Dodgers Top 20 Prospects: A Midseason Update

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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.

Cardinals 5, Dodgers 3: The Pitching Duel That Wasn’t

kemp_bench_2013-05-25Clayton Kershaw didn’t have it today at Dodger Stadium, allowing more than three earned runs for the first time since last July. The way this team is going, any time Kershaw is less than Koufaxian is going to make for a pretty difficult mountain to climb, and they of course could not.

Adrian Gonzalez did connect for a two-run homer, his second dinger in two days, and he’s been unstoppable this weekend — over the last two games, he’s been on base eight times with two longballs. But Gonzalez drove in all three Dodger runs, and other than Carl Crawford — who doubled twice & walked — and Juan Uribe, who smacked another double, there was little worth discussing.

So if you’re wondering why the Dodgers lost, it was because Kershaw was less than stellar and because guys like Mark Ellis, A.J. Ellis, & Andre Ethier did little. (Don’t get too excited by Dee Gordon drawing a walk, either; it was an intentional pass.) Then again, it’s been a rough few days for A.J., who got run over by Jon Jay on Friday and then took a heater from Shelby Miller off his left wrist. According to Bill Shaikin, it looked “swollen” and he’s visiting a doctor after the game, though he did of course stay in.

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Of course, the biggest story of the game came not from California, but Michigan, where 16-year-old prospect Julio Urias somewhat surprisingly made his professional debut for the Loons today. Urias went just three innings, but struck out six while allowing only two hits — including whiffing the side in the first inning.

Last September, I posted a report from a reader named Tom about his experience speaking to Logan White at the Baseball Prospectus Dodger Stadium event, and Urias’ name came up:

At the very end of his question-answer session, he mentioned that the Dodgers just got a letter of intent from a 16 year old Mexican pitcher that throws 94 MPH, Julio Urias. He seemed reluctant to say it at first, but then acted kind of giddy and shared about the kid anyway.

It’s not unheard of for a 16-year-old to be playing in the complex leagues — Pittsburgh prospect Luis Heredia did just that in 2011, in fact — but it’s extremely rare for a player that young to be seen in A-ball. There have been a few examples of players that age or younger, like Joe Nuxhall or Bobby Doerr, but mostly decades ago. I honestly don’t know the last time this has happened, so I’ll need to do some research on that. At the very least, it’s clear that the Dodgers are extremely high on Urias to start him in the Midwest League immediately.