Projecting the Dodgers’ Minor-League Rosters: Low-A & Hi-A

Editor’s note: here’s where it gets fun. Chris Jackson predicts the minor league rosters of the top four Dodger clubs. We’ll do Great Lakes & Rancho Cucamonga today, followed by Chattanooga & Albuquerque next. Also, don’t forget to enter the Opening Day roster contest — open through 9pm PT Monday night.

After plowing through the Dodgers’ minor-league depth chart position by grueling position, now comes the fun part. Yes, it’s time to put on the prognosticator hat and do the almost-impossible: project four minor-league rosters just as pitchers and catchers are reporting to Camelback Ranch.

Dustin Nosler over at Feelin’ Kinda Blue has been doing the same thing, team by team. I agree with some of his picks, disagree with others. As I have said many times on this site and on Twitter, the Dodgers work in mysterious ways, so at best my predictions and his are nothing but educated guesses. (That’s the nice way of saying the Dodgers will make us both look foolish come April 4.)

Will Garrett Gould return to Rancho for another season? (via Dustin Nosler

Will Garrett Gould return to Rancho for another season? (via Dustin Nosler)

Great Lakes Loons (Single-A Midwest League)

Starting rotation: Ralston CashLindsey CaughelJake HermsenArismendy OzoriaRoss Stripling

Picking this rotation was toughest of all among the four full-season teams. Cash will be here if he is healthy, which is a big “if.” Caughel pitched well enough at Ogden, but there are other, higher-drafted players who could move up. Hermsen gets the nod as the token lefty, but Miguel Sulbaran will push him for the spot and probalby has more upside. Ozoria is repeating the level after a middling campaign (8-8, 4.51 ERA). Stripling has the most upside of the bunch and could skip a level to Rancho, but for now I’ll put him here. Just missed the cut: Zachary BirdCarlos FriasGustavo GomezJonathan Martinez, Miguel Sulbaran

Bullpen: Gregg DowningSawil GonzalezScott GriggsOwen JonesJoel LimaKazuki NishijimaJuan Noriega

Griggs figures to be the closer. Noriega deserved to move up but there’s no room. Downing and Nishijima weren’t great at Ogden, but there aren’t any other left-handed options. Gonzalez, Jones, and Lima are on the bubble. Just missed: Aris AngelesJharel CottonAlan GarciaJordan HershiserTravis JonesJackson MateoRicky PerezJuan RodriguezCraig StemSamuel Taveras

Catchers: Tyler OgleEric Smith

Ogle did most of his damage in the Arizona League, so he won’t end up any higher up the ladder despite his Isotopes cameo in 2012. Smith hit well at Ogden, but he also spent more time as a designated hitter than catcher, so it’s a judgment call over the guys listed here. Just missed: John CannonJose CapellanAustin Cowen, JJ Ethel

Infielders: 1B–Jesus Valdez, 2B–Malcolm Holland, SS–Corey Seager, 3B–Bladimir Franco, UTIL–Delvis MoralesJeffrey Hunt

Valdez raked at Ogden, earning the promotion. He could also see time in the outfield corners. Holland has speed and can draw a lot of walks, but his hit tool is a work in progress. He can play center field as well. Seager is one of the Dodgers’ top prospects. Franco will compete with Alex Santana for the third base gig this spring. Morales will back up the middle, Hunt the corners. Just missed: Tae-Hyeok Nam 1B, John Sgromolo 1B, Zachary Babitt 2B, Kevin Taylor 2B, Alex Santana 3B, Jesmuel Valentin SS, Justin Boudreaux UTIL

Outfielders: LF–Devin Shines, CF–James Baldwin, RF–Joseph Winker, OF–Pat Stover, DH/OF–Paul Hoenecke

Shines’ father, ex-Expo Razor, is the Loons’ manager. Baldwin repeats the level after striking out 177 times. Winker struggled as well and also repeats. Stover could force his into a starting gig. Hoenecke can also back up first base. Just missed: Nick Akins, Cory EmbreeGregory Pena

Final analysis: Seager and Stripling are the stars here, along with a slew of sleeper types such as Ogle and Holland, plus guys looking to reestablish themselves like Baldwin. This team has a chance to be much more competitive in 2013.

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Single-A California League)

Starting rotation: Garrett GouldJarret MartinJon Michael ReddingAngel Sanchez, Duke von Schamann

Gould pitched poorly, Sanchez pitched worse, so both have to repeat a tough level for pitchers. Redding pitched better, but there is nowhere to put him in Chattanooga’s rotation. Martin earned the promotion despite missing some time last year with an undisclosed injury. Von Schamann also probably deserves to start a level higher, but again, there is no room. Just missed: Brandon Martinez

Bullpen: Manny AcostaDaniel CoulombeJuan Dominguez, Yimi GarciaMatt SheltonSteve SmithMichael Thomas

Garcia has promise and could close, though if Dominguez gets his act together, his 100 mph fastball could put him in the ninth inning. Coulombe and Thomas offer up a decent pair of lefty arms. Shelton pitched well at Great Lakes and at 24, he needs to move up the ladder. Acosta and Smith return due to the logjam ahead of them (which yes, will be a frequent theme at multiple positions as I go through these lists). Just missed: Freddie CabreraHector CorreaThomas Melgarejo

Catchers: Pratt MaynardMichael Pericht

Maynard is a former third-round pick, but he struggled last year, so he won’t move any higher. Pericht has some pop, but otherwise is just an organizational guy.

Infielders: 1B–O’Koyea Dickson, 2B–Scott Wingo, SS–Darnell Sweeney, 3B–Jesse Bosnik, UTIL–Jesus ArredondoPedro Guerrero, DH/1B–Angelo Songco

Dickson could put up big numbers in the California League. Wingo was mediocre last year, so he figures to be stuck repeating the level. Sweeney had a solid debut and should skip a level. Bosnik struggled at Great Lakes, but he moves up now that Pedro Baez is converting to pitcher. Arredondo and Guerrero could easily be replaced by others. Songco is caught up behind other first basemen in the organization, but he will get more at-bats here since there is no designated hitter except against AL teams in Double-A. Just missed: Casio Grider

Outfielders: LF–Scott Schebler, CF–Jeremy Rathjen, RF–Jonathan Garcia, OF–Noel Cuevas

Schebler is perfectly average, but he should start ahead of Cuevas, who can play all three outfield spots. Rathjen is old enough to skip Great Lakes; he may not stay in center, but his bat is intriguing. Garcia was dreadful last year; thus, he returns.

Final analysis: Dickson, Sweeney and Rathjen will lead the position prospects, while Songco, Maynard and Garcia are the guys in search of atonement for last year’s woes. The pitching staff has experience, but not an overwhelming amount of talent. It could be a rough year in that respect in the hitter-friendly Cal League.

Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis: A Backlog of Backstops

Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, our pal Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner will be looking at the position-by-position organizational depth of the Dodger system. Today, catchers. Enjoy! — Mike

In the spirit of looking ahead, rather than constantly recapping 2012, I came up with this guest piece, the first in a series, to take an in-depth look at the players at each position in the Dodgers’ farm system. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, there is no team that is stacked with multiple prospects at every single position. That is a pipe dream that all teams, and their fans, have every year that somehow there is a guy playing X position at Triple-A or Double-A who could seamlessly step into the shoes of his big-league counterpart should an injury or trade occur.

Tim Federowicz remains the Dodgers' top catching prospect, though more for his defense than his bat. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Tim Federowicz remains the Dodgers’ top catching prospect, though more for his defense than his bat. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

So while it would be easy to say that the Dodgers lack this and lack that in the minors, just about every team could be substituted for Los Angeles in this type of analysis. The purpose of breaking down a team’s depth chart is to gain insight into the type of players it looks for when drafting and scouring the international amateur market. It can be a way to look at the quality of the system, since not every prospect or semi-prospect will actually help his organization, but might end up being traded for a needed piece elsewhere. Last summer the Dodgers dealt from a position of strength/depth, starting pitching, in order to obtain the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, etc.

A common refrain this offseason has been “why can’t the Dodgers trade for Superstar Player? They can totally afford anybody now!” The problem lies in a lack of talent in the minors, probably the greatest lingering legacy of the McCourt Era. Good old Frank would simply not give Logan White and his staff the money they needed to spend on elite talent in the draft, and almost completely ignored Latin America.

The good news is the Dodgers have quantity at several positions, though this does not always equate to quality. A good example is catcher, where there are quite a few warm bodies floating around in the minors, but none who seem to stand out as an obvious challenger to A.J. Ellis for starting duties in Los Angeles. Again, this is not unique among Major League organizations. Baseball America has been releasing its top 10 lists by team for a while now, and of the 15 American League teams, only four clubs have a catcher ranked in their top 10. Seattle’s Mike Zunino, a first-round pick in last summer’s draft who has already reached Double-A, is the only sure thing (as much as any prospect can be a sure thing) among those four backstops.

The good news for the Dodgers is that in Ellis, they have a solid, reliable player who has exceeded just about everyone’s expectations so far. His .270/.373/.414 slash line was very solid for a first full season as a big-league starter. A September slump did occur, but the news that he needed minor knee surgery after the season offered at least a plausible explanation for that mini-funk. Of course, Ellis is on the wrong side of 30 and the general fear that, being a catcher and all, a major injury could leave the Dodgers up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Behind Ellis the Dodgers currently have Tim Federowicz and a bunch of guys who, with a few die-hard exceptions, most Dodger fans could not hope to pick out of a lineup. The one known quantity, at least in name, is Federowicz, the starter at Albuquerque last summer. Acquired from Boston in an unpopular trade back in 2011, Federowicz has developed into a solid defensive catcher, albeit with lingering questions about his bat. His overall line in 2012 (.294/.371/.461, 11 HR, 76 RBI) seems solid, until the usual “but it’s Albuquerque!” comes into play. Federowicz hit a robust .350/.415/.569 at Isotopes Park, .245/.331/.370 elsewhere in the PCL.

Dodgers director of player development De Jon Watson shared this on Federowicz when he visited Isotopes Park in late July: “Defensively he’s definitely made some major strides especially as far as blocking the ball and managing the running game. Offensively the approach is still evolving. He has to get more consistent, trust in the fact that he can go into that right-center field gap. Once he gets that, he’s so quick on the inside it’ll be a reactionary thing for him.”

Federowicz himself agreed with that assessment in a lengthy interview he gave to me last summer.

For better or worse, Federowicz appears to have a clear path to becoming Ellis’ backup in 2013, though many believe he might benefit from full playing time in Albuquerque to keep improving his hitting. Unless the Dodgers sign another catcher between now and Opening Day, Federowicz will be the clear No. 2.

The Dodgers, amid all of their injuries in 2012, were lucky to get through the season really only using Ellis and the now-departed Matt Treanor behind the plate. But rarely does good luck strike twice, so what lies beneath among the Dodgers’ minor-league backstops? It’s not full of future stars, but at least there are some options down the line.

Wilkin Castillo: The offseason’s token (so far) veteran free agent signing, Castillo has limited MLB experience with the Reds and can also play the infield if needed. Right now, he projects as the starter in Albuquerque, largely due to the lack of forward progress shown by the next two catchers on this list. He is coming off a middling .254/.273/.365 season with Colorado Springs, the only Triple-A team that plays at a higher elevation than the Isotopes.

Gorman “Griff” Erickson: A breakout player in 2011 with Rancho Cucamonga and Chattanooga, Erickson flopped in a second stint with the Lookouts, batting .234/.345/.328. A 15th-round draft pick out of San Diego Mesa JC back in 2006, Erickson was a late bloomer, but now he appears to be a mirage of inflated Cal League stats. Expect him to repeat with Chattanooga again, with the Dodgers hoping his patience at the plate (44 walks vs. 56 strikeouts) can eventually help him rediscover his missing swing.

Matt Wallach: Son of third base coach Tim, this Wallach has a rep of being all defense, no offense. His stats at Chattanooga bear that out (.232/.340/.321), though he would have been bumped up to Albuquerque for the PCL playoffs if not for a minor injury late in the year. If he can stay healthy, the former Cal State Fullerton Titan has a shot at being Castillo’s backup, or possibly even his platoon partner (Wallach hits lefty, Castillo is right-handed) with the Isotopes. This will be a pivotal spring for Wallach.

Chris O’Brien: The starter at Rancho Cucamonga most of last season, O’Brien fits the recent mold of most Dodgers draft picks at the position — he was a collegian, his bat was considered more advanced than his defense, and the club has been willing to promote him aggressively. O’Brien did not exactly light it up with the Quakes, batting .252/.305/.377 with seven home runs and 44 RBI. He was considered a better hitter than fielder in college, with his pitch-calling his greatest defensive attribute. A switch hitter, he should join Erickson in Chattanooga this year.

Pratt Maynard: If for nothing else than the quality of his name, Maynard was the rare drafted Dodgers catcher who inspired interest among prospect mavens. A third-round pick out of N.C. State in 2011, Maynard was considered a bit of an over-draft, and it showed in his first full season, where he hit a combined .248/.321/.335 with just three home runs and 37 RBI between Rancho and Great Lakes. Baseball America said prior to the draft that Maynard “needs work in all aspects of defense,” while praising his plate discipline and line-drive power. He did not show much of either, yet, but he is still young. The odds favor him as the starter at either Rancho or Great Lakes, depending on his performance in spring training.

Steve Domecus: Yet another catcher who was praised for his bat and referred to as a future left fielder when he was drafted, Domecus barely played in 2012 for undisclosed reasons. He hit .277/.362/.386 with eight RBI for the Quakes. Due to the uncertain nature of his status, Domecus could end up just about anywhere in the Dodgers’ farm system, though a return to Rancho to pair his right-handed bat with the switch-hitting Maynard seems likely.

Jan Vazquez: A native of Puerto Rico, Vazquez was drafted in the sixth round off the island back in 2009. He has not played much since, bouncing around from team to team, often as a third-string catcher. He hit just .252/.321/.299 in 2012, including a late cameo at Chattanooga. Vazquez might not even end up on a roster to start the season, instead waiting in extended spring until an injury crops up.

Michael Pericht: Quick, who led all Dodgers minor-league catchers in home runs? If you guessed Pericht, buy yourself a beer or the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. Those 12 homers, though, were about the extent of the highlights for the former 16th-round draft pick out of a small Indiana college (back in 2009). Pericht hit .229/.326/.458 while bouncing around the system in 2012. He has more value than Vazquez, but will probably just end up the backup at Rancho or Great Lakes.

Tyler Ogle: A late promotion to Albuquerque suddenly put Ogle on people’s radar, but it was mainly due to Wallach’s aforementioned injury and Great Lakes being well out of the playoff chase at that point. Ogle’s overall numbers — .340/.432/.590, 9 HR, 38 RBI — look great at first glance, but consider that he was a college player dominating the Arizona League for most of the summer. He is another draft pick, ninth round out of Oklahoma in 2011, who was praised for his bat and downgraded for his defense, particularly a “fringy arm.” Ogle would probably benefit from a full season at Rancho or Great Lakes and seems unlikely to return to the Isotopes in 2013.

Eric Smith: A high school shortstop who did not play catcher until his junior year at Stanford, Smith was the Dodgers’ 18th-round pick last summer. He appeared as much as a designated hitter as he did behind the plate with Ogden, batting a robust .336/.417/.492 with three homers and 55 RBI. He is actually not considered a bad defender, just inexperienced at the position. He deserves a promotion to Great Lakes, which in turn could push someone like Pericht into limbo.

Jose Capellan, J.J. Ethel, Austin Cowen, John Cannon, Andrew Edge: The other random backstops who played sparingly for Ogden and/or the AZL Dodgers last summer. They are all organizational types, none drafted higher than the 24th round. All seem likely to bide their time in extended spring, though not all will make it through the regular spring.

All in all, it is not the most impressive group, but there is enough depth to cover for an injury or two, in the Minors, at least. Like most teams, the Dodgers have struggled to find capable catchers. Their recent preference for college players with more advanced bats than defensive skills is interesting, seemingly born out of a belief that it might be easier to teach a young man to catch than hit. Perhaps it is just a reflection of the position at the amateur level, where there are plenty of people who can catch, but few who can catch well, and most of those are long gone from the draft board by the time the Dodgers get around to finding catchers to fill out their organization every summer.

Look for corner infielders up next in this series, where the more interesting names seem to lie on the side of the diamond where the Dodgers are set, and not at the position they are in need of help.

Rubby and Dee Hit the Big Time

Tonight in Philadelphia, Rubby De La Rosa will make his first MLB start. (As Joe Block notes, it’ll be just his 24th professional start since arriving in America.) Dee Gordon will likely make his first start at shortstop, though that’s not confirmed yet. (Update: now confirmed. He’s leading off, and Jerry Sands is in there too.)It’s a momentous day for both, and I’m trying to remember the last time we’ve looked forward to a Dodger game with such high anticipation. Ignoring Opening Day or other special events, when was the last otherwise nondescript regular season Dodger game that drew such interest? I suppose we have to mention Clayton Kershaw‘s debut in 2008 – “Like Christmas in May“, as I referred to it at the time. There’s also Manny Ramirez‘ Dodger debut later that year, or his return from suspension in May 2009. Other than that, though? Seeing Gordon and de la Rosa appear at the same time has to rank pretty high. This is all totally unscientific, of course, so tell me where this ranks for you.

******

In Buster Olney’s ESPN column this morning, he noted that Jerry Sands had seen more pitches per plate appearance of anyone in Monday’s games, seeing 23 in 3 PA, an average of 7.7 per. Even when he’s not producing, it’s a clear sign that he’s also not helping the pitcher at all by getting himself out. For the season, he’s seeing 4.21 pitches per plate appearance. If he had enough PA to qualify, that would place him in a tie for 14th best in MLB. You might recognize some of the 13 names ahead of him, which include Jose Bautista, Adam Dunn, Jamey Carroll, Curtis Granderson, and Dustin Pedroia. Try not to look at the #1 name on that list, however. Trust me.

******

The draft continues, as the Dodgers selected Florida high school third baseman Alex Santana (son of Rafael) in the second round, North Carolina State catcher Pratt Maynard in the third, and college RHPs Ryan O’Sullivan and Scott McGough in the fourth. (Jon Weisman also notes that the potential is there to see first round pick Chris Reed pitch for Stanford on Friday at 12pm on ESPN2.) The Santana pick is somewhat underwhelming – as Baseball America’s Jim Callis wrote, “Think Santana is the first guy who didn’t get full-writeup treatment in our state by state coverage” – but I’ve taken an unexpected shine to Maynard.

It helps that he’s a college catcher entering a system all but completely devoid of backstop talent, of course, and especially so because his speciality seems to be getting on base. But part of it is because his name sounds like a PCU fraternity brother of Carter Prescott III & Bantam Draper. Part of it is because moments after the selection, a woman claiming to be his aunt tweeted her excitement at me. Part of it is probably because I’ve always been infatuated with catchers who hit from the left side, and absolutely part of it is because when I did a Google image search for him, what you see at the right is what popped up.

I also came across a March post from Mariners blog MySeattleSports.com, outlining his virtues and hoping the Mariners would take him. It’s worth clicking through for the various reasons why.