LA looking for contributors from within in '22

November 1st, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have plenty of money to spend. That’s evident by their $267 million payroll in 2021. They are, once again, expected to be one of the most active teams in free agency this winter.

But a big reason for the Dodgers’ success at the big league level over the last decade is their ability to identify and develop players through their Minor League system. Walker Buehler, Will Smith, Gavin Lux, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger are all homegrown talents who have turned out to be massive contributors for Los Angeles.

Having a deep system also helps the Dodgers complete impact trades. Just last season, they flipped four prospects, including top pitching prospect Josiah Gray and top overall prospect Keibert Ruiz, in a blockbuster Trade Deadline deal for right-hander Max Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner.

Yet, Los Angeles still has a solid -- and deep -- farm system. Let’s take a look at the Dodgers’ Minor League system: three players who forced their way onto the radar this year, two possible breakout players to watch in 2022 and one big question for next season.

3 players who forced their way onto the radar in 2021

OF James Outman
When Outman was selected in the seventh round in the 2018 MLB Draft, he wasn’t considered one of the Dodgers’ top prospects. He had a solid three-year career at Sacramento State, hitting .249, but nothing really jumped out. This season, after a strong showing in Spring Training, Outman showed why he’s now considered one of the best all-around prospects in Los Angeles’ system.

Outman hit .266 with 18 homers and 23 steals in 104 games between High-A Great Lakes and Double-A Tulsa this season. His defense in center field has also opened the eyes of many scouts.

“Defense is really important, trying to help the pitchers out as much as I can,” Outman said recently during the Arizona Fall League. “I just try to affect the game in every area, whether that’s baserunning, defense, hitting. I’m trying to be as good as I can in every aspect of the game.”

His strong showing has continued through the fall. Outman has stood out as one of the Dodgers’ prospects playing in the AFL. In 10 games with the Glendale Desert Dogs, Outman has three homers, continuing to tap into his power potential. If he continues to improve, Outman has a chance to make an impact with the big league club soon.

3B Miguel Vargas
Vargas came into the season as a ranked in the top half of the Dodgers’ system, per MLB Pipeline, but Los Angeles was still waiting for the Cuban infielder to take the next step, primarily with an increase in power. That potential was put on full display in 2021.

After hitting a combined nine homers in his first two seasons in the Minors, Vargas nearly tripled that in 2021, finishing with 23 homers and a .906 OPS. He also played all over the infield, but his preferred position is third base.

Vargas’ strong season earned him Player of the Year honors in the Dodgers’ system. He is now ranked as their No. 6 prospect.

RHP Hyun-il Choi
After a strong 2021 campaign in his first full season, Choi was named the Dodgers organization’s Pitcher of the Year. He appeared in 24 games (11 starts) and limited opposing hitters to a .217 average. The Korean right-hander won’t light up the radar gun, maxing out in the mid 90s, but his 60-grade control on the mound is what makes him a highly rated prospect.

Choi’s next step is to continue to develop his curveball and slider. If he’s able to do that, the righty will be a complete four-pitch hurler with above-average control.

2 possible breakout players in ‘22

RHP Kyle Hurt
Hurt was acquired from the Marlins in the same deal that landed left-hander Alex Vesia in Los Angeles. The right-hander did not pitch much last season, but he has been a standout so far in the AFL. Hurt possesses an upper-90s fastball and is continuing to develop a pair of breaking balls. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do in a full season in the Minors.

SS Alex De Jesus
De Jesus had a strong season at the plate with Low-A Rancho Cucamonga, hitting 12 homers and posting a .268 average in 97 games. At just 19 years old, De Jesus has all the tools to be an above-average hitter, especially if he continues to tap into his power. For him to take the next step, however, the young shortstop will have to cut down on the strikeouts. He punched out 128 times in 351 at-bats this season.

1 big question: Can the Dodgers get contributions in the Majors?

After thriving off their depth over the last few years, the Dodgers didn’t receive as much of a contribution from their Minor League system in 2021. Right-handers and were two of the few that made consistent impacts. That will have to change in '22.

The Dodgers will enter next season with more Major League-ready talent in the upper levels of the Minors. That wasn’t the case last season, especially after they traded Ruiz and Gray to the Nationals. Pitchers like Ryan Pepiot, Bobby Miller, Landon Knack and Clayton Beeter will need to contribute at some point next season, as will position players like Vargas, Jacob Amaya, Kody Hoese and Michael Busch. The Dodgers’ bench was also a weak spot during the postseason; they can fix that by continuing their player development.