Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Center (Field) of Attention

Center field is the shortstop of the outfield, as far as the minor leagues go. Future stars can often be found playing here, much like at shortstop. Yet it is also filled with players who will likely never start there at the major-league level. This does not diminish their potential, but for every “true” center fielder manning the position somewhere on the farm, there are plenty of future left and right fielders who can still be at least average to above-average big-leaguers.

He might not stay in center field, but Joc  has a chance to be a solid everyday outfielder in the Majors someday. (Photo courtesy of Dustin Nosler)

He might not stay in center field, but Joc Pederson has a chance to be a solid everyday outfielder in the Majors. (Photo courtesy of Dustin Nosler)

Much as was done with the prior positions, the players I am listing here were primarily center fielders in the minors last season. Again, this does not mean they will end up pushing Matt Kemp to right field. That player probably does not exist in the Dodgers’ system, but he is hard to find in most farm systems. While Jackie Bradley Jr. might be coming up behind Jacoby Ellsbury in the Red Sox system, there are no obvious prospect replacements for fellow post-2013 free agents Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds, Curtis Granderson of the Yankees, or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers.

While the Michael Bourn rumors encouraged some to scream “move Kemp out of center!” (though his collision with the wall in Colorado probably did that even more), the fact is that Kemp is still just 28 years old should indicate he is capable of playing center for at least a few more years. As long as he avoids crashing into things at full speed. If he has learned nothing from that wall in Denver, he should at least call Ellsbury and see how full-speed collisions have wiped out two of his last three seasons.

That debate can rage another time. For now, here are the Dodgers’ center fielders down on the farm, starting with a familiar name.

Tony Gwynn Jr.: The 30-year-old veteran is still around to collect the $1.15 million remaining on that head-scratching two-year deal he received prior to 2011. Sure, he was dropped from the 40-man roster, but the market for light-hitting center fielders is a barren one, so Gwynn has opted to stick around (for now). Ultimately, it is not a lot of money, so the Dodgers could opt to sever ties in spring training if they would rather play a younger man in center at Albuquerque. The fact they have kept him around this long might be more out of necessity, seeing as how Kemp is coming off shoulder surgery and there are probably some doubts as to how a combination of Carl Crawford, Jerry Hairston, and Skip Schumaker could handle center (at least defensively) if Kemp is not ready for Opening Day.

Matt Angle: A 27-year-old fringe prospect snagged off waivers from the Orioles last year, Angle got off to a terrible start in Albuquerque before righting the ship and finishing with a .303/.376/.412 line. It still did not save him a spot on the 40-man roster as he was dropped late in the season. Without the right to refuse the assignment and opt for free agency, Angle is effectively a man in limbo. He could return to the Isotopes, but with Gwynn around he almost seems a bit redundant. Angle’s best hope at this point might be to have a strong enough spring to convince another team desperate for center field depth to swing a trade.

Nick Buss: The former USC Trojan has not moved as fast as most college players, only reaching Double-A as a 25-year-old last season. Now 26, Buss is coming off a fairly average season, batting .272/.328/.411 with eight home runs, 57 RBI, and 19 stolen bases. In a lot of ways, Buss is similar to Angle, only with a shade more power and less patience at the plate. He rarely walks and is often graded as average or slightly below average defensively. At best, Buss could end up a fifth outfielder, capable of playing all three positions. With Gwynn and Angle ahead of him, he might be squeezed out of a starting job at Chattanooga.

Joc Pederson: The best prospect here, Pederson probably will not play center regularly in the Majors, but at the very least he should make for a solid corner outfielder. Still just 20 years old (until mid-April), Pederson fared well against older competition in the California League last year, batting .313/.396/.516 with 18 home runs, 70 RBI and 26 stolen bases. Minor League Ball rated him as the Dodgers’ No. 3 prospect, while FanGraphs pegged him at No. 9. John Sickels said Pederson “has solid tools and terrific instincts,” while FG disagreed by saying “he lacks outstanding tools.” While the scouting community might be split, the Dodgers still think highly of Pederson. Though he ran out of steam in the Arizona Fall League, after he had played for Israel in a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament, Pederson showed enough with Rancho Cucamonga to move up to Chattanooga for 2013. Whether he stays in center or moves to a corner will be determined in spring training.

James Baldwin III: The son of the former White Sox right-hander, this Baldwin combines blazing speed (53 steals last year) and a habit of swinging at everything (177 strikeouts). In many ways he is the ultimate raw American prospect, not unlike his fellow Dodger Dee Gordon. Baldwin hit just .209/.293/.334 with seven homers and 40 RBI for Great Lakes. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo called him a “very toolsy center fielder with a ton of upside and a long way to go,” stressing that patience will be needed to turn Baldwin from a great athlete into a polished ballplayer. Considering the lessons learned with Gordon, plus a lack of a desperate need in Los Angeles, and Baldwin should move slowly up the ladder. He is only 21, so there is plenty of time. He could move up to Rancho Cucamonga this year or he might remain at Great Lakes.

Noel Cuevas: A 21-year-old Puerto Rican, Cuevas already fits the bill of a utility outfielder, having played 25 or more games at all three positions while bouncing around the Dodgers’ system last season. Overall he hit .267/.337/.365 and finished with 35 stolen bases. While he does not strike out often (just 40 in 288 at-bats), he rarely walks (24). Cuevas could return to Great Lakes to back up Baldwin, or more likely he will be the utility outfielder at Rancho. He projects as an organizational player only.

Jeremy Rathjen: The sleeper prospect here, Rathjen is a big kid (6-foot-6, 190 pounds), who draws a lot of comparisons to Corey Hart. The difference is that Rathjen, at least for now, can play center, as he did 45 times last year in Ogden. An 11th-round pick out of Rice last June, Rathjen hit .324/.443/.500 with nine home runs, 53 RBI, and 16 stolen bases in the thin air of the Pioneer League. The Dodgers could send him to the unfriendly confines of Great Lakes, or, as he is already 22, he could skip ahead to Rancho should Baldwin need more time in the Midwest League. Much like Pederson, Rathjen’s future could be in a corner spot, but for now the Dodgers will keep him where he is and hope that his bat was not an illusion of Ogden’s altitude and his age versus his competition.

Jacob Scavuzzo: An organizational player who saw the bulk of the time (20 games) in center in the Arizona League. Scavuzzo hit just .220/.281/.317, about all one might expect of a teenager drafted in the 21st round. He will remain behind in extended spring training and hope to fight for a roster spot with Ogden in late June.

* * *

That’s it for the center fielders, where some talent resides, but no one guaranteed to play there in Los Angeles in the future. There is still some talent at the corners, led by a certain Cuban defector and more. Look for the corner outfielders up next (as a warning, it might be split into two parts, since there are an awful lot of ‘em).

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Can Anyone Play Third?

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson continues his look at the Dodger organizational depth with third base. Lord, I can’t wait until we get to the outfield and actually find some talent.

Recently, the good folks over at ESPN.com have noted how many good third basemen are playing throughout the Majors. While it is true that the Chase Headleys of the world are shining elsewhere, there are just as many teams rolling the dice at the hot corner from Chicago (Jeff Keppinger, Ian Stewart) to Minnesota (Trevor Plouffe) to Oakland (Josh Donaldson) to Atlanta (Juan Francisco) to Miami (the corpse of Placido Polanco) to Colorado (check back in a while on that mess).

For the Dodgers, third base is also a problem, in both present tense (Luis Cruz) and future tense. I won’t get into the whole “Hanley Ramirez should be at third” debate, because that’s been going for a while now and obviously Ned and co. are not going to change their minds until Ramirez is at 25 errors on Memorial Day. And even that might not get him shifted over to his right.

Going into the Dodgers’ stable of minor-league corner infielders, I found a logjam building up at first base between Double-A Chattanooga and Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (see the previous post in this series), while the organization remains pressed to find enough warm bodies to man third base throughout the system.

At third base, the lack of depth at the upper levels was clearly seen when the Dodgers signed two free agents with big-league experience and re-signed one of their own who had become a free agent. The wild card here, and elsewhere on the diamond, is Alex Castellanos, who finished last year at third for the Isotopes. For the purposes of these analyses, I am leaving him in the outfield, but if the Dodgers decide he should be a third baseman again, then throw out most everything you read below.

Barden with Round Rock in 2011. Hope he likes the PCL. (a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/madmiked/5760622536/">via)

Barden with Round Rock in 2011. Hope he likes the PCL. (via)

Dallas McPhersonBrian Barden: The two veterans, the former of whom played for the Isotopes in 2008 when they were a Marlins affiliate, will compete for playing time this spring. Both were signed as free agents; either could end up the starter in Albuquerque.

Elevys GonzalezOmar Luna: Gonzalez was acquired in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft while Luna was signed as a free agent out of the Rays organization. Both Gonzalez and Luna are more utility players than everyday guys. Gonzalez will compete for a reserve spot with the Isotopes, while Luna will do the same with Chattanooga.

C.J. Retherford: The 27-year-old was originally signed by the White Sox as a non-drafted free agent out of Arizona State back in 2007. He tore through the system until 2010, when he hit a wall at Triple-A and was eventually released. After playing at Double-A for the Braves, Tigers and an independent team, Retherford signed with the Dodgers for 2012. He promptly hit .311/.366/.546 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI, mostly at Rancho and finishing at Chattanooga. Retherford should return to the Lookouts to start the upcoming season.

Pedro Baez: The biggest mystery among third basemen, Baez has underachieved throughout his career and was listed as a pitcher during instructional league this past fall. Always praised for his arm, Baez could move to the mound after batting just .247/.308/.391 for his career. Baez hit just .221/.306/.374 with 11 home runs and 59 RBI combined with Chattanooga and Rancho last season. If he is staying at third base, expect him to start for the Quakes.

Jesse Bosnik: A 13th-round pick back in 2010, the 24-year-old has done little with the bat, while playing two-thirds of his games at third base, the rest at first. Bosnick hit .239/.290/.360 with eight home runs, 44 RBI and 21 stolen bases at Great Lakes last year. He projects, at best, as a utility man, but is more likely just an organizational player who should move up to Rancho as a backup, or a starter if Baez’s days at third base are over.

Jeffrey Hunt: Purely a backup, the 22-year-old hit just .237/.295/.422 with six home runs for Great Lakes last season. He will either repeat the level or see his walking papers in March.

Alex Santana: The Dodgers’ second-round pick in 2011, Santana has yet to live up to expectations. The 19-year-old hit .254/.306/.365 with two home runs and 31 RBI between Ogden and the Arizona League last year. The son of former big-leaguer Rafael, this Santana was just 17 when he signed and very raw, both in terms of hitting and fielding. He should still push his way up the ladder and start for Great Lakes.

Bladimir Franco: He was signed out of the Dominican back in 2007. Now 22, Franco has hit just .233/.321/.381 with 27 home runs in 253 games, none above rookie level. While he put up decent numbers between the AZL and Ogden last summer — .269/.335/.448, 8 HR, 31 RBI — he is low on the depth chart and could return to the Raptors to start this upcoming season.

As anyone can see, the Dodgers are cursed by the same lack of viable third basemen as most teams. While folks tend to focus on catcher and shortstop as being too thin, the Dodgers’ lack of help at the hot corner stands out. It is not a problem unique to the organization, nor one that can be totally attributed to the McCourt era’s financial woes.

So in other words, if you want your kid to have a shot at the pros someday, put the tyke at third base and cross your fingers.

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.

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: Not Exactly the Keys to the Keystone

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson continues his tour of the Dodger organization with second base. It’s, uh… well, you might want to take small children out of the room. I don’t know if there’s a single future big leaguer in here.

Second base is the bastard stepchild of minor-league positions. The common refrain is that this where teams stick their weakest infielders, knowing that they will never amount to much, while the good shortstops with weak arms just end up playing the keystone in the big leagues. That mantra does not quite work, however, when looking at some of the better second basemen in the Majors.

When this guy is still your best minor-league option at second base, you know you're in trouble. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

When this guy is still your best minor-league option at second base, you know you’re in trouble. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

The Yankees’ Robinson Cano only appeared at shortstop 80 times in the minors, while playing 395 games at seond base. The Angels’ Howie Kendrick never played shortstop, instead playing 360 games at second and seven at third. Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks was exclusively a second baseman for 208 games before being called up. Guys who did fit the stereotype of shortstop-turned-second-basemen include the Dodgers’ own Mark Ellis (351 at short, 31 at second), the Diamondbacks’ Aaron Hill (234/2) and the Reds’ Brandon Phillips (572/115).

All this really proves is that there is no way to identify who will someday become a big-league second baseman, while also showing that ignoring the guys in the minors at second would be foolish. At least in most cases, but …

Then there are the Dodgers, who have stacked up such an uninspiring group of second basemen on the farm that Ellis might as well plan out his future finances to include the Dodgers exercising his option for 2014. (Unless they go out and spend more GG moolah on free agents Cano or Hill, but there’s eventually gotta be a limit … right?)

Prepare yourselves for the big steaming pile of “meh” that awaits:

Elian Herrera: Last season’s token “out of nowhere” guy, Herrera went from .341/.381/.520 at Albuquerque to shining briefly in Los Angeles before eventually settling back into being what he is, a mediocre utility player. The 27-year-old has a minor-league career line of .285/.365/.397, with 238 games at second base, 110 in left field, 86 in center, 66 at shortstop, 60 at third and 15 in right. He pretty much is what he is, a utility player on a second-division team, which means he only gets back to Los Angeles if the injury bug turns into an epidemic.

Rusty Ryal: One of the many random infielders signed as free agents by the Dodgers this off-season, Ryal is a former Diamondback best remembered by L.A. fans for hitting a line drive off Hiroki Kuroda. He hit a perfectly pedestrian .263/.318/.402 as a reserve for Arizona in 2009-10 before shuffling off to Japan in 2011 (he was a disaster) and slinking back to the minors in 2012, where he put up a middling .257/.294/.384 line between Reno and Gwinnett (Braves). He will have to fight his way through a crowded list of players to make the Isotopes in 2013.

Joe Becker: A good guy, perfectly defining the concept of a blue-collar, overachieving player who came out of nowhere and somehow got all the way to Triple-A. Becker, 27, was a non-drafted free agent out of the junior college ranks back in 2007. He has steadily worked his way all over the system, playing second, short and third, always filling in as a backup wherever he is needed, sometimes on moment’s notice with some serious jet-lag.

Rafael Ynoa: The one guy that got some people excited late in 2012, mainly for his Arizona Fall League performance (.330/.374/.515) that seemed to come out of nowhere. Still, he was left unprotected during the Rule 5 Draft and was not selected, which could more of a sign of his actual standing both with the Dodgers and baseball in general. A fine fielder, Ynoa, 25, has played 365 games at second and 130 at shortstop since signing out of the Dominican back in 2006. He has a little speed, no power, and profiles essentially as another Herrera, albeit less versatile than his countryman.

Scott Wingo: The Dodgers popped the 23-year-old out of South Carolina in the 11th round in 2011 after he had won the College World Series with the Gamecocks. They challenged him by sending Wingo to the California League in his first full season, but found him lacking (.246/.367/.337) beyond some decent defense and the ability to take a walk (56 total). Wingo does not offer much power and is not particularly fast. Despite his high draft status, he is basically just another organizational player.

Jesus Arredondo: A native of Mexico, Arredondo signed out of nowhere last year and will be 22 next month, so he hardly qualifies under the header of “prospect.” He hit .254/.305/.340 at Great Lakes, finishing with zero home runs and 13 stolen bases.

Kevin Taylor: The backup to Arredondo at Great Lakes, Taylor, 21, was a 36th-round draft pick out of a Nevada junior college in 2011. He hit .240/.284/.317 with the Loons and will have to fight for a roster spot somewhere in the organization this spring.

Malcolm Holland: Most high school players drafted in the 33rd round opt to thank their teams and head off to college. Not Holland, who joined the Dodgers in 2011 and played a lot against older competition as a 20-year-old at Ogden. Holland hit .244/.421/.275, showing some impressive plate discipline (54 walks versus 47 Ks) and speed (44 stolen bases), but little power or hitting aptitude. He played 36 games at second base and 23 in center field, so for the future he probably screams utility player, but he is young enough that if the Dodgers can get his bat going, he could be the closest thing they have to a sleeper.

Zachary Babitt: A college senior drafted out of Division II Academy of Art (yes, it’s a real school in San Fran), Babitt was the Dodgers’ 10th-round pick last summer. Sure, he was signed because they saved money on him that they spent elsewhere, but every team needs bodies to fill out the lowest levels of the system. Babitt, 23, hit .254/.389/.271 against much younger competition in the Arizona League. He will be lucky to make it out of Camelback this spring.

Next up: Shortstop, because if this entry did not make you want to spend a week at your local brewery, well, it sure will!

Taking early stock of the Isotopes

While Mike is on vacation, he asked me to offer up some thoughts about the Albuquerque Isotopes and how what amounts to the Dodgers’ reserve team is shaping up as the season begins. The ‘Topes have only been home for a total of eight days so far this season — they begin their fourth road series of the year tonight at New Orleans (Marlins) — so this is all a very, very preliminary analysis of the 25 players I have observed.

Catchers Tim Federowicz and Josh Bard

FedEx is the man on the spot, the lone Isotope ranked by Baseball America in the Dodgers’ top 10 prospects. While plenty of fans are still smarting about last year’s trade that sent Trayvon Robinson packing and brought Fed and two pitchers to the organization, so far the young backstop is showing promise. “He’s been a lot better this year, he’s a lot more patient,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Fed’s hitting (.292/.365/.477). The swing-first, pull-everything mentality from last season is all but gone. Defensively he has looked sharp, making strong throws to second, blocking the plate well and doing a good job of working with the pitching staff. As for Bard, as the Isotopes’ oldest player (34, which makes him the only player on the team older than me … yikes), he has not played much, but he has played well, batting .385 (10-for-26). “Obviously, Josh with his experience … it’s like having an extra coach floating around here,” Bundy said. “He takes the leadership role. He knows his role on this club and he’s ready at any time.”

First baseman Jeff Baisley

Jeff Baisley has been a good presence in the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes.)

The veteran slugger has played well so far, batting .313/.390/.531 with three homers and a team-leading 16 RBI. Though primarily a third baseman with Salt Lake (Angels) last season, he has handled first base well defensively and it clearly has not had an impact on his hitting. Personality-wise, he keeps it serious on the field and keeps it loose during batting practice and in the clubhouse. Though he is viewed as a leader, Baisley said he has not had to overly assert himself so far. He certainly continues the recent tradition of high-character veterans the Dodgers like to have in Albuquerque.

Second baseman Alex Castellanos

Though currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring (return date unknown), the converted outfielder has been solid so far at the plate (.366/.477/.746), while overcoming the defensive obstacles that come with returning to his old position. The big issue for Castellanos offensively lies with his ability to overcome his aggressive, swing-first mentality. In the field, throwing has been the biggest challenge, but after a week spent with Dodgers special instructors Juan Castro and Jody Reed (laugh about their hitting, but both were good in the field), Castellanos seems to be adapting quickly. Just calm down on the early promotion possibilities; Castellanos himself said he needs close to a full season playing every day at second base before he is ready for MLB.

Shortstop Luis Cruz

The wily veteran has been on “Cruz Control” since he arrived, smacking the ball around (.328/.343/.500) while making some sharp plays in the field. He is another veteran who keeps it loose; his imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen‘s Australian accent is a sight to behold.

Third baseman Josh Fields

Nicknamed “QB” for obvious reasons, the former Oklahoma State football standout has gotten off to a quiet start (.289/.375/.526) when compared to his teammates. Nonetheless, he has been a solid contributor. This is no sign of the dreaded “jaded ex-big-leaguer stuck at Triple-A” disease that sometimes afflicts players. Much like Cruz, he seemed to be riding high off his strong spring that nearly saw him make the big-league roster. He has been a positive influence, playing good defense with (no surprise here) a very strong arm.

Utility man Elian Herrera

The versatile Elian Herrera has been a sparkplug atop the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Bundy said the Isotopes’ turnaround, from a 2-6 road trip to their current record of 11-9, has been thanks in part to the ultra-versatile Herrera. A pure contact hitter (.340/.357/.566), he is Albuquerque’s fastest player and has done well out of the leadoff spot. Defensively, he has looked especially sharp at second base and third base, while also seeing time at shortstop and the outfield. He would strictly be a bench player at the next level, but with Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy not getting any younger, the Dodgers could do worse.

Reserve infielders Joe Becker and Lance Zawadzki

Becker is a favorite of Bundy’s especially with his ability to deliver big hits in the clutch, often as a pinch hitter. He is also a capable defender at second, though he lacks the arm for third and has not played much shortstop. Zawadzki joined the team from extended spring on the last day of the homestand. While I have yet to see him play for the Isotopes, he was a solid defender and a streaky hitter last season with Omaha (Royals).

Outfielders Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle

Van Slyke, the Dodgers’ No. 21 prospect, has been the hitting star out of this group (.364/.437/.610). He has fared well defensively in both outfield corners, with a strong arm and more mobility than you would expect from someone who is listed at 6-5, 250. He made one start at first base during the homestand, looking a little out of practice there, so hold off on the “he can replace Loney” talk. Oh, and I will sit him down to talk about his life growing up around baseball with his father. His stories are hilarious. Sands’ struggles at the plate (.192/.310/.315) have been well-documented so far. Oeltjen has played all three outfield spots, serving more as a fourth outfielder than anything else. As such, his hitting (.250/.328/.350) has yet to get into a groove with such sporadic playing time. Angle has been the lost one of the bunch, looking all out of sorts at the plate (.146/.255/.268) and now finding himself on the DL with a strained hamstring.

Starting pitchers Michael Antonini, John Ely, Stephen Fife, Fernando Nieve, Mike Parisi

John Ely has pitched well at home, not so well on the road. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Before his call-up to the big leagues, Antonini made one start in Albuquerque he would like to forget (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR allowed). Like many young pitchers, the 26-year-old lefty learned the hard way you have to keep the ball down in Albuquerque if you want to have a prayer of succeeding here. He certainly throws a lot of strikes, but he left too many up in that game. Despite being back for his third season with the Isotopes, Ely has remained upbeat and continues to work hard. He has been a completely different pitcher at home (13 IP, 4 ER) than on the road (7.1 IP, 11 ER). Fife has just plain struggled wherever he has pitched this year (1-2, 9.92 ERA). The big righty is a finesse pitcher and so far the PCL is chewing him up. Nieve went from horrible at Omaha (1.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER) to solid at home (6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) to then getting ejected in the third inning of his third start for hitting a batter. It has been a very bizarre season for the former Astro and Met, who throws hard but does not strike a lot of people out (8 total in 10.1 IP). Parisi has been the most consistent and effective starter to date. It should come as no surprise, since there always seems to be one veteran who puts together a solid campaign in ABQ (e.g. Dana Eveland last year).

Right-handed relievers Josh Wall, Ramon Troncoso, Will Savage, Francisco Felix

Wall has looked sharp while sharing closing duties. He throws in the mid-90s and looks like another potentially solid addition to LA’s young bullpen down the line. There is still some wildness (4 walks in 8.1 IP) that needs to be smoothed out. Troncoso has looked like a man determined to get back to the big leagues (1.08 ERA in 8.1 IP), while Savage has been lights out (4-0, 2.41) in the long relief/spot starter role, keeping the ball down and utilizing his cutter, fastball and curveball to their fullest extent. Felix, well, somebody has to take it on the chin, and so far he is doing just that (10.13 ERA in 13.1 IP). As the Dodger bullpen fluctuates, his head would seem to be the first on the chopping block down here.

Left-handed relievers Brent Leach, Wil Ledezma, Derrick Loop, Scott Rice, Cole St. Clair

Rice has been the star of the southpaw collective, sharing the team lead with four saves. He is at his most effective not when he is getting strikeouts, but rather when is able to get hitters to try and pounce on strikes, causing them to ground out and pop up early in the count. Leach (0-1, 6.57) has alternated between looking good and taking it on the chin; personality-wise he has not changed from his year in Japan, remaining the same funny, witty southerner who graced the clubhouse in 2009-10. St. Clair has been similar to Leach in terms of pitching, looking good one outing and struggling to throw strikes the next. Poor Ledezma was walloped in his first two home appearances (10 runs total), but has since settled down and regained his confidence. Loop has yet to appear in a game in Albuquerque.

Overall

This is a better team than it looked after losing six of eight on the opening road trip. The Isotopes pulled off their first four-game sweep since 2009 when they took Iowa apart. As long as the pitching stays at least somewhat consistent, the lineup is more than capable of scoring enough runs. What looked like a pack of spot starters, middle relievers and bench players actually has some players with enough talent (Van Slyke, Castellanos, Federowicz, in particular) to help the Dodgers out in the future. Rice and Wall can be both be part of a big-league bullpen, as well. This team may lack the star power when Gordon, Sands (the good version) and Robinson were here last year, but it is still a fun bunch to watch.

As always, you can find all the ‘Topes news and notes you can handle here and you can now follow me on Twitter as @TopesWriter for quick updates, anecdotes, breaking news and even some play-by-play during home games.

— Chris Jackson