral)

Reed’s had a nice season, but he’s the first prospect on the list to not have very obviously increased his standing. I’ll admit here that I’ve never been a huge fan, and I still think he’s a reliever in the long term, though he’s managed to stay in the rotation this year with 16 starts for the Lookouts. A 3.42 ERA (matched by a 3.44 FIP) is nice and is an improvement on last year, largely because he’s improved his control, but he’s just not missing that many bats — 6.93 K/9, down from 7.39 in his first crack at Double-A last year. There’s still a major league future here, just not a high-ceiling one. Of course, maybe that’s just me.

6. Onelki Garcia, P, Double-A Chattanooga (up)

I’m giving Garcia an “up” simply because he’s pitching after getting into just one game for the Quakes last year. Like Yasiel Puig, he’s a Cuban defector with some mystery in his past, and he’s missing a ton of bats — 40 whiffs in 38 innings. He’s also walking far too many (26), and while there’s obvious talent here, there’s definitely some rough edges to be smoothed out for the soon-to-be 24-year-old. If he can harness the wildness, he could move quickly, though his future could be as a reliever as well.

7. Matt Magill, P, Triple-A Albuquerque (down, probably)

It’s hard to give Magill a realistic grade, because he reached the bigs and had some early success (that’s good) before melting down in a flurry of walks and homers after that (that’s bad). His ridiculous schedule of constantly going up and down from Albuquerque to the Dodgers surely didn’t help, and he’s also recently missed a few weeks with arm trouble. Magill almost certainly has pitched himself out of consideration for further starts with the Dodgers this year, though he likely still has a future as a back-end starter — if not in Los Angeles, then likely elsewhere as he gets passed on the depth chart.

8. Chris Withrow, P, Dodgers (up)

After endless years of trying and failing to be a starter in Double-A, the Dodgers finally pushed Withrow to Triple-A this season, if for no other reason than to spare him the ignominy of a fifth year in Chattanooga. Now strictly a reliever, Withrow has been able to let loose his high-90s heat more often, though he didn’t leave his control issues behind, and he made his big league debut in June. Withrow is still walking too many with the Dodgers, but he’s been missing bats and should be a nice low-cost setup man for years to come — or trade bait in the next two weeks.

9. Zachary Bird, P, Rookie League Ogden (way down)

One of my favorite prospects entering the season, Bird has had an extremely tough go of it, walking 35 in 36 innings for Great Lakes before getting demoted back to Ogden. With the Raptors, he’s still been unable to find the strike zone, walking 11 in his first 13.2 innings. He only turned 19 yesterday, so obviously he’s still extremely young, but I doubt we’ll be seeing him in the top ten list next winter.

10. Alex Santana, 3B, Rookie League Ogden (down)

The 2011 second round pick still hasn’t made it out of the short-season rookie leagues, so that’s not great. He’s off to a good start with Ogden (.308/.384/.523) though it’s just been 84 plate appearances. Santana turns 20 next month, but he’s really going to need to show something and get himself out of rookie ball if he’s going to keep appearing on these prospect lists.

Let’s lightning round the second half…

11. Yimi Garcia, P, Double-A Chattanooga (way up!)

You can’t simply scout a stat line, but it’s hard to not be impressed by Garcia’s 52/8 K/BB as the closer for the Lookouts. Garcia has moved on a one-level-per-year pace, but we know how the Dodgers like to skip Albuquerque with pitching prospects, so it’s not out of the question we see him in September.

12. Jonathan Martinez, P, Rookie League Ogden (down)

Martinez turned 19 on June 27, so let’s not get too negative about any teenager, but it’s not been an impressive season at all for the Venezuelan righty. Since being sent from Great Lakes to Ogden, Martinez has thrown 26 innings… and struck out eight. Eight!

13. Jesmuel Valentin, IF, Rookie League Ogden (down)

Another teenager, so again, perspective must be kept, but even for a glove-first guy you’re going to need to do better than .207/.323/.287 for Great Lakes & Ogden. A lot better, especially for a first-round pick.

14. James Baldwin, OF, Single-A Great Lakes (down)

Baldwin wasn’t great in his first crack at Great Lakes last year (.209/.293/.334). He’s not doing much better this time around (.226/.325/.356) and despite great speed (121 steals in parts of four seasons) a career .314 OBP isn’t going to get you far.

15. Alex Castellanos, OF, Triple-A Albuquerque (down)

The great infield experiment is over, and so he gets a “down” just because he’s another year older, turning 27 next month, and with less positional flexibility. He’s still hitting well with the Isotopes and I still believe there’s some hope of a big league career for him, though it looks less and less likely it’ll ever be with the Dodgers.

16. Ross Stripling, P, Double-A Chattanooga (way up!)

Perhaps the biggest mover in the system this year is the 23-year-old Stripling, a 5th round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012. Stripling was promoted out of Rancho Cucamonga within a month and has been dominating the Southern League since arriving, putting up an outstanding 55/7 K/BB in 55 innings.

Last week, Minor League Ball named him the “prospect of the day”, offering this scouting report:

He threw 87-91 in college but some minor mechanical adjustments have boosted his fastball slightly, which now works at 89-94. His control of the pitch is excellent and he does a good job of working the lower part of the zone, inducing grounders and avoiding home runs.

He has three secondary pitches: curveball, changeup, slider. The curveball is his go-to pitch and is quite good, but the changeup has impressive moments as well. The slider is a new pitch that he’s gradually incorporating. His delivery is clean and consistent, he is a good athlete, and has stayed healthy under both college and pro workloads. Stripling also has impressive makeup, with high levels of general intelligence, baseball smarts, competitive instinct, and mound presence.

As a college pitcher without a ton of projection left, his ceiling might only be of a 4th starter, but there’s still a lot of value in that.

17. Blake Smith, P, Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (n/a)

Less than two years off a great .304/.369/.578 half-season in 2011, Smith recently was converted from the outfield to the mound. He hasn’t yet appeared as a pitcher, and his future is incredibly uncertain.

18. Rob Rasmussen, P, Triple-A Albuquerque (neutral)

Acquired for John Ely over the winter, the 24-year-old UCLA lefty was effective for the Lookouts but has had a really tough go of it in Triple-A. Albuquerque’s a tough place to pitch, of course, but Rasmussen’s ceiling is probably best explained by the fact that the cost of acquisition was, well, John Ely.

19. Garrett Gould, P, Double-A Chattanooga (down)

It’s usually not a great sign when you get promoted from Single-A to Double-A and the general consensus is “why”? Obviously, the California League is a tough place to pitch, but that alone can’t explain away a 7.04 ERA. Gould’s off to a better start with the Lookouts, though over only 7.2 innings. I remember last year when the Dodgers tried to get Carlos Lee and Gould was going to be the return, I hated the deal… but only because I didn’t like Lee, not because I would have been crushed to lose Gould.

20. Jose Dominguez, P, Dodgers (up!)

We end on a very high note, as Dominguez and his rocket arm have already made a splash in the big leagues, touching triple-digits with the Dodgers. Dominguez might have been ranked higher if not for the suspension hanging over his head that cost him the first part of the season, but has overcome that to get his big league career started.

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Overall, this is good news. The four big-time prospects in the system — Lee, Pederson, Seager, & Urias — have all had very good half-seasons, and the two top picks in the 2013 draft (Chris Anderson & Tom Windle) have shown promise at Great Lakes as well. Considering how torn apart the system was during the McCourt years when international spending was at just about zero (note here that Puig & Hyun-jin Ryu are not included), this is a massive step up.

Also, apparently, if you want to see some talent, stay away from Rancho Cucamonga. Smith is the only prospect listed here to be listed on the Quakes roster, and he’s only there because his conversion to pitching required he move down from Double-A. Pitcher Lindsey Caughel is probably the most interesting prospect there and could make the top twenty in the winter, and there’s some mildly interesting offensive talent in shortstop Darnell Sweeney and outfielders Noel Cuevas & Scott Schebler; otherwise, the star power here is concentrated in Chattanooga, which has seven of the top twenty.

So About That Bullpen Last Night…

rodriguez_sanfran_2013-05-04When people think about last night’s wild extra-inning win that not only pushed the Dodgers back to .500 but finished off a sweep that drew them to within 1.5 games of first place, they’re going to remember the back-to-back home runs by Hanley Ramirez & A.J. Ellis off Josh Collmenter in the 14th inning, or the Ellis RBI that tied the game in the ninth. That’s understandable, but it’s also worth remembering the unsung heroes of the game — the much-maligned Dodger bullpen that contributed nine scoreless innings from six relievers after Hyun-jin Ryu was only able to make it through five.

On the season, the Dodger bullpen is just 22nd in ERA, though they’re 14th in FIP, a discrepancy that can be chalked up somewhat to bad batted-ball luck and lousy defense behind them. But over the last week — I know, small sample size and beyond — they’ve been excellent, allowing a mere four earned runs in 23.2 innings.

Is that just a nice little hot streak in the midst of a much larger team hot streak? Possibly. Perhaps even probably. But I think we can also see that the bullpen this team has now is just a bit different from the one that we saw earlier in the year. For example, two of the four earned runs allowed over the last week belong to the dreadful Brandon League, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that despite the fact that League hasn’t pitched since last Friday, he was still the only Dodger reliever who didn’t appear last night. That probably would have changed had the game gone on much longer, but it’s still pretty clear that Don Mattingly views League as “break glass in case of emergency only”.

In fact, Mattingly’s bullpen usage last night was effective, even bringing in Kenley Jansen into a non-save situation in the 13th inning, and while it may seem like common sense to use Jansen rather than League after three good innings from Chris Withrow, know that all too often managers will lose a game with their closer on the sidelines rather than use them before they have a lead on the road.

But despite that, it’s not that Mattingly has suddenly become smarter. It’s that the personnel is improved. Matt Guerrier is gone, replaced by Jose Dominguez. Javy Guerra & Peter Moylan are gone, allowing Withrow a chance. (At least until Withrow probably gets optioned out today after throwing so many pitches last night.) League has been de-emphasized to the point of irrelevance, and while Ronald Belisario remains, he’s been outstanding over the last month (9/1 K/BB, no earned runs allowed in 8.1 innings) after struggling so badly before.

As I’ve said all along, it’s the players that win the games. If Mattingly had been fired in May, the team probably still goes on this hot streak and then we’d have been bombarded with volleys of “see, I told you it was the manager!” Yet while his bullpen management seems to be somewhat better, it’s the ongoing effectiveness of guys like Jansen, J.P. Howell, & Paco Rodriguez who are making the difference. Thanks to efforts like we saw last night, the Dodgers have a real chance to be in first place by the break. I still can’t quite wrap my head around that.

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.