Tony Gwynn, Matt Wallach Among Dodger Minor League Free Agents

tonygwynn_number1It’s that time of the year where it’s technically the offseason — free agents are able to sign as of today — but it’s not, really, because no one big ever signs this quickly. That means that anything, even otherwise unimportant minor league minutiae, counts as news. Today, “minor league free agents” fall under that category.

The wonderful Matt Eddy of Baseball America explains the rules…:

Each of these players, plus 544 others, are no longer bound to their organization by contract renewals—the Uniform Player Contract grants six renewal years—and have no successor contract in place for 2014.

…and shares with us the Dodgers list:

RHP: Juan Abreu* (AAA), Angel Castro (AAA), Kyle Cofield (AAA), Blake Johnson (AAA), Anthony Ortega (AAA), Matt Palmer (AAA), Mario Santiago (AAA), Daniel Tamares (Lo A), Luis Vasquez (AAA), Sean White (AAA)
LHP: Kelvin De La Cruz (AAA), Thomas Melgarejo (AA), Jonathan Sanchez (AAA)
C: Eliezer Alfonzo (AAA), Damaso Espino (AAA), J.R. Towles (AAA), Matt Wallach (AA)
1B: Sean Burroughs (AAA)
2B: Rafael Ynoa (AA)
3B: Brian Barden (AAA), Pedro Guerrero (AA), Ryan Mount (AA)
OF: Matt Angle (AAA), Tony Gwynn Jr. (AAA), Jeremy Moore (AAA)

Not a lot of surprises or anyone we’ll miss, of course. Eyeballing this, no one here ever played in the bigs for the Dodgers other than Gwynn, who didn’t appear this year, though several of these guys have had experience in the big leagues before. Remember when we all liked Moore last spring? Or how Ynoa briefly garnered some buzz after the Arizona Fall League? Or how worried we were when Sanchez signed? Some of these guys may return, but most won’t, to be replaced by a slew of other equally forgettable names to fill out rosters.

As you can see, it takes a bite out of the depth chart, though that will get filled in soon enough by signings and promotions.

Tony Gwynn Gets Cut, Tim Federowicz (Probably) Wins a Job, and Monday Lineups

92topps_tonygwynnOther than pitcher Juan Abreu getting whacked after the game, we never did get the multiple promised post-doubleheader cuts we were expecting yesterday. Today, we finally got news of three moves: outfielder Tony Gwynn & catcher Wilkin Castillo have been reassigned to minor league camp, and catcher Ramon Castro was released. There are now 43 players remaining in camp, so — breaks out abacus, carries the one — 18 more need to go before Opening Day.

Gwynn accepted the assignment, as expected — he wasn’t going to simply forfeit the $1.15m he’s got coming to him this year, of course — and this move comes as little surprise, especially now that split-squad days are largely complete. With Matt Kemp back in the field, Carl Crawford on the mend, and Yasiel Puig clearly the sensation of camp, outfield time is becoming increasingly limited. Gwynn had just four hits in 23 plate appearances this spring, and had been almost completely off the radar since day one. He’ll likely pair with fellow non-roster outfielder Matt Angle to man center field for the Isotopes, waiting patiently for a chance that we all hope will never come.

With Castillo & Castro gone, the battle to back up A.J. Ellis is essentially over. There’s three catchers remaining behind Ellis in camp, and two of them are Matt Wallach (a warm body who has never played above Double-A) and Jesus Flores (one hit in 19 spring plate appearances). Barring injury or trade, it’s difficult to see Tim Federowicz not breaking camp with the team, especially since he’s the only one of the three to already own a 40-man roster spot.

D-Backs
Dodgers
RF
Eaton
DH
Crawford
SS
Bloomquist
2B
Amezaga
CF
Parra
CF
Kemp
2B
Hill
1B
Gonzalez
C
Montero
RF
Ethier
1B
Goldschmidt
3B
Cruz
DH
Hinske
LF
Herrera
3B
Teahen
C
A.Ellis
LF
Pollock
SS
Gordon

As for today’s game, Josh Beckett was originally slated to start, but he’s been scratched due to the flu. (He’ll still get his work in, pitching to minor leaguers.) That leaves the Dodgers in somewhat of a fun position for the day, believe it or not. Zack Greinke is now expected to start on Wednesday after a positive report from his bullpen session, and Chad Billingsley will likely miss his Tuesday start due to a finger injury he sustained while bunting. (Write your own joke there, folks.)

With the “five games in three days” run over the weekend meaning that Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Fife, & Aaron Harang have all pitched since Thursday, that means today’s starter is, of all people, Josh Wall. Apparently you really can’t have enough starting pitchers. Unsurprisingly, it’s a “bullpen game,” with Peter Moylan, Paco Rodriguez, Shawn Tolleson, and minor leaguers all expected to pitch.

Puig gets the day off today, as does Mark Ellis, but we’ll once again see Crawford atop the lineup at designated hitter. Today’s game will be broadcast on Prime Ticket at 1pm PT.

Cubs @ Dodgers Feb 25, 2013: Juan Uribe’s Dream Come True

camelbackranchI was originally going to have this post be about the sort-of return of Vin Scully, given that we haven’t heard him since last October, and today’s 12pm PT start on Prime Ticket represents his 2013 spring debut. Unfortunately, it’s a Monday afternoon, so most of you won’t be able to watch it anyway.

…and then I saw the pure glorious joy that is today’s lineup. Juan Uribe is in the lineup. Playing first base. And hitting cleanup.

I hardly need to remind you that it’s February 25th and that after two days of seeing mostly starters in the lineup, it’s likely that not a single member of today’s starting nine is in there on Opening Day (unless Carl Crawford isn’t ready to go) — and so there will be no complaining about a meaningless lineup in an even more meaningless game. But even still… look at it. Bask in it. Let it breathe a little. First baseman Juan Uribe, hitting cleanup, protected by designated hitter Nick Punto.

Cubs
Dodgers
2B
Valbuena
SS
Gordon
DH
Barney
2B
Schumaker
RF
Schierholtz
RF
Hairston
CF
Hairston
1B
Uribe
1B
Nelson
DH
Punto
LF
McDonald
CF
Castellanos
C
Castillo
C
Castro
3B
Lake
3B
Amezaga
SS
Gonzalez
LF
Gwynn

Lord, do I love spring training sometimes.

That “lineup” will support starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, to be followed by Chris Capuano, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, Shawn Tolleson, Paco Rodriguez, so good luck with that, guys.

One other note, getting his first start of the spring today in left field is Tony Gwynn, who is of course in camp as a non-roster player despite still being under contract for 2013. Why was he so atrocious last year?

That was Tony Gwynn‘s dilemma in 2012. Have surgery, don’t play and let the team down. Or try to play hurt, and eventually let the team down anyway.

Gwynn, 30, played with an injury that was never discussed by him or the club. He believes he suffered a sports hernia lifting weights after the 2011 season, but he never had an MRI to diagnose it.

“I didn’t want to know,” he said Friday. “I wasn’t having surgery no matter what I had.”

He was hurting last Spring Training, hurting when Matt Kemp went down with that hamstring injury in early May and the relapse in late May. Needing to fill in for Kemp on almost an everyday basis for several months, Gwynn’s already injured body finally broke down.

Ah, wonderful. Unreported injuries never end poorly for player and team, ever.

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).