The State of the System: Our 2016 best system is baseball is starting to dip due to graduations and trades, but it’s still a top ten org, and there is still more potential impact talent close to the majors.
The Top Ten:
- Walker Buehler, RHP
- Alex Verdugo, OF
- Yadier Alvarez, RHP
- Keibert Ruiz, C
- Dustin May, RHP
- Yusniel Diaz, OF
- Mitchell White, RHP
- Jeren Kendall, OF
- Gavin Lux, SS
- Jordan Sheffield, RHP
1. Walker Buehler, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 175 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 24th overall in the 2015 draft, Vanderbilt University; signed for $1.78 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #6 (Org), #94 (Top 101)
2017 Stats: 7.71 ERA, 6.36 DRA, 9 ⅓ IP, 11 H, 8 BB, 12 K in 8 games at the major league level; 4.63 ERA, 1.50 DRA, 23 ⅓ IP, 19 H, 11 BB, 34 K in 12 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City; 3.49 ERA, 1.54 DRA, 49 IP, 40 H, 15 BB, 64 K in 11 games at Double-A Tulsa; 1.10 ERA, 1.65 DRA, 16 ⅓ IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 27 K in 5 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga
The Good: In his first full season since Tommy John surgery, Walker Buehler showed exactly why he was drafted as a first-rounder. He zoomed through three levels, ending up making his major-league debut as a September callup, and while the results at the Triple-A and major-league level weren’t amazing, the talent is visible. He has two fully developed pitches—a fastball with the ability to touch 99 and solid natural sink, and a mid-80s curveball that he can throw either as a set-up or for a strike. Buehler can also move the fastball around the zone, taking advantage of his ability to throw it at high velocity by throwing it up past batters’ hands, but he usually works in the lower half of the zone, inducing weak contact and groundball outs. The curveball complements this nicely, giving Buehler a ready-made bullpen arsenal.
The Bad: He’s had Tommy John. Also, while his delivery is consistent, it’s not exactly low-effort. He has two other pitches than the fastball and the curveball, but while the slider is not a bad pitch, the changeup showed as little more than a batting-practice fastball. If the Dodgers plan to work him as a starter, finding a solid third pitch will be his toughest decision. The real bad, though, is the injury risk.
OFP 70—No. 2 starter
Likely 60—No. 3 starter or relief ace
The Risks: Though more and more pitchers these days are entering the pro ranks with one Tommy John already on their resume, it still leads to some concerns as to future durability. The Dodgers have tended to be cautious with their pitchers, anyway, but Buehler only threw 97 ⅓ innings over this season, and only into the sixth inning once. If they want Buehler to start long term, he’s going to have to get that third-time-through the order experience…without his arm falling off. —Kate Morrison
Major league ETA: Debuted 2017
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s a good thing we focus more on upside in this section, as Buehler has as much as any pitching prospect in baseball. It’s a rare prospect that has actual SP1 upside and is basically major-league ready—yet the risks prevent him from being an elite dynasty prospect. There’s reliever risk, workload risk, and performance risk, but he could be a 240-strikeout arm with above-average peripherals if he can survive the concerns.
2. Alex Verdugo, OF
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 205 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 62nd overall in the 2014 draft, Sahuaro HS (Tuscon, AZ); signed for $914,600.
Previous Ranking(s): #4 (Org), #66 (Top 101)
2017 Stats: .174/.240/.304, 1 HR, 0 SB in 15 games at the major league level; .314/.389/.436, 6 HR, 9 SB in 117 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City
The Good: There is a lot to like about Verdugo. He won’t turn 22 years old until the second month of the 2018 season, and he has put up solid slash lines at every minor league level despite being young for each stop. The hit tool is what lands Verdugo so high on this list. He has a patient approach at the plate, and his bat-to-ball skills are top notch. His hands are great and quick to the ball. Defensively, he is athletic enough to get by in center but, with average speed and a 70 arm, he will likely be a better fit in right. Despite that average speed he is a solid baserunner. Don’t expect a lot of stolen bases, but you can count on him to take the extra base when it’s available.
The Bad: The power may never come. This year, in the hitter-friendly PCL, Verdugo only managed six home runs despite a full season of work. Swing and approach adjustments will be necessary if he is to become an average power threat. Verdugo has a slight push tendency at the plate, but has very little power to that side of the field. Defensively, he is a better fit for right field than he is for center, and even with the ability to hit plenty of doubles, low home run totals are less than ideal from a corner outfielder.
OFP 70—All-Star center fielder
Likely 60—First-division corner outfielder
The Risks: If the hit tool doesn’t carry him at the next level and he never reaches his power potential, Vergudo is a defense-first corner outfielder with a solid average and below-average power. Not a great look. —Keith Rader
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2017
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There has historically been a general bias against profiles like Verdugo in fantasy circles, but just as soon as we started to appreciate contact-heavy profiles, the game changed and rendered them exactly as valuable as we always thought they were. A .300-hitting outfielder with 15 homers isn’t likely to be a top-40 outfielder—just ask David Peralta—in this environment, and even Avisail Garcia, who hit .330 with 18 homers, couldn’t crack the top-20. And for those of you dreaming of any future 20-homer power out of Verdugo, he’s going to have to fight against what was noticeable in even a very small sample size this year: a severe lack of fly balls (he put two balls out of 19 in the air in his September cup of coffee).
3. Yadier Alvarez, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 175 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2015 out of Cuba by the Dodgers for $16 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #1 (Org), #23 (Top 101)
2017 Stats: 3.55 ERA, 4.99 DRA, 33 IP, 29 H, 25 BB, 36 K in 7 games at Double-A Tulsa; 5.31 ERA, 4.54 DRA, 59 ⅓ IP, 61 H, 25 BB, 61 K in 14 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga
The Good: Alvarez still possesses some the easiest velocity in the minors, sitting 95-98 and popping triple digits on the regular thanks to top-of-the-scale arm speed. He’ll flash a plus slider with bite and gnarly tilt. And while raw, his changeup includes the raw material of an average or better complementary offering to round out the arsenal. He missed bats as a 21-year-old in Double-A, and that’s not easy to do. His 6-foot-3 frame is ideally proportioned to project durability, and he possesses all of the ingredients for developing solid command.
The Bad: The command remains pretty much entirely projection, as he’s still growing into his body and struggles (mightily at times) to locate and finish pitches despite relatively simple mechanics. He did miss bats at Tulsa, but he also proved much more hittable at both his stops than the raw stuff would lead you to expect. The slider shows an inconsistent shape, oftentimes wandering in as a loopier, slurvy offering, and the change has a long way to go to develop requisite consistency. All told, the sum of the parts didn’t quite look as good as the parts suggest it could through an inconsistent, walk-filled, loosely-commanded season at High-A and Double-A.
OFP 70—No. 2 Starter
Likely 55—Low No. 3 Starter
The Risks: If everything comes together, the ceiling here remains massive. He looks more like a slower-burn prospect now than he did at this time last year, however, as he adjusts to his evolving physicality and tries to figure out consistency with his mechanics. The pure stuff alone is plenty to keep him firmly on the starting track for now, but it’s a higher risk profile. Michael Pineda-lite vibe to his current projection. —Wilson Karaman
Major league ETA: 2019
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If you read Buehler’s writeup and thought to yourself, “that’s just not enough risk and too much upside,” then Alvarez might just be your guy. He could develop into a strikeout-heavy SP3 who either walks too many to have strong WHIP or leaves too many pitches in hittable locations to have a strong ERA. The ceiling is still strong enough to keep him as a top-101 prospect, but the most likely outcomes here are still either a frustrating starter or quality reliever.
4. Keibert Ruiz, C
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 200 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2014 out of Venezuela by the Dodgers for $140,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/R
2017 Stats: .315/.344/.497, 6 HR, 0 SB in 38 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga; .316/.372/.423, 2 HR, 0 SB in 63 games at Low-A Great Lakes
The Good: He’s a switch-hitting catcher with advanced receiving and stellar bat-to-ball skills who more than held his own at High-A as a 19-year-old. He moves well behind the dish in spite of a thicker frame, and receives with a strong glove hand that already sticks plenty of landings for pitches on the margins of the zone. His hand and wrist strength translates in the box, too, where his left-handed stroke in particular features impressive bat speed and barrel control. He makes a ton of solid contact, demonstrating a plan at the plate and a nascent ability to lift pitches situationally to the pull side.
The Bad: His throwing can be erratic, with sloppy pops and a lagging arm that’ll put considerable tail on the ball, and he hasn’t quite developed a consistent blocking technique yet. The right-handed swing is much flatter and less explosive than its left-handed counterpart at present. He shows strong pitch recognition skills, but he remains quite aggressive in the zone, sometimes to a fault. He gallops with the heavy feet of a catcher, and is unlikely to ever earn any runs for his teams on the bases.
OFP 60— First-division starting catcher
Likely 50—Average regular
The Risks: Standard very-young-and-aggressively-pushed risks apply, but Ruiz sure looks the part of a top catching prospect. The frame will require rigorous maintenance, though work ethic has looked like an asset so far. His advanced glove and outstanding contact skills give him a significant floor, and if more pop comes (it can) and the right-handed stroke matures (also possible) there’s the ceiling of a true first-division catcher here. —Wilson Karaman
Major league ETA: 2019
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: That whole thing I said in the Verdugo section about batting average not being enough to carry a hitter in this environment should read “unless he’s a catcher.” Only one fantasy backstop in 2017 hit higher than .290 last year, so a potential .300 hitter (even if it only comes with 10-12 homers) is still a clear top-five option at the position. Basically, if you loved Chance Sisco (hi Ben), you’ll probably love Ruiz as well.
5. Dustin May, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 180 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 101st overall in the 2016 draft, Northwest HS, (Justin, TX); signed for $997,500.
Previous Ranking(s): Others of Note
2017 Stats: 0.82 ERA, 1.98 DRA, 11 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 15 K in 2 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga; 3.88 ERA, 2.36 DRA, 123 IP, 121 H, 26 BB, 113 K, in 23 games at Low-A Great Lakes
The Good: May lived up to the hair hype in 2017, rolling through the Midwest League. He showcased a fastball that would sit 92-95 and touched 97, commanding it to both sides of the plate and working in a two-seam version in the lower part of the velocity band. He paired it with a wicked slider—a slow sweeper at 80-82 that he threw for strikes and whiffs while manipulating the shape and spin. The command and pitchability were impressive for a 19-year-old, as he limited his walks and showed a good understanding of how to sequence his pitches. He’s still only 180 pounds, so the body has some projection left.
The Bad: While the command can be impressive, May will lose it at times thanks to his complicated delivery. The changeup is currently an afterthought, as he only throws it a few times per outing and with limited feel. While there is projection in the body, May didn’t really seem to add much mass this year. He’s is naturally lanky and might always be underweight.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 50—No. 4 starter
The Risks: The standard third-pitch warning signs that flash with most pitching prospects appear here too, but durability is also a concern for May, especially if he doesn’t add weight. His delivery is taxing on the body, and he suffered multiple lat injuries this season. His command makes him a strong bet to stick in a rotation, but how many innings he logs will likely determine his role. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Major league ETA: Late 2019/Early 2020
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The early success in full-season ball may be a good indicator of how fast May will move through the system, but shouldn’t push us to assume he’s a particularly high-upside dynasty league starter. If the change develops enough to hold lefties at bay, there’s SP3 potential as an overall above-average arm in all four categories, but he’s most likely an SP4/5 confined to Mid-Rotation Arm Island™.
6. Yusniel Diaz, OF
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 195 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed November 2015 out of Cuba by the Dodgers for $15.5 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #5 (Org), #90 (Top 101)
2017 Stats: .333/.390/.491, 3 HR, 2 SB in 31 games at Double-A Tulsa; .278/.343/.414, 8 HR, 7 SB in 83 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga
The Good: Diaz continues to showcase solid across-the-board tools. He made two rounds of significant swing adjustments over the season’s first couple months, but once the changes clicked he started hitting and never really stopped for the rest of the year, on through the AFL. He boasts outstanding natural coordination and hand-eye, and he makes lots of hard, line-drive contact. His above-average speed translates to solid range in the outfield, while above-average arm strength gives him the versatility to handle all three outfield spots as needed.
The Bad: He can be coaxed into expanding the zone at times, and the bat path is still of the flatter variety, limiting his over-the-fence pop in spite of solid-average raw. He remains an immature baserunner, with poor base-stealing technique and a Wild Horse streak of aggressiveness that can get him in trouble on balls in play. His play in center hints at utility, but he lacks the kind of instinct and explosiveness of a true asset out there.
OFP 55—Above-average regular
Likely 50—Average regular
The Risks: Though still young and with according raw elements to his game, it’s a lower risk profile on account of the breadth of his skills. He’s a gifted hitter with well-rounded physical tools, and he’s a high-character kid who makes for a good wager to max out his potential. —Wilson Karaman
Major league ETA: Late 2018/Early 2019
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s an argument to be made that Diaz is really not all that different from Verdugo for our purposes (unless you’re in an OBP league). In fact, Diaz has more upside both in the power and speed departments, even if he’s not a great bet to regularly approach 20 in either category by the time he reaches the majors. Yet just the fact that it’s possible is enough to likely slide him into the top-50 from a dynasty perspective.
7. Mitchell White, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 207 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 65th overall in the 2016 draft, Santa Clara University; signed for $588,300.
Previous Ranking(s): Others of Note
2017 Stats: 2.57 ERA, 4.13 DRA, 28 IP, 17 H, 13 BB, 31 K in 7 games at Double-A Tulsa; 3.72 ERA, 1.50 DRA, 38 ⅔ IP, 26 H, 16 BB, 49 K in 9 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga
The Good: White pitched well across two levels, holding batters to a combined .172/.271/.229 line and once again flashing the ability to work through lineups multiple times despite lacking for a developed changeup. He does have three pitches, though, and they’re all pretty good. The fastball plays up with quality late life, and he commands it pretty well down in the zone. His cutter is a true plus pitch that allows him to shatter the bats and ambitions of left-handed hitters, and his curveball plays well off of the hard stuff with quality depth and finish. He’s athletic on the mound, with loose, fluid movements and a good frame.
The Bad: Durability continues to be a question mark, as he missed about a month and a half with a broken toe, limiting him to 40 fewer innings than he’d thrown the previous season on the back end of Tommy John recovery. The velocity flagged a bit down the stretch, and the command showed some signs of rust and wobble. While the athleticism and arm action suggests potential for developing a changeup to round out the arsenal, it hasn’t developed yet.
OFP 55—Low no. 3 Starter
Likely 50—No. 4 Starter
The Risks: The medical file and lost developmental time pose significant risk, and after averaging less than four innings a start and going longer than five in just one of his 19 turns, he’s got a way to go in building up the stamina and durability he’ll need to show to convince scouts he can handle a starter’s workload. —Wilson Karaman
Major league ETA: 2019
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The strength of White’s fantasy profile is directly correlated to the strength of his frame—as he’ll need to accumulate high innings totals to be an SP4. And if he gets there, it won’t be on the wings of strikeouts, it will be driven by ratios—as he’ll likely need to log over 200 innings in order to get 170 whiffs.
8. Jeren Kendall, OF
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 190 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 23rd overall in the 2017 draft, Vanderbilt University; signed for $2.8975 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2017 Stats: .221/.290/.400, 2 HR, 5 SB in 35 games at Low-A Great Lakes; .455/.455/.727, 1 HR, 4 SB in 5 games at short-season Ogden
The Good: Kendall offers premium athletic outfield tools with the added polish of a Vanderbilt alum. He’s a plus-plus runner, and is likely already capable of manning center field in the majors. His arm is a plus, a weapon in center, and plenty for right as well if he ends up in more of a fourth outfielder role. Kendall is a strong kid, with above-average raw at present and maybe more in the tank if he smooths out the swing a bit. Even if he doesn’t his legs will get him extra bases on balls in the gap.
The Bad: It’s not exactly your prototypical “pretty” lefty swing. Kendall has a very open set-up and some length to trigger. The bat speed is good, the barrel control is less good, and there’s gonna be swing-and-miss as he makes adjustments up the professional ladder. There’s not much else to ding the profile with—we could add that the speed plays better on the grass than the bases at present—but “he just might not hit” is a significant enough red flag on its own.
OFP 55—Above-average center fielder
Likely 45—Good fourth outfielder
The Risks: Kendall’s profile feels more prep than major college outfielder. That means there is more upside here than your average late college-round bat, but more risk too. Might be a slow burn development path unless the hit tool takes a quick jump.
Major league ETA: 2020
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s more fantasy potential with Kendall than anyone not named Walker Buehler in this system, and even that isn’t a bridge too far. Yes, there’s a chance that he just can’t hit enough for any of this to matter, but the raw skills are there for 15-homer pop and 30-plus steals if he can just be a .260 hitter. He’ll also need to be a far more efficient base runner if he wants to earn any sort of green light—he was successful in five of 13 stolen base attempts once he got to Low-A last year.
9. Gavin Lux, SS
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 190 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 20th overall in the 2016 Draft, Indian Trail HS (Kenosha, WI); signed for $2.3145 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #9 (Org)
2017 Stats: .244/.331/.362, 7 HR, 27 SB in 111 games at Low-A Great Lakes
The Good: Lux is an above-average, bordering on plus, defensive shortstop. He has an athletic body armed with plus speed and a plus arm, but it’s his smooth actions, strong instincts, and a great internal clock that make his play at the position look easy. At the plate, he shows strong plate discipline and decent bat-to-ball skills with nascent feel for the barrel.
The Bad: The disciplined approach borders on passive, and he takes too many pitches; a trait that pitchers will begin to exploit at higher levels. He has almost no power to speak of thanks to an extremely linear swing, and while he has the ability to make contact, it’s not often quality contact. His mind can get ahead of his body on occasion in the field, which will lead to minor misplays with his hands.
OFP 55—Glove-first regular at the 6
Likely 45—Second-division regular
The Risks: What Lux lacks in ceiling, he makes up for with floor. His defense and ability to make contact at all almost guarantees him a spot on a major league bench at some point if nothing else. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Major league ETA: 2020
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A low-minors defense-first shortstop with little ability to drive the ball? Where do I sign up? If your league rosters 300-plus prospects (and is 16 teams or deeper), it may be worth rostering Lux to see if the defense keeps him on the field long enough for the bat to develop.
10. Jordan Sheffield, RHP
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 190 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 36th overall in 2016 draft, Vanderbilt University; signed for $1.85 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #10 (Org)
2017 Stats: 8.00 ERA, 9.40 DRA, 18 IP, 23 H, 15 BB, 18 K in 5 games at High-A Rancho Cucamonga; 4.03 ERA, 4.80 DRA, 89 ⅓ IP, 86 H, 42 BB, 91 K in 20 games at Low-A Great Lakes
The Good: Sheffield is armed with high octane-stuff. His fastball will sit 94-97 throughout a start thanks in part to his plus arm speed. His changeup will flash plus, sitting 87-89 with great fade and arm speed replication. The slider can show plus at times as well, giving him a potentially deadly arsenal.
The Bad: Sheffield’s command leaves a lot to be desired as his max effort delivery leads to a lot of inconsistency and walks. Meanwhile, his short stature prevents him from getting life on his fastball, which makes the pitch play below its velocity. The slider may flash plus, but it has had an inconsistent development path and will likely end up a third pitch as he is constantly tinkering with it.
OFP 55—Low no. 3 starter
Likely 45—7th/8th inning reliever
The Risks: Given the height, delivery, and injury history (TJ), there are a ton of red flags here, and they’re why Sheffield is likely ticketed for the bullpen. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Major league ETA: Late 2019
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: At least there’s a chance Sheffield isn’t a reliever, which is the only thing stopping me from writing the same thing I write every time there’s a relief prospect on one of these lists. With the quality of his stuff, a step forward in command/control could push him to a SP3 ceiling—it’s just not a good bet to happen.
The Next Ten (in alphabetical order):
Imani Abdullah, RHP, Low-A Great Lakes
So let’s get this out of the way upfront. Abdullah only threw 12 innings in 2017 because of an “undisclosed injury.” He did see his velocity tick up into the mid-90s in those 12 innings but we have no idea if he can sustain that deeper into games over over a full season. Now, he’s still only 20, still has a projectable body and some feel for two offspeeds. I expected him to vault his way into the Top Ten this year and he’s got more upside than any of the other arms in this tier, but hoo boy is there a lot of risk here too.
Matt Beaty, CI, Double-A Tulsa
Our Beaty blurb will premiere a common theme in this tier of the list: “Intriguing corner dudes that probably don’t have a path to playing time in Los Angeles.” A converted catcher, Beaty saw time at all four corners in 2017, but is mostly a corner infielder, and is unlikely to unseat Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner. Another theme of these lists generally is that shrinking benches and #bullpenning have made it harder for these type of profiles to see major league time period, and despite potentially average hit and power tools, Beaty doesn’t have the same upside with the bat as Edwin Rios or DJ Peters, who he will be eventually in competition with for what scant bench roles there are in Chavez Ravine. On the plus side, Oklahoma City is a highly underrated BBQ town.
Morgan Cooper, RHP, Did Not Pitch
Cooper, the Dodgers second-round pick in the 2017 draft, is exactly the type of pitcher you would expect to be a second-round pick out of college in Texas. He’s got a big frame, a plus fastball, and the usual three secondaries that have a chance to be average. He’s also a bit older than the usual of this type, as a redshirt junior that already lost a season to Tommy John surgery. He also didn’t pitch at all in the pros, so we will have to wait until 2018 to get a better handle on exactly what kind of potential backend starter we have here.
Omar Estevez, 2B, High-A Rancho Cucamonga
A seven-figure international signing back in 2015, the Cuban infielder matriculated all the way to High-A for the full run of 2017 at the tender age of 19. The youth was on display in the box for most of the year, as he struggled to keep up with velocity and sequencing. He showcased an aesthetically pleasing swing in spite of the struggles, however, and showed signs of a playable line-drive approach by the season’s second half. He held his own at shortstop, too, though the arm is light for the left side and he lacks for great agility or foot speed. The future home looks to be second base, where he should be able to develop an average glove to complement a solid if unspectacular offensive profile. —Wilson Karaman
Caleb Ferguson, LHP, High-A Rancho Cucamonga
The Dodgers snapped up for Ferguson for a hundred grand in the 38th round back in 2014 while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and these days he looks increasingly like one of the steals of that draft. A physically maxed southpaw, the 21-year-old pitched brilliantly in the rough-and-tumble Cal League all year. The fastball’s a solid-average offering, working in the low-90s with some tail to it, and he pairs it with a quality curveball that project at least above-average. The change is workable, too, though he’ll need to refine it further if he’s going to be able to compete consistently enough with more advanced right-handed hitters and turn lineups over. He’s a big-league arm, and one with considerable rotation potential, which is just a delightful return on an end-game draft investment. —Wilson Karaman
Trevor Oaks, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City
Morgan Cooper might look a lot like Trevor Oaks in a few seasons actually. Oaks’ fastball settled in more as a 55 pitch, but he pairs it with an average change-up, a fringy slider, and a bit of deception in his mechanics. An oblique injury cost him some reps on the mound this season, but he’s generally been durable and has already thrown 150 effective innings in the Pacific Coast League. And the way LA has burned through starters the last few seasons, Oaks should be in line for a major league shot sometime in 2017.
DJ Peters, OF, High-A Rancho Cucamonga
6-foot-6 right-handed outfielders with strong #flow are bound to draw Jayson Werth comps, and Peters fits the bill as well as anyone. He showed arguably the best playable power potential in the California League this year, with a long swing that generates quality bat speed and extension to the ball. His hit balls carry with loft and backspin, and his exit velocity can light up a radar gun when he gets one on the screws. That caveat is important, however, as a sizeable swing-and-miss component is inevitable given his long frame and deep-count approach. Peters spent a good amount of time in center this year, where he showed improvement with his reads and jumps as the season progressed. The gap-to-gap range is borderline but if and when he does migrate to a corner, he’s got plenty of arm for right, with easy raw plus-or-better arm strength. The hit tool development may very well slow down under greater scrutiny in the high minors, but there’s a solid fourth-outfielder floor here with plenty of room for more. —Wilson Karaman
Edwin Rios, CI, Triple-A Oklahoma City
The standard line about slow-footed corner mashers with aggressive approaches and little to offer beyond their bats is that they’ll always be challenged to prove it at every level. And sometimes, they just do. Rios’ extreme length and poor walk rates have led to a lot of waiting for the other shoe to drop as he’s progressed up the minor league ladder, but so far he has just kept right on hitting—and hitting for tremendous pop, at that. While not especially athletic, Rios has exquisite balance, and he controls his weight transfer with consistent timing and hitting mechanics. The raw power is plus-plus, and as long as he can continue bringing most of it into games, the bat can generate value in spite of a likely first base-only profile and 20 speed. He’ll likely get his shot to prove it again in a final test against big-league pitching next year, and we’ll all learn together whether he is indeed the exception to the general rule of the profile. —Wilson Karaman
Dennis Santana, RHP, Double-A Tulsa
Santana was one of the great feel-good stories of the system this year; a converted shortstop, he rode a nasty power sinker with sick natural run and a plus-flashing slider through a successful run at High-A for most of the season, before dominating in the Texas League playoffs to close his season. The fastball projects as a plus pitch in a starting role, but he’s shown the ability to juice it up to 97 at the beginning of starts, and it could play above that grade in a relief role. The Dodgers toned down what had been an extreme crossfire, but he’s still pretty significantly across his body, and the command is unlikely to ever evolve into an asset. But there’s a highly attractive relief profile here as a flamethrowing wormburner who can eat up right-handers. —Wilson Karaman
Will Smith, C, Double-A Tulsa
If you were curious about who would’ve checked in at number 11, Smith’s your guy. And if not for an unfortunately timed broken hand suffered on a wayward fastball in his Double-A debut, he might’ve just cracked this list. As is the Dodgers’ wont, Smith is a highly athletic, versatile defender behind the dish. He’s still learning the finer points of blocking and receiving, but the physicality of an above-average defender is there. His pop technique is one of the most impressive you’ll see in the minors, with a lightning quick transfer helping solid-average raw arm strength play up to a plus tool. At the plate his game was geared towards patience and bat-to-ball, with a flatter, shorter path that drove consistent contact throughout his time at High-A. He showed up in Arizona showing off a bit more situational leverage, however, and if he shows himself similarly capable of trading a bit of contact for a jump in playable power next year he can position himself for a sooner-than-later debut in Los Angeles. —Wilson Karaman
Friends in Low Places
Cristian Santana, 3B, Low-A Great Lakes
Santana hit well during his stint in the Midwest League this year. He showcased an above-average hit tool due to his compact swing and above-average bat speed. There’s average raw power as well that he does a good job of accessing in-game as his leveraged bat path does a good job of getting balls in the air. He aggressive to a fault, which helps his bat-to-ball skills play, but also resulted in a 2.8 percent walk rate in Great Lakes. On defense, Santana is primarily a third baseman, but logged time at both second and first this season as well. However, he showcased some rough hands and rushed some easy plays, so his true defensive home is still uncertain. The arm at least seems capable of handling the hot corner. There’s no doubt that Santana is raw presently, but he boasts the building blocks of a strong offensive profile. —Emmett Rosenbaum
A second opinion: I think we are low on Dustin May but I couldn’t really sustain the argument
These lists are not strictly my pref lists. I have written at length already about what I think my job is, and honestly have yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion. I am pretty certain my job is not primarily about aesthetics, and that is a bit of a shame. I nicknamed Dustin May “Gingergaard” last year in a rare fit of brilliance—similar attempts to tag Jake Burger with “Double Stack” this year have been less successful. And sure, May wasn’t all that different a prospect coming out of high school as Syndergaard in both frame and stuff.
But they grow a lot of 6-foot-6 high school pitchers out on the Texas prairies and many more of them are John Patterson than Noah Syndergaard. May has progressed well in his first pro season, and it’s the right clay to mold into a top-of-the-rotation starter, but the strengths and weaknesses are laid out well by Emmett. Syndergaard wasn’t SYNDERGAARD as a prospect either of course, but you also go broke betting on every long, tall Texan to turn into an ace.
If this was about aesthetics though, it sure looks right. The analytics like him as well, especially if you are into spin rate. He’s a 19-year-old in A-ball, this can go in a lot of different directions. Many of those branching paths head to the bullpen, but enough of them lead to a top-of-the-rotation outcome that I want to bet on it. So the initial draft of this list had May ahead of Keibert Ruiz. I got talked out of it by the people who say both. The foundation of this list is live looks, and I trust my staff, but if this were a pref list. I’d have Dustin May higher.
Top Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/1992 or later):
- Corey Seager
- Cody Bellinger
- Walker Buehler
- Alex Verdugo
- Joc Pederson
- Julio Urias
- Yadier Alvarez
- Keibert Ruiz
- Dustin May
- Andrew Toles
The top of the 25-and-Under section for the Dodgers is pretty easy to fill in. Corey Seager just finished his second straight five-plus WARP season. There’s a good chance he’d have reached the six-win plateau if he didn’t miss time with a cranky right arm towards the end of the season. Between the arm issue—which the Dodgers are hoping resolves itself—and his back acting up in the postseason, there are some qualms that might not exist around someone who is otherwise a foundational franchise cornerstone.
Cody Bellinger answered any questions people (idiots like myself) had about the length in his swing by whacking 39 home runs en route to a unanimous Rookie of the Year campaign. He more than ably filled in when the Dodgers lost Andrew Toles for the season, and flashed high-end defense at first base once Adrian Gonzalez landed on the disabled list. His 146 strikeouts in 132 games reminds us that the length in his swing wasn’t gone so much as it didn’t hinder his offensive output. Still, it’s hard to quibble with the season Bellinger put forth. While the playoffs showed us some holes in his offensive game, it’s unlikely that too many teams can replicate Lance McCullers’ curveball in an effort to expose him. Not to mention that any mistake in execution is going to be punished by Bellinger’s combination of bat speed, loft, and sheer raw power.
Pederson acquitted himself quite well on last year’s version of this list, on the heels of a dominant second half. This year’s list brings about … different … circumstances. Pederson showed what he could be in a strong NLCS/World Series showing, but his regular season was one to forget. Supplanted in center field by Chris Taylor, he must now bear the yoke of the corner outfielder distinction at the plate. He has the ability to do so, but it’s going to require more contact. As someone who seemingly embraced the flyball revolution before it was en vogue, Pederson’s career-high ground ball rate last year doesn’t bode well. It’s possibly too harsh to place Pederson behind Verdugo, simply for showing his flaws at the highest level, while the latter hasn’t had much of a chance to be exposed—and yet his season-long struggles make it hard not to see the greener pastures that Verdugo offers.
I once wrote an article entitled “How Do You Rank A Prospect Like Urias?” I thought, with his graduation off of prospect lists, that I would be free of answering that question. Even moderate success in the majors, paired with his youth and quality arsenal, would place him ahead of most any prospect on lists like this. Instead, Urias never made it through what was to be (kind of) his first full season as a major leaguer, tearing the anterior capsule of his left shoulder and undergoing surgery that will sideline him for 12-14 months. Depending on the timetable and how much the Dodgers want to treat Urias with the kid gloves they’d grown so fond of, that could leave him out for most of the 2018 season. If we assume he’ll be back at full strength by April 2019, we still won’t know what the Dodgers will have in the then-23-year-old southpaw. He still won’t have thrown more than 90 innings in a season, even if the stuff returns intact post-surgery. I’ve ranked him behind the top two prospects, Buehler and Verdugo. No sure things themselves, both have the likelihood of contributing more, sooner to the Dodgers than Urias does. He slots in ahead of Alvarez, who presents his own, substantial risks. Given the depth of Urias’ arsenal, the quality of the changeup, and his left-handedness, he could likely suffer a minor loss of velocity and still be effective, if not what he once was. Alvarez—at this point—is stuff over polish, and lacks the depth in repertoire that could elevate him above even an injured Urias. If Urias returns clearly diminished, he will look far too high in retrospect. If he returns even at 90 percent of his former self, there’s a good chance he deserves to be above Buehler. Given that we know what we do not know, this compromise felt right.
Toles could slot in anywhere from sixth on this list to justifiably off it. He has a career .294 TAv, but it was on the strength of one glorious season, and as a speed-based player his value in the field and at the plate could deteriorate significantly, depending how he returns from his knee reconstruction. Always talented, Toles’ impressive performance in 2016 felt like a peak. Pair that with the injury and suboptimal performance, however briefly, in 2017 and it is fair to approach the future with substantial caution. Slotting him ahead of Diaz, and his lack of impact tools, is showing deference to the veteran’s major-league performance. Slotting him behind the duo of Ruiz and May reflects trepidation in light of Toles’ volatile history and recent injury. —Craig Goldstein