March 3, 2016
Los Angeles Dodgers Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: Is this the best system money can buy? No, but it's one of the best in baseball.
The Top Ten
1. Corey Seager, SS
There are some swings that you can watch over and over again without ever getting tired of the repetition. Corey Seager has one of those swings. His ability to keep his hands in while still generating extension with above-average bat speed gives him a legitimate chance of winning batting championships. That’d be enough to make Seager an elite offensive prospect. When you add strong wrists and just enough loft to project plus power? Forget about it. If there’s a weakness here it’s that he can get aggressive and you’d like to see him take more pitches, but that’s nitpicking.
Seager’s bat plays anywhere, but it’s looking more and more likely that the landing spot will be shortstop. Even with below-average speed, his natural instincts allow him to get to balls he shouldn’t, and his plus arm allows him to turn hits into outs. If he was to move over to third base he’d be a plus defender, and there’s still a very strong chance that the hot corner becomes his long-term position. It’s just no longer a foregone conclusion.
Even if Seager were a first baseman, this would still be the best hitting prospect in all of baseball. It’s easy to get hyperbolic, but consider that sentence and then consider that he’s likely to stick at a premium position. This is the type of player who wins MVPs.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The most amount of complaining you can do about Seager is that he’s being slightly overdrafted in redraft formats this year, as he’s not quite the fourth rounder yet. But, whatever. Seager has the talent to hit .300 perennially and pair 20-plus homer power with it—making him a top-five option at shortstop (and even at third base if he ever has to move).
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
2. Julio Urias, LHP
Not only do the Dodgers have the best hitting prospect in baseball, they have the best left-handed pitching prospect, as well. Always nice to see a small-market club like this building a sustainable talent base from within, right? Urias’ fastball isn’t double-plus because of velocity (90-94 while touching 97), but because of how much life the pitch has, and how much command Urias has with it. There are two plus off-speed pitches at his disposal, led by a curveball with stupid spin and break; he can drop it in for a strike or bury it down when ahead in the count. The only way you can tell the difference between his change and fastball is by looking at the radar gun, and the late fade makes it a third pitch that will cause hitters to reach for the Zantac.
Urias has above-average command and a ridiculous amount of feel for all three offerings, but some still wonder if his future really is in a rotation. He’s never topped 90 innings, and while that’s almost entirely because the Dodgers have coddled him, it’s still something doubters will take into consideration. I’m not a doubter, so I see it more as a positive than a negative. The upside here is a no. 1 starter, and because of his feel for pitching, the floor is mid-rotation starter or “this isn’t going to be fun” reliever.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s plenty to like here, as Urias has the potential to sneak into SP1 value. Despite his age, there’s relative safety here, which makes him the third best fantasy pitching prospect in the game, behind Lucas Giolito and Alex Reyes. He has the capability of being a high-end performer in all four categories he’ll touch, pairing 200 strikeouts with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Major League ETA: 2016
3. Jose De Leon, RHP
There were 723 players drafted ahead of De Leon in the 2013 draft. Whoops. De Leon was one of the most improved pitching prospects in baseball last year, and gives the Dodgers a “big three” that competes with anyone’s. He touches 96 with his fastball, generally sitting 91-94 and, like Urias, commands it extremely well to all areas of the plate. His best off-speed pitch is a plus change with late tumble, but the slider also flashes above-average with some bite.
In addition to the added velocity and improved secondary pitches, De Leon’s command has improved significantly, thanks in large part to improved conditioning and a delivery that’s much easier to repeat. He now can throw all three pitches for strikes, and his ability to get ahead in counts makes the slider and change that much more effective. He doesn’t have the upside of Urias, but there’s still plenty here, and the floor is back-end starter who can fill the strike zone and miss bats in the process. Not bad for a first-round pick, let alone a 24th.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s an argument to be made that De Leon has a higher fantasy ceiling than Urias, but the same absolutely cannot be said about his floor. De Leon realistically could top out as an SP2, who specializes in strikeouts, but doesn’t quite have the ratios to get over the hump.
Major League ETA: 2017
4. Grant Holmes, RHP
Holmes only had 21 players go ahead of him, but he was a nice get nonetheless, with multiple scouts believing he was the best prep pitching prospect in the 2013 draft. Despite less-than-ideal size, his elite arm strength helps him get his fastball consistently into the mid-90s, touching 97. When he’s at his best, his power curveball is a nasty offering with hard break. Because it comes from the same angle as his fastball, it’s particularly deceiving to hitters. The changeup is lags behind those two pitches, but it doesn’t have to be anything more than average to allow Holmes to start, which is good, because it’s nothing more than average.
If you see Holmes on his best day, you’d swear he’s on his way to the top of a rotation. Unfortunately, there are days when that stuff just doesn’t show up. There’s some effort in his delivery, and at times he will beat himself by falling behind in counts and piling up walks. That along with the smallish stature could see him move to the bullpen, but keep in mind that he is still a teenager, and the good days far outweigh the bad. A more consistent 2016 will see him shoot up these rankings, and he has the arsenal to do just that.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: So many arms on this list. Holmes isn’t likely to see better days than an SP3, but he’s safer than most prep arms coming off his first full year. And while his production doesn’t portend elite performance in any particular category, strong numbers across the board could make Holmes a top-30 starter in time.
Major League ETA: 2018
5. Frankie Montas, RHP
The three young men listed immediately above all throw hard, but they’re Jamie Moyer compared to Montas. He routinely touches triple digits, and while the fastball does have a tendency to flatten out when he reaches those decibels, it’s still an elite pitch. The slider will flatten as well, but more often than not it’s a plus pitch with late tilt and the velocity you typically see from an above-average fastball. If he’s pitching in the bullpen he can probably scrap the changeup, as it’s just a fringe-average pitch without a ton of deception or tumble.
Montas deserves credit for substantially improving his ability to repeat his delivery, but there’s still quite a bit of work to be done, and time is running out. He’s considerably heavier than his listed 185—we go 225, but it’s really just an estimate—and while his arm strength allows him to maintain his velocity, he really struggles to locate anything later in games. That’s why his future is more than likely the bullpen -- especially knowing he’ll miss at least the first two months of the season after undergoing rib surgery -- but with two plus pitches and a so-so third, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to give him a chance to start. High-leverage relief is there if and when that fails.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: At this point, you have to value Montas as a reliever and anything you get from him in the rotation is just gravy. In the bullpen behind Kenley Jansen, however, there’s just not a ton of value in holding onto him in shallow mixed leagues.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
6. Yadier Alvarez, RHP
Ranking Alvarez is nearly impossible. This is either four spots too low or several spots too high. You won’t see many with more arm strength, and despite his rail-thin physique he can hump his fastball up to 98 mph while sitting 92-94. There’s oodles of projection left, so the sky’s the limit as to what his fastball ends up. His slider is woefully inconsistent, but it flashes plus with late bite in the mid-80s. The change is another average offering, with just enough arm speed to trick hitters who sit on the heater.
But even with almost zero track record, Alvarez has established some wild habits. He loses his delivery often, and getting ahead in the count or hitting his spots is just not realistic right now. As someone who won’t turn 20 until around the All-Star break, there’s plenty of time for him to develop that feel, but it also makes him the most volatile prospect in this entire system—and that’s saying something.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Alvarez is your prototypical pre-full season arm strength bet in dynasty leagues. If it works, he could push SP1 value in time, though it’s likely in the SP2 range, with big strikeout numbers and pretty good ratios. If it doesn’t, he might be Carlos Marmol without the saves, and that is a frightening thought. He is not for the faint of heart.
Major League ETA: 2018
7. Alex Verdugo, OF
Scouts were torn on whether Verdugo profiled best as a pitcher or outfielder coming out of high school, and it appears the Dodgers made the right choice. He made several mechanical changes throughout the 2015 season, but appears to have found the swing that works best for spraying balls to all parts of the field. Some of the mechanical adjustments were made to try to bring more power, and while he’ll never be confused with a masher, there’s now enough bat speed and loft to put the ball into the gaps with the occasional bop over the fence.
Even without elite speed, Verdugo has a chance to stick in center field. He takes good routes to the ball, rarely makes mental errors, and gets to enough to justify playing in center—for now. Long term, however, he projects better in right field, where his plus arm is his best tool and will suit him just fine. Obviously there’s more value if he’s at the 8 rather than the 9, but as a potential high-average hitter with average power, he has a chance to hit near the top of an order at any outfield position.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s nothing wrong with Verdugo as a prospect, but in fantasy, he’s just not all that interesting. Sure, he can hit for a good average and can likely sneak into double-digits in both homers and steals, but with outfield eligibility, that’s likely only good enough for OF4 status.
Major League ETA: 2018
8. Yusniel Diaz, OF
Diaz didn’t get nearly as much hype as the Dodgers’ “other” Cuban signings (Alvarez, Hector Olivera), but he just might have the highest floor of any who signed. He has excellent hand-eye coordination, and his ability to recognize pitches and make consistent contact gives him a chance for an above-average hit tool. There are some moving parts to the swing and a lot of weak contact, so without adjustments there’s a good chance doesn’t reach that mark. He’s willing to get on base via walk, and once on base he has the speed you see in players who steal 30 bases. Good thing, because there’s almost no power projection.
Diaz’s lack of power would be more concerning if he wasn’t likely to stay in center field, but he gets to everything you would realistically expect, as well as some some you wouldn’t. Add in an above-average, accurate throwing arm, and you get a quality defender.
This isn’t elite upside, but Diaz’s floor of competent fourth outfielder—with an outside shot at becoming a leadoff hitter at a premium position—is an awfully nice thing to have, and it’s even nicer when this is in the bottom third of your top 10 prospects.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s true, Diaz is not someone dynasty leaguers are going to own for bright and shiny upside, but he’s very safe given that he’s an advanced hitter who can steal 30-plus bases. He could grow into an OF3, in the mold of Denard Span.
Major League ETA: 2019
9. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF
If De Leon was the Dodgers breakout star, Bellinger wasn’t too far behind. Whether or not it’s sustainable is very much in question. He put up monster numbers in the Cal League, but to say those hitting confines are friendly is to say that dogs are great (note: dogs are great). That being said, there is reason for optimism with Bellinger. He’s shown more ability to lift the ball, and when you add that to the leverage he creates and his long arms, you get above-average power. There are serious contact issues from his lengthy swing, but he’s starting to use more of the field -- at least when he’s not selling out for dingers -- and he’s not allergic to getting on via walk. He’s also a much better athlete than you typically see at the cold corner, and double-digit stolen bases are not out of the question. Still, because of the contact issues and the lack of plus power to compensate, it’s easy to understand why some scouts are so apprehensive to call him a future regular.
Bellinger spent more than 20 games in center field, and while first base is the much more likely landing spot, it’s not out of the question he ends up in the outfield. Assuming he does end up at first he’s going to be a run-saver, as he has excellent hands and quick instincts. His quick release makes an average arm play up.
If Bellinger shows the same kind of power at the higher levels that he did in 2015, this ranking will seem foolish. Because of the aforementioned confines and the serious contact issues, it’s easier to play it safe with this type of talent, as there’s just a little too much volatility from a non-premium position at this point.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a healthy amount of skepticism to have when a player has a power-laden breakout in the Cal League. If he can keep at least half of those gains in Double-A, it will be enough to crack the Dynasty 101 next year, even as a first baseman. But just ask Matt Olson how excited dynasty owners are about him after following his 37-homer campaign in the Cal League with a 17-homer one in the Texas League.
Major League ETA: 2017
10. Jharel Cotton, RHP
Say what you will about the Dodgers spending craploads of money to procure their prospects, but this is the second prospect on the list drafted out of college in the 20th round or later. Cotton is diminutive, but he has elite arm strength, and he’ll get his four-seam heater up to 95 while sitting 91-94 with some cut and run. The bread-and-butter pitch here his change, a pitch that flashes 70 because of his arm speed and its late tumble. He doesn’t always do a great job of locating the pitch, but because of the deception he still gets plenty of swings and misses. He throws both a slider and curve, and these pitches run into each other too often with neither flashing more than average, often settling into that fringe-average range. He does a good job repeating his delivery, and rarely beats himself by putting guys on via walk or hit by pitch.
Because he’s on the frail side there are durability concerns, but Cotton does such a good job of filling the strike zone and features two plus pitches, so he’s got a chance to pitch in the back of the rotation, with a chance for more if either of the breaking balls starts to show more consistency.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Right-handers without a bat-missing secondary offering are generally not my favorite fantasy profiles, as it’s tough to rack up strikeouts that way. However, Cotton has a shot to contribute in deeper leagues as soon as later this season (though given the Dodgers’ resources, that’s not the most likely of shots).
Major League ETA: 2017
Walker Buehler, RHP– Walker Buehler has shown four plus pitches and above-average control and is not in the Dodgers top 10. Yep, this system has some depth. The 24th pick in this year’s draft underwent Tommy John surgery in August, and we won’t likely see him make his professional debut until 2017. When we do see him, we’ll see a plus fastball and curve, an above-average change and slider, and a deliver that’s easy to repeat. There are serious concerns about his ability to hold up, which have only been magnified after the surgery, but if you’re looking for a guy who will shoot up boards in the next couple of years (weirdo) this is your guy.
Yaisel Sierra, RHP– Hey! Another high-priced international free agent! That’s crazy! Los Angeles gave Sierra $30 million dollars this winter, and you could see him making an impact in the Dodger bullpen this spring. The fastball is plus; typically 94-96 with the occasional bump up to 98, and that heater is complemented with a slider/cutter combination that doesn’t huge break but does have the bite that can break southpaw hitter’s bats. There’s no third pitch here yet, and the control/command is inconsistent at best, so you’re looking at a reliever. If he can throw enough strikes with those two pitches, however, it could be a high-leverage one, maybe even a closer.
Jordan Paroubeck, OF – When we came up with the “five interesting” section, the first name that came to mind was Paroubeck. When you trained with the best hitter of the past 25 years (Barry Lamar Bonds), of course you’re interesting. He’s a quality athlete with above-average speed and some raw pop, and last year he showed that the athleticism is translating into baseball skills (.331/.409/.551 in 135 PA at the low levels). He’s also a solid defender who can play all three outfield positions, so this could be a future fourth outfielder—maybe more if the raw pop starts showing up more in games.
Jacob Rhame, RHP – Yep, bullpen arms can be interesting, especially in the case of Rhame. He’s lost 60 pounds over the past few seasons, and that weight loss has allowed him to tap into his arm strength, now sitting 94-97 and touching triple digits. He also throws a solid-average slider, and he does a good enough job of throwing strikes to get right-handed hitters out. There’s no pitch here to get the better southpaws, but this could be a solid setup man, and it’s always nice to give credit to someone who works this hard.
Mitch Hansen, OF - If you’re curious who prospect no. 11 was, here ya go. Hansen has shown five above-average tools, and was a heck of a coup for the Dodgers in the second round of 2015. He has outstanding feel for the barrel, and while the power potential is very much up for debate because of the swing path, it doesn’t have to be more than average for him to be an everyday player. He’s an above-average runner with an above-average arm, and there’s a nonzero shot he plays in center field. He’s a potential regular at whatever outfield spot he ends up at, but if he can stick in center? That’s a potential 55 player.
It’s a sign of Seager’s off-the-charts potential that he slots ahead of Puig, a 25-year-old all-star with nearly 12 WARP under his belt. It’s also a reflection of the injury concerns surrounding the Cuban, who, even factoring for the missed time, posted his worst big league season in 2015. He was less disciplined at the plate than in 2014, chasing pitches off of the zone like he did as a rookie, but with more weak flies and fewer rockets in the alley. Between that, injury concerns, and the constant off-field problems he can’t help but land in, it’s fair to say that Puig used to be a whole lot more fun.
You can use a bunch of arbitrary endpoints to drive the message home, but regardless of where you draw the line, Pederson’s rookie season divides neatly into a first half and second half. Before the all-star break, Pederson fought through one of the league’s highest strikeout rates by taking plenty of walks, mashing homers, and playing strong defense in center field. After the break, he still took walks, struck out, and played defense, but he didn’t hit a lick and was particularly useless against lefties. While he was a platoon player by season’s end, the future still looks bright for Pederson. Even in his worst moments, he contributed by taking his walks and holding down center. Like many 23-year-olds who wore down over their first big league summer, Pederson will learn from the experience.
Wood has the league’s ugliest mechanics, but until he throws his shoulder out, he projects as a mid-rotation arm. Beyond his arm action though, a few red flags emerged for Wood over the course of last season. His velocity dipped for the second year running and he didn’t miss as many bats in LA as he did in Atlanta. He reportedly tweaked his delivery over the offseason to resemble the motion he used with the Braves, which could could go some way towards helping him get back on track. It’s worth mentioning that his final line looks a lot different if you remove two nightmare outings in Colorado and Arizona.
The Dodgers have a handful of other young players who could contribute next season. Yimi Garcia, 25, emerged as a solid setup man, striking out nearly a batter per inning with a low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a frisbee slider. He’s surprisingly effective against lefties, and if he wasn’t in one of the league’s deepest systems, he would have cracked the top ten.
It’s hard to believe that Zach Lee once headlined this organization’s prospects. He’s still eligible for the list, but without an out pitch, his star has dimmed considerably. After two tours through the PCL, he could finally get an extended look in the majors this season. Whether his four-pitch arsenal plays or bombs will depend on how well he can command his fastball and induce weak contact with his slider and curve.
Trayce Thompson and Micah Johnson came over with Montas in the Jose Peraza/Todd Frazier deal. Johnson’s career is at a crossroads: he had every chance to win Chicago’s second base gig but he played poorly on defense, didn’t hit for any power, and posted an uncharacteristically high strikeout total. The whiffs and soft contact combination is a proven loser, and if he’s going to carve out a career as a utility man, he’ll need to control the strike zone more effectively. Thompson has been a project ever since the White Sox popped him in the second round out of high school in 2009. He strung together the best 135 PA sample of his career in the big leagues last season, slugging .533 and playing competently across three outfield positions. While he’s never hit for that kind of power before, he has the wiry-strength, bat speed, and loft in his swing to hit his share of long balls. He’s at least a fourth outfielder, and could be a bit more if he proves more adept at handling big league offspeed pitches than anticipated. His improved plate discipline last season gives fans a reason to hope.
Like Thompson, Enrique Hernandez destroyed big league pitching in a limited sample last year. He hit .423/.471/.744 against southpaws, and, as you might have inferred, that’s his biggest strength at the plate. Hernandez posted stark platoon splits throughout his minor league career, and given his struggles against righties, he profiles best as a utility player. He started games everywhere but pitcher, catcher, and first base last season and his versatility will again be an asset in 2016. —Brendan Gawlowski
If there’s such thing as “star power” in a front office, the Dodgers certainly have it. In addition to the excellent Friedman and Zaidi, Los Angeles also has Josh Byrnes, Alex Tamin, Galen Carr, Gerry Hunsicker, Aaron Sele, Jose Vizcaino, and Ned Colletti. That’s a list of guys that have either run or could be given a chance to run a front office in the next decade. If you believe bigger is better, this is your kind of front office.
The Dodgers took a big chance in hiring Kapler to direct the farm with zero experience. There’s a long way to go before we can judge his process, but everyone I spoke with had nothing but positive things to say about his first year, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he was an early favorite to become the team’s manager this winter. He may ultimately end up a manager or on someone’s coaching staff, but his ability to teach makes him a natural for player development.
Gasparino had some of my favorite draft classes when he was the scouting director for the Padres, and he along with David Finley and Carr give the Dodgers a ton of experience/talent leading their draft boards. Even without signing 36th-overall pick Kyle Funkhouser, the additions of Buehler, Hansen, and Josh Sborz make this a solid class on paper.
As good as these names are, the star of this front office is money. As you probably know, the Dodgers have more of it than anyone, and like my good friend John Hammond said about his small island near Costa Rica, they’ve spared no expense. If Los Angeles wants an IFA free agent, they’re gonna get it (at least until the 2016-17 signing period), and if there’s one single club that could cause an International Draft, you’re looking at it.