Prospect #1: RHP Garrett Gould
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: After being drafted in the 2nd round in 2009 and signing for an above-slot bonus of $900k, Gould was in short-season ball for two years before finally breaking out in his full-season debut in 2011. The 20-year-old righty looks the part of a prototypical major league starter, with excellent size and improving strength, and an arsenal that can find the zone and miss bats. With an athletic and repeatable delivery, Gould can pump an easy low-90s fastball into the zone, showing a little sink and grading out as a future plus pitch. His deadliest weapon is a tight, tumbling curveball that every source referred to as a plus pitch. Gould has good command of it, showing no fear of using it early in sequence or as an out pitch against lefties. His changeup continues to improve, showing some arm-side action and projecting as an average offering at maturity. The control is ahead of the command, but the delivery is clean and he shows strike-throwing ability and feel for the mound, so solid-average-to-plus command is possible down the line. The total package is a big, athletic pitcher with a good, table-setting fastball, an above-average table-clearing curveball, and good feel for sequence and situation. The ceiling isn’t crazy, but Gould could develop into a solid-average innings chewer at the major league level.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Gould has the profile of a strike-thrower with good stuff, but not the kind of stuff that can survive in the zone against quality hitters. In order to find sustainable success, Gould will need to refine his command to the point where he can hit spots in and out of the zone, and develop his arsenal to the point where he can mix his pitches with efficiency and keep bats off the fastball. When you see a 20-year-old that stands 6’4’’ and weighs 190 with a steep low-90s fastball and plus curve, you assume the sky is the limit and the margin for error is as broad as the shoulders of the pitcher in question. The problem with Gould is that despite having good stuff and a good vessel by which to deliver that stuff, the stuff in question just isn’t all that special and therefore even minor mistakes are magnified. Every source I spoke with thought Gould was a major league arm, the safest bet among the arms in the low-minors to reach the highest level. But they were realistic about his ultimate ceiling, which is more chewer than champion, with little chance of frontline development. You might be asking, how can a prospect with a proletarian profile rank number one in a system like includes a high-profile name like Zach Lee? The easy answer is that I couldn’t find one source that preferred Lee to Gould.

Prospect #2: RHP Zach Lee
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: A two-sport athlete in high school, Lee was set to take his talents to LSU before the Dodgers shocked the industry by giving the pitcher/quarterback a $5.25M bonus, equal to the bonus given to the third overall pick in the draft, Manny Machado. The scouting reports at the time seemed to justify such an expensive endeavor, suggesting Lee’s ultimate ceiling was at the top of a major league rotation, thanks to his athleticism, projectable raw stuff, and advanced pitchability. Two years later, the reports are still relatively positive, but the intense glow once attached to his future has dimmed, mostly thanks to a profile that is more pitchability than stuff, and more present than projection. Based on reports this season, Lee’s fastball has been in the 87-92 range, touching a little higher when he reaches back for it, showing a feel for the strike zone. The secondary pitches have been inconsistent and a bit flat, with a plus potential slider, a curveball that flashes some potential (5), and a changeup that should develop into another average offering. The command will come and go, but Lee clearly has a feel for his craft and should be able to get the most out of his deep arsenal, despite lacking knockout stuff. He profiles as a number three/number four starter at the major league level.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: When you give a high school pitcher $5M+ to forgo a college commitment and enter your developmental program, you are buying a lottery ticket with a huge payout. Unfortunately, the more sources I ask about Lee, the lower the ultimate ceiling seems to get, leaving the Dodgers with a promising player, but one that doesn’t possess the type of ceiling normally associated with such a bonus. As a pitcher with average-to-solid-average stuff, Lee isn’t going to blow away hitters; rather, like his rotation-mate Garrett Gould, he has to hit his spots and use sequence to force weak contact and limit damage. You might ask: isn’t it possible that his stuff will improve? Isn’t he projectable? It’s likely that his fastball will find consistent velocity in the solid-avg/plus range, and his secondary pitches in the same grade range, but he’s unlikely to become the type of arm with any plus-plus offerings. Lee receives praise for his pitchability and mound intelligence, and as the command improves and the stuff finds consistency, the 20-year-old Texan should emerge as a quality rotation horse, one that can take the ball every fifth day and keep his team in the game by hitting spots, changing speeds, and mixing pitches. That’s an incredibly valuable player, and arguably worth every cent of the lucrative two-sport contract the Dodgers dished out. But I think most fans and evaluators alike expected more electricity from his stuff, even if the present reality is far from a disappointment.

Prospect #3: OF Joc Pederson
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: An 11th round selection in the 2010 draft, Pederson signed for second round money and has been winning supporters ever since, with a contagious style of play that can best be described as showing plus #want. Pederson might have been a two-sport athlete in high-school, excelling as a wide receiver on the gridiron, but he’s not a crazy toolshed on the diamond; rather, Pederson is one of those rare talents that shows average or better potential with each tool without owning a single well-above-average tool. As you probably assumed, Pederson is a good athlete, with good strength and good coordination. He shows a knack for barreling the ball, with a quick, compact stroke, and legit pop in the bat. He has a grinder approach at the plate and he forces pitchers to beat him, which gives him on-base ability and an added dimension to his offensive game. In the field, Pederson can handle center field at the present, with adequate range thanks to his quickness and instincts, but he has more of a left-field profile thanks to his solid-average speed, average glove, and average arm. Pederson is a total gamer, and scouts lined up to suggest he will maximize his tool potential and develop into a quality major leaguer. With a plus potential hit tool, more pop than people realize, a collection of average (to solid-average) defensive tools, and enough #want to supply an entire team, Pederson is the top position prospect in the Dodgers system.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: I’ve seen Pederson in person and I’ve fallen in love like everybody else who has a chance to see him, but the profile itself is what presents the biggest issue. Pederson profiles as a left fielder, with a good bat (~.275+), decent pop (10-15HR), some base running ability, and the tools to handle the defensive requirements for the position, but that’s the ceiling, and anything below that will severely limit his value. When you have a 20-year-old in High-A that already fits into the left-field profile, the pressure on his bat increases, and Pederson lacks the high-end, impact offensive tools to quell the concerns over the positional projection. Because of these concerns, Pederson is the type of player that will need to prove it at every level, all the way up the chain until he reaches the majors, where he will have to prove it again. My biggest tool-based concern is the power, which some think could grade out as high as plus, while others see a more moderate ceiling of fringe-average. He has legit pop, but hitting for power at the major league level against major league-quality pitching is a different animal. Pederson has a more line-drive stroke, geared for hard gap-to-gap contact and not over the fence power. This comes back to the profile, where a plus hit tool and anything below average power just doesn’t pack enough punch for left field at the major league level. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than just #want to have value at a corner spot, so if Pederson wants to emerge as a first-division talent, the power will have to reach the high-end of its ceiling.

Prospect #4: RHP Allen Webster
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: A converted position player selected in the 18th round of the 2008 draft, Webster became a nationally recognized prospect after he tore up the California League in 2011, showing good control and the ability to miss bats. Armed with a low-90s fastball that can touch higher, with heavy, downward action, a plus potential changeup that shows late fade, and two breaking balls with average potential, Webster is built to be a bottom-of-the-zone strike-thrower with two plus pitches and a passable third, a number two/three starter profile.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: After getting promoted to Double-A last season, Webster discovered that his sinking fastball couldn’t survive in the friendly confines of the hitting zone, not to mention that a fringy breaking ball doesn’t exactly intimidate Southern League hitters. Returning to the league in 2012, Webster is once again dealing with that reality; where offerings placed over the plate find more barrels than catcher’s mitts. Webster’s mechanics have very inconsistent, and his command and secondary utility have been affected as a result. An athletic pitcher, he should be able to make the necessary adjustments in his delivery, like staying closed and in a good line to the plate, but until he does, prepare for hitter-friendly counts and hard contact. Webster does not have the type of stuff to remain effective when he’s wild, especially at the higher levels, so he will need to find sharper command in order to find success. It’s cliché, but as the delivery goes, so goes the command and the secondary consistency, and without sound mechanics and a fluid delivery, it’s foolish to expect the stuff will play up to its potential. Webster is still a very talented arm who happens to be going through an adjustment period, so I wouldn’t panic about the depressed stuff quite yet. The initial ceiling might have been a little high, as the fastball is the only offering that looked like a consistent plus pitch, but the majority of the sources I spoke with still considered Webster a major league arm. He’s just currently a minor league arm, and the warts of the developmental process are visible.

Prospect #5: LHP Chris Reed
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: When you think of pitchers selected in the first round of the insanely rich 2011 draft, I’d be willing to bet that Chris Reed is probably one of the arms that escape your mind. Selected with the 16th overall pick—ahead of pitchers like Sonny Gray, Matt Barnes, and Taylor Guerrieri—the University of Stanford reliever showed all the necessary tools to excel as a starter, so the Dodgers popped him for an affordable, near-slot bonus. Armed with a lively low-90s fastball that can reach the mid-90s without losing its life, a very promising hard slider that features sharp tilt, and a clean delivery and arm action that give hope for the development of the changeup, Reed looked the part of a high-ceiling first round pick. After making three appearances and logging seven innings in 2011, Reed returned this year to the hitter-haven that is the California League, where the 22-year-old southpaw is showing decent control and missing more than a bat an inning.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Despite good statistical results, scouts continue to whisper "reliever" in my ear when I ask them about Reed’s ultimate role. The biggest issue appears to be the development and utility of the changeup, with the delivery being the main culprit. The best part of Reed’s arsenal is the hard stuff, which explodes from his delivery with a natural ease; the fastball has excellent life and appears more violent than the radar might indicate, and the slider is full of attack and intensity as well. The softer stuff arrives at the plate without much deception from the hand, and the movement isn’t as dramatic or effective. Whether a softer curve is the answer or just more time work with the changeup, Reed will need another pitch to play opposite his hard stuff if he wants to find sustainable success as a starter. If not, you are looking at a talented reliever, although one that is probably more of a setup-type than a closer. He has the potential for two plus pitches that would play up in bursts, he creates difficult angles, he can throw strikes, and he’s intelligent, so if comes down to thinking (sequence/situation), he’s going to have an advantage. But if Reed fails to develop the changeup into an average offering, and his ultimate role turns out to be in the ‘pen and not the rotation, the Dodgers will no doubt look back in regret for having to go affordable in a draft that was considered by many to contain the deepest crop of pitching talent in recent memory.