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

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

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

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

Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A Southern League)

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

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

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

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

Catchers: Gorman Erickson, Christopher O’Brien

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)

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

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

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

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

Catchers: Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: 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).

The 40-Man Roster Is About To Get Overcrowded

Very quietly – so quietly that only pal Chris Jackson of the Albuquerque Examiner was sharp enough to notice it at first – the Dodgers outrighted Triple-A outfielder Matt Angle off the 40-man roster this week. The news went by with such little attention, I’m guessing, because most fans probably have never even heard the name. After being claimed from Baltimore last winter on waivers, Angle did little to distinguish himself in Albuquerque this year, being the only member of the 40-man roster (aside from Chris Withrow, who was often injured) to stay with the organization for the entire season without getting called up. If we noted Angle at all this year, it was only to continually call him out as the next head to roll when a new acquisition needed a spot. Largely due to the never-ending stream of players pushed to the 60-day disabled list, he managed to survive. Until now.

The Dodgers currently have, as you can see on the depth chart page here, 37 players on the 40-man roster. That’s comprised of the 35 guys who finished the season on the active roster or on the 15-day disabled list plus minor leaguers Scott Van Slyke & Yasiel Puig. Counting the whopping nine players on the 60-day disabled list (a number which was ten before Blake Hawksworth was outrighted yesterday as well) the Dodgers technically have 46 players on their 40-man roster. They would have until November 20 to get down under the limit and reset their 40-man roster. Angle &  Hawksworth, apparently, are just the first steps.

The most immediate way to lose players is to have their contracts expire or otherwise disappear, and there’s ten players who fall under that category. (I’m assuming here that the declining of three team options will all happen.) This group includes Bobby Abreu, Joe Blanton, Randy Choate, Todd CoffeyAdam Kennedy, Brandon League, Juan Rivera, Matt Treanor, Shane Victorino, & Jamey Wright. The seven free agents will officially be off the roster the day after the World Series ends; the three with team options (Coffey, Rivera, & Treanor), assuming they are all declined, will have that paperwork completed within the next few days after that.

So taking that 46 and eliminating 10 would get them back down to 36, and we can stop acting as though players on the 60-day disabled list are separate because the disabled list disappears five days after the end of the World Series, not to return until camps open.

36 doesn’t seem like a lot, but we’re not quite done yet. That November 20 date is also when they’ll have to add any eligible players to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, like Stephen Fife was last year. We’ll get into who exactly falls under this category much more closely as the deadline draws near, because the eligibility here is always a little squishy. For now, they alleviated this worry somewhat by trading Ethan Martin & Allen Webster, but expect Matt Magill at the very least to be added, and guys like Gorman Erickson, Rafael Ynoa, Aaron Miller, & Blake Smith could be part of the conversation. (No, not Zach Lee; he doesn’t need to be protected yet.)

Let’s say they add three names. So without adding a single new free agent to help in left field or the rotation or the bullpen, or retaining any of the other guys they may want to keep, like League, the Dodgers will already be at 39 players. That gives you just one spot to play with going into an offseason where you can conservatively expect that at least three to five players will be added to the team, whether they be newcomers or returnees.

So what can they do? The obvious answer is, “something we don’t expect.” They’ll make a trade we never saw coming, because that’s what always happens. But with that in mind, five possibilities to open up spots as needed…

1) Whack Justin Sellers. This one seems pretty obvious to me. The Dodgers have about 84 infielders under contract, and Sellers has not only proven little in the bigs, he’s coming off a year nearly entirely lost to a back injury. He won’t get claimed, and if he does, it’s not a loss.

2) Whack or trade John Ely. I like Ely and so do you, but when you’ve fallen behind Fife on the depth chart, it’s not a great thing. Considering that they already have six veteran starters under contract plus Fife plus whomever they inevitably add, it’s not a great place for Ely to get an opportunity. Ely was already removed from the 40-man once last winter and went unclaimed, so perhaps that could happen again and he’d remain with Albuquerque. However, given his PCL Pitcher of the Year award, there might be some extremely limited trade interest.

3) Give Juan Uribe a viking funeral. No, that’s not a euphemism for releasing him. I’m legitimately suggesting that we float him into the ocean on a burning pile of wood. (And yes, I have made that joke before.) I know that it almost seems like a fantasy that we could finally be rid of Uribe after he somehow managed to last through the entire season, but who among us really thinks there’s still value to be had here? He was useless from day one, and with the infield stuffed with Puntos, Ramirezes, & Cruzes, there’s no way to justify him hanging onto a roster spot. Swallow your pride, Ned.

4) Whack Elian Herrera. Herrera, as you’ll see when we get to his review, was an incredibly welcome surprise at a dark time in the season. He’s also going to be 28 in May and was awful once his initial hot streak wore off, and hardly has a stellar minor league record. Endless thanks for what he brought, but he’s not likely to make the Opening Day roster and what he brings is easily replaceable.

5) Whack or trade Josh Wall. Those first four were relatively easy, but now I’m struggling a bit. DFA Nick Punto? I’d love to, but Ned Colletti would never do it. DFA Scott Van Slyke? Maybe, because I don’t think all that much of him, but you still have to fill out a Triple-A roster and his righty power could be useful depth for Crawford & Ethier if needed, in addition to being an option at first base. DFA Silverio if his injuries from last year’s car accident are too much to overcome? Only if it’s dire, since his 2011 was very good. Find a way to ship out Lilly or Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano? It’s unlikely that all three start next year in the rotation unless Billingsley is cooked, yet it’s hard to see those moves happening right now.

So all I can see is dropping Wall. It’s not even that I really want to be rid of Wall, who converted from a lousy starter to a decent reliever in 2011, it’s just that the his ceiling is pretty low and the Dodgers already have seven relievers under control for 2013 – Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, Javy Guerra, Paco Rodriguez, Scott Elbert, Matt Guerrier, & Shawn Tolleson, each of whom have a good claim on a spot for Opening Day. That’s without bringing back any of League / Choate / Wright or adding anyone new. Wall’s good depth to have around, but is hardly irreplaceable.

How much of this will happen? I have to think Sellers & Ely are as good as gone, at least when it comes to the 40-man. Let’s see how the Dodgers surprise us for the other necessary moves.

Dodgers Claim Matt Angle On Waivers From Baltimore

Yesterday, I mentioned that the 60-day disabled list was now available for Rubby De La Rosa, should the Dodgers need to open up another 40-man roster spot to make room for Jamey Wright, John Grabow, or another NRI at the end of camp. Who knew we’d be revisiting that idea less than 24 hours later?

Today, the Dodgers took advantage of that option by moving De La Rosa off the 40-man roster and claiming 26-year-old outfielder Matt Angle from Baltimore. Angle made a brief debut with the O’s last year but spent most of 2011 as Triple-A Norfolk’s center fielder; since the Dodgers already acquired Norfolk’s primary right fielder, Tyler Henson, in the Dana Eveland trade, all they need to do now is get 2011 Norfolk left fielder Kyle Hudson (now with Texas) to complete the entire set.

Angle hit just .177 in 31 games for the Orioles last year, but he’s not without his uses, since he has a .372 career minor league OBP and plenty of speed, stealing 11 bases in 12 attempts with the big club and an additional 27 in the minors. Baseball Prospectus 2012 has additional info:

Angle’s best tool is his speed, which he put on full display in his first taste of the big leagues: despite a mere .293 OBP, Angle stole 11 bases in 95 plate appearances thanks to an absurd 55 percent attempt rate and a 92 percent success rate. Widely considered the best defensive outfielder in the system, his bat is suspect. He has no power to speak of and struck out 18 percent of the time at Triple-A, unacceptable for a guy without pop and without Ichiro’s BABIP. Still, he takes some walks, and if he can manage to stretch his tools, his best case scenario is becoming a toned-down version of Michael Bourn.

So for the low, low price of a waiver claim, you’re getting a young guy who can fly and is apparently a plus defensive outfielder. By itself, that’s all well and good, though you do have to wonder about a player who got DFA’d by Baltimore (and to fit in Luis Ayala, of all people), because the Orioles are hardly overflowing with talent and might actually start Endy Chavez in left field this year. Still, Angle didn’t cost anything and comes with at least two tools, so that’s fine for additional depth.

Now that the 40-man roster is indeed full, that makes it all the more likely that the out-of-options Ramon Troncoso is going to get the axe unless he surprises us all to take that last bullpen spot. It also makes Trent Oeltjen‘s spot that much more perilous with another outfielder around; it also does make me wonder if Alex Castellanos really is destined for more infield work in Albuquerque, perhaps pushing Alfredo Silverio to a corner (where he probably belongs) and letting the defensively superior Angle remain in center.