While the Los Angeles Dodgers had a rather disappointing team season, they had quite a few things to be happy about individually. Matt Kemp finished second in the MVP voting, but he was likely the best player in the National League and possibly the majors last season. And Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young, and whether or not you argue for Halladay, Kershaw is easily one of the top pitchers in the majors. Along the way, the Dodgers introduced several prospects to the show. Kenley Jansen was absolutely electric out of the bullpen. Rubby De La Rosa had a nice debut, and even though he is down for 2012 with Tommy John Surgery, most pitchers come back pretty well from that. Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon had less auspicious debuts, but both still look the part of big leaguers. The future isn’t necessarily bright for the Dodgers, but all is not bad for the team.
Down on the farm, the situation looks similar – there are a few good things, but there are also a lot of holes in the system. Zach Lee had a solid season, but everyone will want a bit more of a look at him to see what he really is. Allen Webster did pretty well, and they got encouraging performances from Alfredo Silverio and Alex Castellanos, who was brought over for Rafael Furcal. They even added a few nice pieces in the draft, including Chris Reed and Alex Santana.
Otherwise, things are a bit choppier. There’s a lot of talent in the lower levels, but there are tons of questions about guys like James Baldwin, Garrett Gould, Leon Landry, Jake Lemmerman, and Matt Magill. It just makes the situation that much riskier. Talent in the upper minors gives you a clearer sense of what you have. Talent in the lower minors gives hope and optimism, but it also carries a lot of risk.
This past year wasn’t the easiest for the Dodgers. The McCourt situation made them a sideshow. They finished third in the NL West. And their farm system isn’t the greatest in the world. A year from now, this farm system could be among the worst (if the guys at the lower levels don’t develop), or it could be on the verge of restocking the major-league team. The Dodgers sit in a precarious position, and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.
Zach Lee SP
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 20/High-A
While the young man didn’t have the season expected of a prospect who signed for over $5 million, there weren’t too many complaints about Lee’s first season. Though he didn’t dominate Low-A, the scouting reports remain solid for Lee, who has a low-90s fastball that get up to 95-96 and a solid curve and change that are pretty advanced for a guy in A-ball. The mechanics are pretty good, but the former football player occasionally muscles up and has trouble repeating his arm slot, causing some control issues. Those should go away over time, and once the Dodgers take off the leash, he could really take off next season.
Chris Reed SP
Age/Level: 21/High-A or AA
Reed was somewhat of a surprise pick in the first round, but it may have been more than just a signability pick. With a fairly smooth delivery and a low-ish ¾ arm slot, Reed commands a low-90s fastball that can touch 96, a hard slider, and an average to a tick above change-up. He has the size, frame, and arsenal to be a starter, but he wasn’t at Stanford and has yet to endure a lot of innings in one season. Though he is a college draftee, it might take him a little longer to make the majors as the organization should take their time with him as he needs innings and the development those innings can bring. The Dodgers could push him through as a reliever, but there’s no reason to just yet.
Allen Webster SP
After a somewhat disastrous start to his pro career in 2008 (more BB than K, though only in 18 innings), Webster has done much better in full-season ball, and last season was no different as he moved up quickly after dominating High-A hitters. With a low-90s sinker, an above-average change, and a solid curve, Webster has the stuff to succeed at the major-league level, but while he has a pretty simple delivery, he has had some control issues. He is a bit stiff and upright in his delivery, but I wouldn’t say it’s that much of an obstacle. He may just need some more innings in AAA before making the jump the majors.
Joc Pederson OF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
After an excellent start to the season in Rookie Ball, Pederson had a rough go of it Low-A, but I wouldn’t get too worried about it as it seemed a by-product of small sample-size BABiP problems. Pederson won’t “wow” you with any of his tools, but he doesn’t have a weakness. Perhaps not fast enough to play center, he takes good routes and has the arm to play the position, but he may have to move to a corner. At the plate, he has an average to a tick above hit tool as he makes frequent contact, and he will take a few walks. Pederson’s power is also about average, and once you add all of that up, you have a pretty good player. He just needs to show it against full-season competition for a … full season.
Alex Castellanos RF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Castellanos comes off in a very similar situation to Silverio as he’s an older outfielder that has started to put it together. He has some pop at the plate, and while he does strike out some, it’s not devastating. Plus, he even walks a time or two, though he could certainly stand to do it more. Defensively, he has pretty good speed, which he can use on the bases, but he’s likely a corner outfielder who could play center in a pinch. With the Dodgers in search of outfielders to flank Matt Kemp, Castellanos will get his chance.
Alfredo Silverio OF
Projection: 2-3 WAR
Some guys are just late bloomers, and the Dodgers are hoping Silverio is one of those guys. Always a guy with power and speed, Silverio’s utter lack of patience and plate discipline was getting in the way. His above-average speed and power came out to play this season, and he looks like a solid outfield prospect. The question now is where he’ll end up defensively. If he can stay in center (probably not), he has quite a bit of value, but if he has to move to a corner, his power will need to make up for his inability to get on base consistently. Silverio has a decent chance to be a regular, especially because the Dodgers need outfielders, but he could also be a AAAA player.
Chris Withrow SP
Projection: Relief Ace, 3/4
Withrow could be anything he wanted to be if he only had some control. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can hit 98, and he adds an above-average to plus curveball along with a decent change. But as with many hard throwers, he tends to overthrow, lose his arm slot, and get out of whack, even though his mechanics have cleaned up substantially. The control really becomes a hindrance to Withrow, and if it doesn’t improve, he’ll go to the bullpen, where his two plus pitches could make him something to watch. Withrow still has some time, though.
Garrett Gould SP
After a solid debut, Gould has started to move up some prospect lists, but he’s going to have to do it at every level to convince scouts. Nothing about Gould is sexy as his fastball sits mainly in the upper-80s, and he only adds an average to above-average ccurve and a developing change-up. His wind-up requires some effort, and he falls off to one side. But he seems to do a decent job of throwing strikes. The thing, however, is that guys who throw strikes and can throw a secondary pitch for a strike can have success at lower levels, and scouts will want to see him either improve his velocity, which is certainly possible considering his age and frame (he is said to have thrown 94 at some point, but he’s never done it consistently), or improve the secondary offerings enough to get away with a lack of velocity at upper levels.
Alex Santana 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Drafted in the second round this past June, Santana was a shortstop in high school, but his large frame already moved him to third for his Rookie ball debut. He may stay at third because of his good hands and arm, but if he’s already moved over, you wonder if he’ll have to move again as he fills out. Offensively, he has some work to do and didn’t perform well in his debut, but you can forgive a 17, 18-year old for that. He can hit and has average power, but we’ll obviously have to wait-and-see.
Nathan Eovaldi SP
Projection: 4/5, Middle Reliever
Eovaldi made his major-league debut this past season, and if you look solely at the 3.63 ERA, you might think he’s a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy. The ERA, however, masked the 1.15 K/BB and 5.2 BB ratios, which are more indicative of his actual performance. That being said, it’s a small sample size, and Eovaldi does have a low-to-mid 90s fastball, though his curveball and change-up remain inconsistent and around fringe-average. What really hurts Eovaldi is his control, which has never been good. He doesn’t stay centered on the rubber, and he has a tendency to fall toward third, making visualizing what he needs to do more difficult. He still has time to improve, but he definitely needs to if he wants to stick around in the majors for long.
Big Question – Rebuild?
When you look at the Dodgers’ major-league roster, there are a lot of holes (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, SP to name a few), and there really aren’t many answers in the minors. Left field and first base could be taken care of by a combination of Sands, Silverio, and Castellanos, but none of those guys are players you can feel comfortable even penciling in at those positions for the foreseeable future. What they do have are two legit superstars in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw and a solid member of the rotation in Chad Billingsley, and as those guys enter their prime, this team may not really be ready to compete. The payroll will help bring some guys in, but the Dodgers are likely facing a rough go of it in the near future. How they handle it will affect the next 5 years or so after the next few.