Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Relieved to be at the End

Well, this is it, the final chapter of the Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis. Relief pitching, ah, that fickle beast. Some of the guys listed below may very well see Los Angeles someday, but most probably will not. Rather than break them all down, I’ve lumped a lot of guys together, largely due to the “meh factor” and/or the lack of available info beyond their basic stats.

Lefty Eadington is one of several promising relief pitchers in the upper levels of the Dodgers' farm system. (Courtesy of Dustin Nosler)

Lefty Eric Eadington is one of several promising relief pitchers in the upper levels of the Dodgers’ farm system. (Courtesy of Dustin Nosler)

Once upon a time the minor-league reliever was going nowhere. Times have certainly changed with the specialization of bullpen roles. Now pitchers are thrown into relief straight off the bat following the draft and can sometimes rocket to the big leagues that way (see Rodriguez, Paco). So who could be next to help the Dodgers’ relief corps? I split it up between the handful of lefties first and the long list of right-handers below.

Left-handers

Paco Rodriguez: The Dodgers’ second-round pick in last year’s draft, Rodriguez rocketed from the University of Florida bullpen to Los Angeles in the span of four months. He skipped the two hitter-friendly teams (Rancho and Albuquerque), going a combined 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA and five saves in 21 games between Great Lakes and Chattanooga. Utilizing what Baseball America described as “deception” in his delivery and “funky arm action,” Rodriguez utilizes a high-80s cutter to get right-handers out. His fastball ranges from 88-93 mph, which he also complements with a “sweepy” slider and occasionally a changeup. Rodriguez will fight for a bullpen spot with the Dodgers this spring, but if he gets squeezed out, he could end up with the Isotopes or the Lookouts.

Michael Antonini: 2012 was a tough year for Antonini, whom the Dodgers acquired from the Mets for Chin-Lung Hu back in 2011. He got called up to the Majors twice but never threw a pitch, then he lost his rotation spot in Albuquerque and finished the year in the bullpen. He also had some sort of offseason surgery, so the timetable for his return in 2013 is unknown. Antonini went 2-7 with a 5.71 ERA in 30 games (13 starts) for the Isotopes. He seems likely to remain a reliever, but based on the paucity of available starters for Albuquerque, he could still start from time-to-time this season if he is healthy.

Kelvin de la Cruz, Thomas Melgarejo, Wilmin Rodriguez: The trio of southpaws signed as minor-league free agents this offseason. De la Cruz is more of a long reliever who went 5-8 with a 4.92 ERA in 30 games (18 starts) at Double-A Erie (Tigers) last season. He seems likely to hold that swingman role at Chattanooga to start this season. Rodriguez struggled with Fresno (Giants), going 5-5 with a 5.92 ERA in 37 games (three starts). He gave up four unearned runs on three hits and a hit batter in one-third of an inning against the Isotopes back on May 24; he will fight for a bullpen spot with Albuquerque. Melgarejo was originally signed by the Dodgers out of Mexico in 2005. He has spent most of his pro career on loan to Mexican League teams. He will be a longshot for a bullpen spot with Chattanooga or Rancho this year.

Cole St. Clair: The veteran lefty, now 26, put up so-so numbers with the Isotopes (3-3, 4.24 ERA in 41 games). A former seventh-round pick out of Rice in 2008, St. Clair did make three starts last year and could get stretched out this spring. The odds are he will be back in Albuquerque for a second season.

Geison Aguasviva: A 25-year-old Dominican, he had a fairly good year with Chattanooga (2-5, 2.53, one save in 50 games). In most years, that would be enough to earn him a promotion, but he will likely have to beat out some veterans in spring training.

Eric Eadington: The Dodgers signed him as a non-drafted free agent out of Harvard in 2011 and so far all Eadington has done is get outs. The 25-year-old sports a fastball that sits 89-93 mph and touches 95. He has a mid-to-upper-70s slider as well. He went 4-3 with a 3.63 ERA and 26 saves last season, striking out 77 in 67 innings. Eadington projects this season as the closer, or possibly co-closer, at Chattanooga, where he finished 2012.

Jordan Roberts: More than a standard LOOGY, the 27-year-old Roberts held his own in the hitter-friendly California League last season. Roberts threw 88 1/3 innings in his 38 appearances, going 8-0 with a 3.67 ERA. He is a former 28th-round pick out of Embry-Riddle back in 2008, so while that might scream “organizational arm,” he should push forward to Chattanooga this year and could eventually present himself as a cheap relief option for the big-league team.

Daniel Coulombe, Michael Thomas: The two southpaws spent most of last season at Great Lakes with different results. Thomas, 23, finished the year at Rancho and was a combined 4-2 with a 1.59 ERA and five saves, striking out 73 batters in 62 1/3 innings. Not bad for a former 35th-round pick out of Rider back in 2011. Coulombe was the Dodgers’ 25th-round pick last summer out of Texas Tech. He started at Ogden and finished with the Loons, going 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA and one save in 23 games. He struck out 37 in 25 1/3 innings. Both figure to open 2013 with Rancho.

Gregg Downing, Kazuki Nishijima: The primary lefties at Ogden, along with the since-released Michael Drowne, both should move up to Great Lakes despite so-so numbers. Downing, 22, went 3-0 with a 5.33 ERA and two saves in 54 innings over 21 appearances, including three starts. Nishijimi, who signed as an amateur out of Japan in 2010, was 8-1 with a 4.67 ERA. He threw 47 1/3 innings in just 16 games, so he is not a traditional LOOGY.

Right-handers

Josh Wall: The 26-year-old made his Major League debut in 2012 after racking up 28 saves for the Isotopes. He struck out 52 in 53 2/3 innings, largely thanks to his big, mid-80s slider. Wall seemed reluctant to utilize his 93-94 mph fastball, which tended to get a bit too straight in the Albuquerque air. A former second-round pick back in 2005, he was a starter until the Dodgers moved him to the bullpen full-time at Chattanooga in 2011. He may not project as a closer in the Majors, but he should return to close for the Isotopes this season.

Blake Johnson, Luis Vasquez: A couple of organizational arms, Johnson seems far more likely to pitch again for Albuquerque this season. Johnson, 27, was a second-round pick by Los Angeles back in 2004, but he was later dealt to Kansas City. He returned to the Dodgers organization last spring and started the season in Chattanooga before moving up. Overall, Johnson went 5-4 with a 4.77 ERA and one save in 42 games (five starts). He pitched well for Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League, going 2-0 with 0.69 ERA, allowing one earned run in 13 innings. Vasquez, 26, was savaged for a 7.47 ERA in 53 innings between Albuquerque and Chattanooga last summer. He may not make it out of spring training.

Juan Abreu, Hector Correa, Gregory Infante, Hector Nelo: Three veterans picked up during the offseason, the first three via free agency and the latter by the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Abreu, 27, ranked as high as the Astros’ No. 19 prospect after 2011, according to Baseball America, but he fell on hard times in 2012 and finished the year in the Blue Jays’ system. Between Oklahoma City and Las Vegas, Abreu posted an ugly 6.80 ERA. Correa, 25 in March, was the Marlins’ fourth-round pick out of Puerto Rico back in 2006. He was traded to the Giants for Ronny Paulino prior to the 2009 season, but never got past Double-A, and appeared in just eight games (three starts) at Single-A San Jose last year. Infante, 25, appeared with the White Sox in five games in 2010, showcasing a 96 mph fastball, but he has yet to make it back to the Majors. He appeared in just 20 games at Charlotte last season, going 4-1 with a 3.55 ERA and one save. Nelo, 26, was rated as having the best fastball in the High-A Carolina League in 2011 when he pitched for Potomac (Nationals). He put up good numbers (1-6, 2.73 ERA, 16 saves) with Double-A Harrisburg last season, but as colleague Clint Hulsey told me, his high-velocity fastball is awfully straight and tends to play up, not a good recipe for a potential Isotopes reliever. All four will likely vie for one or two spots in the Albuquerque bullpen this spring, though Correa might end up at Chattanooga or even Rancho.

Steve Ames: A promising arm, Ames was an afterthought in the 2009 draft as a 17th-round pick out of Gonzaga. Since signing, however, all he has done is get outs. John Sickels rated him as the Dodgers’ No. 15 prospect entering this season after he went 3-3 with a 1.56 ERA and 18 saves, striking out 72 batters in 63 1/3 innings at Chattanooga last year. Ames, 25 in March, was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and could make the jump to Albuquerque or return to Chattanooga if the Dodgers fear the effect altitude might have on his low-90s fastball. He also sports a good slider that sits in the mid-80s. For his career, Ames now has 236 strikeouts and just 35 walks in 172 2/3 innings of work.

Red Patterson: In an unusual move, the Dodgers took Patterson, 25, and moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2012. While he responded well, going 7-1 with a 3.07 ERA and striking out 71 batters in 70 1/3 innings at Chattanooga, it was odd because he had put up good numbers (12-5, 3.69) the year before as a starter between Rancho and Great Lakes. Patterson threw for the Isotopes in the playoffs last year and seems like a good bet to remain in Albuquerque this season.

Javier Solano: The Mexican native has shown promise in his career, but has yet to advance past Chattanooga. He threw 62 2/3 innings over his 38 appearances with the Lookouts last year, going 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA. Solano’s fastball sits 88-91 mph and can touch 93. He also has a mid-70s curveball and a fringy changeup. He will battle for a spot in Albuquerque’s bullpen this spring.

Chris Withrow: A former first-round pick, Withrow was taken with the 20th selection in 2007 out of Midland (Texas) High School. He has good stuff, with a fastball he can run up to 98 mph, but he has always lacked the command. The Dodgers gave up on him as a starter last year and he will now be a full-time reliever. FanGraphs still rates him as the Dodgers’ No. 8 prospect, with Keith Law and John Sickels both pegging him at No. 9. Withrow went 3-3 with a 4.65 ERA and two saves last season, striking out 64 in 60 innings. Though he is on the 40-man, he seems more likely to return to Chattanooga than move up to Albuquerque, at least at the start of the season.

Ryan Acosta, Freddie Cabrera, Steve Smith: The trio of mediocre middle relievers at Rancho last season, they are pretty much all organizational filler. Cabrera, 23, at least has youth on his side, but he also posted a 6.34 ERA in 66 2/3 innings for the Quakes. He figures to return to Rancho this year. Smith, 26, is a former non-drafted free agent out of New Mexico. He finished last year at Chattanooga and should open there if he can battle his way into a spot. Smith went 4-2 with a 3.79 ERA and three saves in 61 2/3 innings overall. Acosta, 24, joined the Dodgers organization as a free agent in 2011, got released on April 5 last year, then ended up re-signing on April 21. He went 4-2 with a 4.30 ERA, striking out 79 in 67 innings for the Quakes. He will also vie for a Lookouts roster spot.

Jose Dominguez: A promising arm if he can keep himself out of trouble, Dominguez finished last year at Chattanooga but will have to earn his way back there. The 22-year-old Dominican was ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 20 prospect by MLB.com. He struck out 87 in 79 innings between the Lookouts and Loons, but he finished just 4-4 with a 4.90 ERA and five saves. He has a plus-plus fastball that sits 96-98 mph and hits 100, but unless he develops his fringy curveball into an out pitch he will remain a velocity-only guy and likely never advance to the Majors.

Yimi Garcia: The de facto closer at Great Lakes last year, Garcia finished the year with Rancho and was 6-5 with a 2.92 ERA and 16 saves overall. He struck out 82 in just 52 1/3 innings, using a delivery described as “unorthodox” by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, who ranked him as the Dodgers’ No. 14 prospect. He has a live fastball and a slurvy slider with average command. Garcia figures to be the Quakes’ closer to open 2013.

Joel Lima, Juan Noriega, Juan Rodriguez, Matt Shelton: A quartet of organizational arms who spent the bulk of their 2012 seasons with Great Lakes. Lima, 23, had a 4.52 ERA in 77 2/3 innings with the Loons. Noriega, 22, was signed away from Monclova of the Mexican League in 2011. He went 3-2 with a 2.78 ERA and one save in 68 innings. Rodriguez, 24, was the third player acquired from Boston in the three-way trade that sent Trayvon Robinson to Seattle in 2011. It seems safe to say that he will not follow Tim Federowicz and Stephen Fife to Los Angeles after Rodriguez posted a 6.34 ERA in 38 1/3 innings last year. Shelton, 24, has pitched well for a former 24th-round pick out of Sam Houston State. He went 3-5 with a 2.81 ERA and two saves while striking out 70 in 67 1/3 innings last year.

Jharel Cotton, Carlos De Aza, Alan Garcia, Sawil Gonzalez, Scott Griggs, Owen Jones, Craig Stem: The right-handers who made up the bulk of the bullpen for Ogden last summer, they are a mixed bunch. Cotton, 21, is the most promising of the bunch, though he threw just 15 innings with the Raptors, posting a 1.20 ERA and striking out 20 batters versus three walks. A 20th-round pick out of East Carolina, he sports a low-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup with plus potential. He could get stretched out as a starter this year. Griggs, 21, was an eighth-round pick out of UCLA, where he was the Bruins’ closer. He could hold that role in Great Lakes this year. The rest seem like organizational arms and will compete for spots with the Loons in front of Griggs.

Aris Angeles, Jordan Hershiser, Travis Jones, Jackson Mateo, Sean O’Connell, Ricky Perez, Samuel Taveras: The primary relievers in the Arizona League last summer, this group is also a mixed bunch. Hershiser, 24, is the son of the former Dodgers great who battled injuries throughout his college career at USC. He had a 2.55 ERA and struck out 20 in 17 2/3 innings. Jones, 23, is a converted catcher who used to play in the Royals’ system. Perez was solid in July, racking up nine saves, but got slammed in August and finished with an 8.46 ERA in 22 1/3 innings. The rest are organizational arms only.

Scott Barlow: The Dodgers’ promising sixth-round pick in 2012, Barlow succumbed to Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2012. Barlow, 20, will likely open in extended spring, but if he can rediscover his big-breaking curveball again, he can move back into the prospect picture.

* * *

Well, that’s all for the depth chart series. For pure fun (or possibly as a sign of insanity), I will throw out my projected rosters for Albuquerque, Chattanooga, Rancho Cucamonga, and Great Lakes while Mike is wrapping up his vacation. It should be fun to speculate on who ends up where, and then have the Dodgers do their usual thing and make me look like a fool for ever trying to project things before a single exhibition game has even been played.

Two Dodgers Make the Keith Law 100, Plus Chris Withrow & Pedro Baez Find New Homes

All sorts of news in the Dodger organization today…

*** Corey Seager & Zach Lee make the Keith Law Top 100 list.

Seager (#46) and Lee (#67) are the only two Dodgers who make the list. Seeing Seager that high is encouraging, but it also tells you a whole lot about how differently scouts can view prospects — last week, Jonathan Mayo put out his own Top 100 at MLB.com, and Seager wasn’t listed at all, while Yasiel Puig (#76) & Joc Pederson (#85) were. We’ll see how Baseball America‘s rankings, due out next week, see them.

21 year old Yasiel Puig, courtesy of EephusBlue

21 year old Yasiel Puig, courtesy of EephusBlue

In a chat today at ESPN.com, Law touched on why he didn’t include Puig or Pederson, noting that Puig’s short season and missed time due to the elbow infection makes any data on him extremely thin. He could, as Law noted, end up being very good, but it’s so difficult to know right now; he also included the somewhat odd note that “having shaken the man’s hand, he’s one of the oldest-looking 21-year-olds I’ve ever met”. As Justin D noted to me on Twitter, maybe that just means “Greg Oden disease”.

On Pederson, Law indicates that he still sees him as a fourth outfielder, and while that may be somewhat of a case of Pederson’s horrible AFL performance getting amplified since that’s where Law mainly saw him, that’s the general consensus I hear; Mayo seems to think more highly of him than most.

*** Chris Withrow is officially a reliever.

From Ken Gurnick’s report of last week’s “Young Guns” mini-camp:

Withrow, the Dodgers’ No. 1 pick in 2007, had early bouts with the yips and more recently chronic back problems. Withrow responded to a bullpen move late last year, and Honeycutt said it’s now permanent, hoping the role change can work Eric Gagne-like wonders for Withrow, whose electric arm is undisputed.

Maybe management recalls a hard-throwing second-rounder that struggled as a starter and was never tried as a reliever. Instead, the Dodgers let Joel Hanrahan leave as a free agent and he went on to be an All-Star closer. “Chris wanted the change,” Honeycutt said. “He likes attacking more. He reminds me a little of Gagne, somebody who might throw three or four innings as a starter but have one [bad] inning, and you can eliminate that if you’re only asking one inning of relief from him. Maybe one- or two-inning stints will be easier on his back. He’s got the arm.”

That’s unsurprising, and at this point it’s really a good thing. Even with the trades from last year thinning out the prospect depth, he’s still clearly fallen behind at least Lee & Matt Magill on the starting list. Withrow’s about to begin his fifth season in Double-A (most likely), and while he’s shown the big arm and the ability to miss bats (9.3 K/9), he’s never been able to harness his control or stay healthy. Allowing him to pitch in short stints might negate both somewhat, and Baseball Prospectus still ranked him as the #8 Dodger prospect in January, saying he “has the electric stuff to play up in short bursts out of the bullpen”.

*** Pedro Baez is officially a pitcher.

Hooray! We first heard an unconfirmed report of this in October — I was thrilled, noting that I’d been asking for it since at least 2010 — and from the same Gurnick article, it appears to be coming true.

Honeycutt mentioned Jansen, a transformed catcher, in reference to Baez, signed for $200,000 to be a power-hitting third baseman. Baez, a .247 hitter in six Minor League seasons, is starting over as a hard-throwing reliever a la Jansen, who came out from behind the plate to emerge as a bullpen strikeout king.

“They put him on the mound in instructional league and that fastball is really strong,” Honeycutt said of Baez, who turns 25 next month. “You talk about Kenley when you see the ball come out of his hand. He hasn’t been overwhelmed by thinking too much about pitching. He just sees the glove and throws it and that’s kind of refreshing.”

This is a move that’s long, long overdue because it was clear that Baez was absolutely never going to make it as a hitter — he even got demoted from Double-A back to High-A in 2012. Let’s temper those Jansen expectations, however, until we at least see the man on the mound in a professional game.

*** So long Chris Carpenter, but don’t get too excited.

Carpenter announced today that arm trouble will keep him out for the 2013 season, and from everything we heard it really sounded like this was a goodbye press conference that’s not officially being called a “retirement” so he doesn’t have to forfeit his 2013 salary. Obviously, many — myself included — noted that if the Cardinals need a starter, the Dodgers have more than one to offer. Still, it doesn’t seem that likely at the moment. Behind ace Adam Wainwright and veterans Jake Westbrook & Jaime Garcia, the Cards are loaded with young pitchers ready to step in to the rotation — guys like Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, & Joe Kelly. Even if they need to step outside, they could easily sign Kyle Lohse, who they know well and wouldn’t have to give up a pick to get. Not saying it’s impossible, but not likely; besides, it really sounds more and more like the Dodgers will keep their depth into camp to see how those returning from injury respond.

Dodgers Lacking in Prime Prospect Trade Bait

Editor’s note: Hooray, four days without Dodger baseball! It’s a much-needed break. Today, we welcome back Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner, who did such a good job providing us with an early Isotope status check in April. We talk so much about how the Dodgers have “a lot of starting pitching prospects” without actually looking into how they’re doing, so Christopher reviews how the young arms are coming along through the break. -Mike

The All-Star break is upon us. It is boring. Talking about the impending trade deadline is a lot more interesting. For better or worse, most of that trade talk deals with who the Dodgers are going to get, not how they are going to acquire those players. It takes two to tango, after all, and while some in the comments section might pop off with “just trade Jerry Sands for Justin Upton!” it is time to take a more realistic look at what the Dodgers have on the farm at midseason.

Mike did a solid analysis on the plus and minuses of trading No. 1 prospect Zach Lee already. The problem is that after Lee, things drop off fairly quickly within the organization. There is a reason that Stan Kasten and company have been said to be seeking to take on salary relief instead of giving up a lot of prospects that the organization simply does not have.

The Dodgers have a fair amount of depth in pitching, though in most cases potential will have to outweigh current performance. Most of the pitchers have at least been decent, but there are no real breakout performers. The starters at Double-A Chattanooga are heating up enough to potentially generate more interest. The position players have, by and large, struggled and few if any would bring back anything in return.

So let us break down the pitching prospects in the Dodgers system besides Lee and those prospects up with the Dodgers (e.g. Eovaldi, Van Slyke). All the rankings come from Baseball America.

No. 2 Allen Webster: This season has been a mixed bag for Webster, whose record (3-8) with Chattanooga is not really indicative of how he has pitched. His ERA (4.30) is decent and he has 73 strikeouts to 33 walks in 81 2/3 innings. The Dodgers did move him to the bullpen for five games earlier in the season, but it was temporary and he has posted a 2.25 ERA in seven starts since returning.

No. 5 Chris Reed: Last year’s first-round draft pick has gone 1-4 with a 2.52 ERA between Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and Chattanooga. He has struck out 51 in 50 innings spread over 11 starts and one relief appearance. The Dodgers have kept him on a tight pitch count as they stretch him out from college closer to future big-league starter.

No. 6 Garrett Gould: Well, we know the Astros were interested in the 20-year-old in the failed trade for Carlos Lee and the Dodgers are willing to move him. He has the usual Cal League blemishes (2-6 record, 4.96 ERA), but much like Webster, his record is deceiving. He has 77 strikeouts to 28 walks in 78 innings. Gould has arguably the best pure stuff in the system, something certain teams tend to cherish over actual results.

No. 7 Chris Withrow: The most frustrating arm in the organization is scuffling again in his fourth season with Chattanooga. He still walks too many (28 in 45 2/3 innings) and this year has had trouble staying healthy. At this point his future might lie in relief, so clubs that like to have lots of projectable relievers (looking at you, Padres) should have an interest.

No. 12 Angel Sanchez: The 22-year-old Dominican popped up out of nowhere last year and threw well at Low-A Great Lakes (8-4, 2.82, 84 Ks in 99 IP). Much like Gould, he has found the Cal League a tougher go, already allowing more hits (96) and home runs (12) than last season in 16 fewer innings. He could be ticketed for relief if his curveball does not improve.

No. 14 Scott Barlow: Last year’s sixth-round draft pick has yet to throw a pitch this season, making evaluating him fairly tough. He reportedly had Tommy John surgery recently, and may not be back at full strength until late next year or 2014, ruining any trade value he may have had.

No. 16 Aaron Miller: A sports hernia limited the southpaw to just 36 innings last season. Healthy this year, walks have been his nemesis (45 in 79 1/3 innings) with Chattanooga. His fastball velocity has dropped since he was drafted in 2009, a warning sign to most teams to stay away.

No. 17 Ethan Martin: Withrow’s rival for most perplexing has bounced back, somewhat, from a dismal 2011 campaign. He leads Chattanooga in ERA (2.99), but like Miller has been held back by walks (49 in 93 1/3 innings). Command has always been Martin’s biggest issue and despite the shiny ERA this year, it is clear he has still not turned the corner.

No. 23 Ryan O’Sullivan: The younger brother of former Royal Sean O’Sullivan, Ryan has already jumped from Great Lakes to Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has now made 15 relief appearances to nine starts, but the Dodgers view him as a potential starter down the line. O’Sullivan has a history of injuries at the college level.

No. 24 Josh Wall: The Isotopes closer has an above-average slider and a fastball he seems almost afraid to command. He coughed up three home runs in one inning in his final appearance of the first half on Sunday. If Wall could regain his confidence in his fastball he could at least be another cheap bullpen option, though he is likely a middle reliever/set-up man at the next level.

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.

Dodgers Add Five, Remove Ely & Monasterios

Today – by which I mean, about an hour from now – is the deadline to add eligible players to the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft, which takes place on December 8. I saw a lot of teams announce who they’d be adding this morning, but clearly the Dodgers took just about every minute available to them. As a reminder, eligible players who were not added to the 40-man roster are exposed to the draft, and if they’re selected they must stay on their new team’s 25-man roster (or disabled list) for the entire season – like Carlos Monasterios did in 2010.

Minor leaguers Scott Van Slyke and Alfredo Silverio were added a few weeks ago, and they’ll be joined by outfielder Alex Castellanos and pitchers Michael Antonini, Josh Wall, Chris Withrow, and Stephen Fife. Only Wall and Withrow were Dodger draftees; Castellanos came from the Cardinals in the Rafael Furcal deal, Antonini came from the Mets for Chin-lung Hu, and Fife came from Boston as a part of the Trayvon Robinson trade. Monasterios and John Ely were removed from the 40-man and outrighted to Triple-A, though that doesn’t necessarily mean their time with the Dodgers is over. That puts the 40-man roster at 38, at least until Hong-Chih Kuo is inevitably non-tendered, and Dana Eveland, Ramon Troncoso, Trent Oeltjen, and Jamie Hoffmann could all easily be removed if space becomes an issue.

Brandon Lennox at TrueBlueLA has a list of interesting eligible names who weren’t added, most of which will mean absolutely nothing to you:

Ethan Martin, Kyle Russell, Tony Delmonico, Jon Michael Redding, Cole St. Clair, Nick Buss, Jordan Roberts, Austin Gallagher, Andres Santiago, Chris Jacobs, Griff Erickson, Justin Miller, Tim Sexton, Jaime Pedroza, Matt Wallach, Pedro Baez, Geison Aguasviva, Rafael Ynoa, Carlos Frias, Bladimir Franco, Ramon Jean, Jose Dominguez, Daniel Tamares, Charlie Mirabal, Pedro Guerrero, Elian Herrera, Josh Walter, Steve Smith, Joseph Becker, Robert Booth

Not 100% sure on E Martin, but I do think he is eligible

While it may seem surprising to see interesting names like Erickson and Russell unprotected, remember, a team would have to carry such a player on their big-league roster all season, making them unlikely to take such a risk. To be honest, the name that stands out there to me is lefty Cole St. Clair, who has struck out 187 in 176.1 minor-league innings, with a 46/13 K/BB in Double-A last year. He’s occasionally been mentioned as someone who might be a depth piece for the Dodger bullpen last year, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if a pitching-needy team snaps him up. (That goes for Martin as well, though as Lennox mentions, I’m unsure of his eligibility.)