1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP
2. Andy LaRoche, 3B
3. Chin-Lung Hu, SS
4. Scott Elbert, LHP
5. James McDonald, RHP
6. Josh Bell, 3B
7. Chris Withrow, RHP
8. Jonathan Meloan, RHP
9. Ivan DeJesus, SS
10. Blake Dewitt, 3B
11. James Adkins, LHP
Just Missing: Pedro Baez, 3B; Bryan Morris, RHP; Michael Watt, LHP
1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, Highland Park HS (TX)
2007 Stats: 2.77 ERA at Low-A (97.1-72-50-134); 3.65 ERA at Double-A (24.2-17-17-29)
Year In Review: The team’s top ’06 pick blew away hitters in the Midwest League, and then missed plenty of Double-A bats as a 19-year-old.
The Good: One scout classified Kershaw as the best left-hander he’s ever seen in the Midwest League. His fastball sits at 93-95 mph, can touch 98, and comes in on right-handed hitters with hard, boring action. He backs up the pitch with a plus-plus slow, looping curveball that freezes batters the second it comes out of his hand. His changeup has advanced to an average pitch, and he has the perfect pitcher’s build, a smooth, easy delivery, and maturity beyond his years.
The Bad: Kershaw struggles at times with his command, and he doesn’t compensate for it well, often grooving hittable fastball when he falls behind in the count. He needs to find more confidence in his changeup and mix it into his arsenal more often.
Fun Fact: Highland Park High School has a wide-ranging list of alumni, including Padres righty Chris Young, 1950s bombshell Jayne Mansfield, and almost-presidential assassin John Hinckley, Jr.
Perfect World Projection: Kershaw has all of the raw tools to be a major league ace of the highest level.
Timetable: Kershaw will begin the 2008 season at Double-A, and the Dodgers are open to the possibility of his reaching the majors before his 21st birthday.
2. Andy LaRoche, 3B
Drafted: 39th round, 2003, Grayson County Community College (TX)
2007 Stats: .309/.399/.589 at Triple-A (73 G); .226/.365/.312 at MLB (35 G)
Year In Review: The top hitting prospect in Dodgers system continued to mash in the minors, but struggled in his big-league showing while dealing with poorly-timed back issues.
The Good: LaRoche is a gifted hitter who has the rare combination of plus power and a low strikeout rate. He makes consistent hard contact and should hit for a high batting average with 40+ doubles and 20-30 home runs annually. He has a good approach and draws plenty of walks as well.
The Bad: LaRoche is a bit bulky and stiff athletically, and while he’s a good enough third baseman to stay there, he’ll never be more than adequate, and needs to improve his work coming in on balls and fielding bunts. During his big-league stint, one scout referred to him as “anti-pressing,” as he consistently put himself behind in the count while waiting for the perfect pitch.
Fun Fact: During his big-league stint LaRoche went 3-for-15 when batting with runners in scoring position and two outs–while drawing ten walks.
Perfect World Projection: An All-Star third baseman.
Timetable: Almost everyone believes LaRoche is ready to be an everyday player except the Dodgers, who will force him to beat out Nomar Garciaparra for the third-base job in spring training.
3. Chin-Lung Hu, SS
Acquired: NDFA, Taiwan, 2003
2007 Stats: .329/.380/.508 at Double-A (82 G); .318/.337/.505 at Triple-A (45 G); .241/.241/.517 at MLB (12 G)
Year In Review: An outstanding defender, Hu came alive with the bat in 2007 to greatly up his prospect status.
The Good: Any discussion of Hu begins with his defense. He has true Gold Glove potential, with instincts that one scout called “bordering on psychic,” incredibly quick hands and a strong, accurate arm. His swing is both quick and smooth, and while it’s designed for contact, he shows gap power with it as well.
The Bad: Hu’s offensive value is overly reliant on his ability to hit for average and doubles, as he’ll never hit more than 10-12 home runs annually, and he’s not much of a base stealer. He has an exaggerated trigger in his swing, employing an Ichiro-like step in the bucket, but it works for him and seems to assist him in getting his bat into the strike zone quickly. Defensively, he’s nearly flawless.
Fun Fact: Hu was a classmate of Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang from elementary school throughout high school.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday big-league shortstop with outstanding defensive value, and possibly enough offense to bat second in the lineup.
Timetable: Hu is blocked for one season by the last year of Rafael Furcal‘s contract, and will provide at least equal value at a far lower cost the following year.
Year In Review: The outstanding lefty was blowing away Southern League batters before walking seven in his third start of the year and missing the rest of the season after surgery to clean up his labrum.
The Good: In terms of size, stuff, and projectability, Elbert ranks just a tick below Kershaw across the board, and that’s a strong compliment. His fastball sits in the low 90s and can touch 95 with late, explosive life, while his curveball is a spiraling plus-plus power breaker that is just as effective. He’s an outstanding athlete who fields his position well, and can contribute at times with the bat.
The Bad: Elbert has consistently struggled with his control, and his somewhat-complicated mechanics contribute to that, with the shoulder surgery creating even more concern about his delivery. He’s yet to really need much of a changeup, and the pitch still lags well behind his primary two offerings.
Fun Fact: During his far-too-brief 2007 season, batters facing Elbert with the bases empty went 1-for-32 with 18 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: An upper-echelon big-league starter.
Timetable: Elbert’s shoulder was not ready for the Dodgers’ instructional camp, but he was throwing off the mound as we expected to be ready for spring training. Assuming all goes as expected, he’ll return to Double-A in 2008. The Dodgers have no timetable for him until they see how his arm holds up.
5. James McDonald, RHP
Drafted: 11th round, 2002, Polytechnic HS (CA)
2007 Stats: 3.95 ERA at High-A (82-79-21-104); 1.71 ERA at Double-A (52.2-42-16-64)
Year In Review: A pitcher-turned-outfielder-turned-pitcher-again, McDonald enjoyed one of the biggest breakouts in the minors, dominating both before and after a promotion to Double-A.
The Good: McDonald has a highly-effective three-pitch mix. His average-velocity fastball is brought up a full grade due to his movement and command of the pitch, while his curveball is his best offering–a slow, big-bending breaker that McDonald like to bend into the strike zone. He also has a deceptive changeup with plenty of depth, and an excellent pickoff move.
The Bad: Most feel that McDonald’s strikeout rate will dip as he moves up, as he doesn’t have any true dominating out pitch. His arm action is a little funky, but while his release point lacks consistency, it doesn’t seem to hinder his command. He can fall in love too much with his curveball at times.
Fun Fact: While Poly High has an impressive list of baseball graduates, including Chase Utley and Tony Gwynn, it has also produced a diverse list of alumni including Snoop Dogg, Billie Jean King, and Cameron Diaz.
Perfect World Projection: An effective mid-rotation starter.
Timetable: McDonald’s 2007 showing caught everyone by surprise, and while he’ll return to Double-A to begin 2008, he could be ready for a big-league look by the end of the year if his development continues.
Year In Review: A slugging third baseman, Bell made a solid full-season debut while playing in pitcher’s park.
The Good: Bell’s bat has true impact potential, as he’s a switch-hitter with plus-plus raw power from both sides to go with solid hitting ability. He shows good instincts at third base, and possesses one of the system’s better arms.
The Bad: Bell’s approach at the plate needs work, as he needs to develop better plate discipline and a more effective two-strike approach. While he has the tools to stay at the hot corner, he’s currently a sloppy defender who needs to improve his fundamentals and also set himself better to reduce throwing errors. Scouts were concerned with his conditioning, as he was significantly larger at the end of the year, and not in a good way.
Fun Fact: When batting sixth for the Great Lakes Loons (Midwest League), Bell went 17-for-41 with five doubles, five home runs, and a .951 slugging percentage.
Perfect World Projection: A slugging third baseman good for 30+ home runs annually.
Timetable: Bell is an excellent candidate to put up big numbers as he moves up to the High-A California League in 2008.
Year In Review: One of the better high school arms in the draft entering the spring, Withrow did nothing but impress during his senior year and ended up as the 20th overall pick in June.
The Good: Withrow’s fastball has average velocity, but scouts believe there will be much more to come due to his fluid, easy mechanics, and highly-projectable frame. He throws a crisp power curveball that might turn into a slider as he matures. The Dodgers love his makeup, work ethic, and how well he takes to coaching.
The Bad: Withrow’s changeup needs significant work, and even in the Gulf Coast League, left-handers hit him hard due to his lack of a horizontal aspect to his arsenal. He’s still much more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point, and needs to improve his command, as well as his fielding.
Fun Fact: Withrow’s father Mike had a brief minor league career and was drafted three times as an amateur, the third time by the White Sox as a seventh round pick in 1981 out of the University of Texas.
Perfect World Projection: Withrow has a lot of projection still in him, so while solid big league starter is a safe future bet, there’s certainly potential for more.
Timetable: Withrow will make his full-season debut at Low-A in 2008.
8. Jonathan Meloan, RHP
Drafted: 5th round, 2005, University of Arizona
2007 Stats: 2.18 ERA at Double-A (45.1-24-18-70); 1.69 ERA at Triple-A (21.2-12-9-21); 11.05 ERA at MLB (7.1-8-8-7)
Year In Review: A big-bodied reliever, Meloan continued his minor league dominance in 2007, but struggled during brief big league showing.
The Good: Meloan gets outs by using his low-90s sinker early in the count to set up his plus-plus slider, which is a true wipeout offering that he’s equally effective throwing for strikes or using as a chase pitch. He also occasionally mixes in a curveball to change hitters’ eye level, and he brings a late-inning intensity to every outing.
The Bad: Nothing Meloan does is pretty. He’s not athletic, and his mechanics are rough, with a lot of moving parts. His future is in relief only, but his stuff likely falls a bit short of closer-worthy due to his velocity.
Fun Fact: While the University of Arizona is known for its baseball program, no player drafted out of the school has won a game since 1989 fourth-round pick Scott Erickson. Since then, touted draftees Lance Dickson, Josh Pearce, and Ben Diggins have gone a combined 0-7 in 21 appearances.
Perfect World Projection: An effective late-innings reliever, likely a set-up man.
Timetable: Meloan will go into the spring as a leading candidate to win a bullpen job.
Year In Review: Another excellent defender at short in the organization, DeJesus also had solid year with the bat at High-A.
The Good: DeJesus has a unique sense of his strengths and weaknesses at the plate, and knows that his greatest value comes from working the count and using a contact-oriented swing to lash line drives to all fields. He’s a very good defensive player with good range and smooth action, and as the son of 15-year big-league veteran Ivan DeJesus, it’s no surprise that his makeup is strong.
The Bad: DeJesus has little power, nor any projection for it, so he’ll need to maintain his high on-base percentages as he moves up. He’s no more than an average runner, and an inefficient basestealer. He needs to better measure which plays he can make and which he can’t, as many of his errors came on throws he shouldn’t have tried to attempt.
Fun Fact: In 21 games batting ninth for Inland Empire, DeJesus hit .354/.442/.492.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday big-league shortstop.
Timetable: DeJesus will face a big test with a Double-A assignment in 2008, beginning the season three weeks short of his 21st birthday.
Year In Review: The former first-round pick looked much better in his second go-round at Double-A.
The Good: On looks alone, DeWitt has one of the prettiest swings in the minors, notable mostly for its speed and fluidity. He has excellent barrel control, no weakness by location, and at least average power. He’s a decent third baseman who makes the plays he gets to.
The Bad: As much as scouts love DeWitt’s batting tools, the results have hardly been eye-popping, and he’s yet to show enough in the way of secondary skills to project as a classic third baseman. A move to second base last year was a failure, as DeWitt lacks the athleticism to play up the middle.
Fun Fact: Both first-round picks by the Dodgers in 2004, Scott Elbert (Seneca) and DeWitt (Sikeston) are each the only players to ever be drafted out of their Missouri high schools.
Perfect World Projection: A solid everyday third baseman whose offensive value comes primarily from his batting average.
Timetable: Dewitt will begin 2008 with his third partial season at Double-A, and should reach Triple-A by midseason.
Year In Review: Polished college left-hander had no problems adjusting to pro baseball, putting up a solid showing in the Midwest League.
The Good: Adkins’ fastball doesn’t have much in the way of velocity, sitting in the upper 80s, but it features hard and heavy sink, and his height and arm angle add additional downward plane to the pitch, leading to plenty of ground balls. He throws an average breaking ball and changeup, and has decent command and an excellent feel for the game.
The Bad: Adkins is pretty much a finished project with little projection and no true plus offering, and he’ll need to improve his secondary offerings to avoid being a one-pitch type. He’s a bit long to the plate, so despite his being left-handed, runners can get good jumps on him.
Fun Fact: With 133 strikeouts in his junior year, Adkins became the University of Tennessee’s all-time strikeout leader, finishing his career with 380 punch-outs in 355 1/3 innings.
Perfect World Projection: Back-end rotation regular.
Timetable: Adkins is highly polished and could move quickly, with some expectations that he could be in Double-A by the end of his first full season.
The Sleeper: A bit of a late bloomer, beefy Dominican right-hander Ramon Troncoso has a major league sinker with plus velocity and equally impressive break, and could be ready for a big league look by the end of the year.
The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)
1. Chad Billingsley, RHP
2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP
3. Matt Kemp, OF
4. James Loney, 1B
5. Andy LaRoche, 3B
6. Jonathan Broxton, RHP
7. Chin-Lung Hu, SS
8. Scott Elbert, LHP
9. James McDonald, RHP
10. Josh Bell, 3B
There’s some talent for you. Clayton Kershaw is the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game, yet he’s second on this list, and some would place him third. He might have a bit more upside than Billingsley, but the latter is already there, and if you are looking for 2008 breakout candidates from a pitching perspective, don’t be surprised if Billingsley finishes in the top five of next year’s NL Cy Young Award voting. While Kemp’s .342 average last year for the Dodgers is a bit of a fluke, he’s still an immensely talented outfielder with star potential, and the same could be said for Loney, who the Dodgers luckily seem to be done screwing around with. Broxton showed closer potential in his first year as a set-up man, and he has the attitude to pitch the ninth as well.
Despite a significant and highly successful graduation rate, the Dodgers have continued their track record of outstanding scouting and player development to refurbish a system that remains well above average despite multiple big league-bound departures. No team in the history of the game has a better track record of identifying and developing top-level talent, and that tradition continues.
Next: The Milwaukee Brewers.