The Dodgers are committed to excellence in the Majors and the Minors. They've won the 2020 World Series championship and three pennants in the last four seasons while setting franchise records for victories (106) in 2019 and winning percentage (.717) last year.
A major factor in Los Angeles' success is its ability to churn out quality prospect after quality prospect. Recent farm system products Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Will Smith and Julio Urias played key roles in last year's championship. Three more -- Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong -- were used to acquire Mookie Betts from the Red Sox and Brusdar Graterol in a related deal from the Twins.
Even while chasing that World Series title a year ago, the Dodgers didn't waver in their devotion to development. Unlike several contenders, they populated their alternate site last summer with many of their best prospects, including their top four picks in the 2020 Draft. They’ve seen some benefits from surrounding phenoms with Major League players and coaches, and have done so again in big league camp this spring.
"We've had a bunch of our young guys at our alternate site last year and in big league camp this year," Los Angeles assistant farm director Matt McGrath said. "Having them work with our big league staff and get exposure to our big league players and see that carry over is exciting."
Shortstop Jacob Amaya, second baseman Michael Busch, third baseman Kody Hoese and right-hander Ryan Pepiot gained enough experience and soaked up enough wisdom to make the jump to Double-A Tulsa to open 2021. Only Amaya has played in High A, and that was just for 21 games in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled the 2020 Minor League season. The other three all made their pro debuts as college draft picks in 2019, with Busch playing just 10 games before a pitch broke his right hand, Hoese getting 22 games in Low A and Pepiot making nine brief starts at that level.
Amaya sometimes gets overshadowed by players with louder tools in a deep system, but that could be on the verge of changing. He might have the best batting eye and provide the best infield defense among Dodgers farmhands, and his savvy and constant energy allow him to get the most out of his ability.
"It's hard to really appreciate Amaya unless you go watch a five- or six-game series and see all the things he does well," McGrath said. "He's just a really good, complete baseball player. He gives 100 percent every single day. He has the tools to play his way to the big league and the makeup is there to bet on too."
Outfielder Andy Pages didn't attend the alternate site last summer, when he was just 19, but he made the most of a non-roster invitation to big league camp this spring. The progress he showed there and in Minor League Spring Training earned him an assignment to High A Great Lakes. He has never played above Rookie ball, though he led the Pioneer League in extra-base hits (43) and ranked second in homers (19), RBIs (55), total bases (153) and slugging (.651) in 2019.
While Pages stands out most with his well above-average power and arm strength, there are some most subtle attributes that enhance his profile. He's aggressive at the plate but he's also a student of hitting who understands the nuances of his right-handed swing. His defensive instincts boost his range in center field and may allow him to stay at the position.
"Pages' tools are off the chart and one of the best things about him is his baseball IQ," McGrath said. "He watches baseball all across baseball every day and shoots us videos and breaks down the swings of Mike Trout and other guys. He went into big league camp and saw Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts and was picking up on the finer points of what they do."
Busch went 31st overall in the 2019 Draft because he had one of the best combinations of hitting ability, power and patience available. All of those talents were on display in instructional league last fall, when scouts from other organizations raved about his offensive upside and were impressed by the progress he had made defensively at second base.
Mostly a first baseman and left fielder in college at North Carolina, Busch used his pandemic downtime to improve his quickness and arm strength. Both of those attributes still grade as fringy but he continues to improve at second base. He homered in big league camp off Reds right-hander Dauri Moreta, then produced a lot of loud contact while maintaining his advanced approach during Minor League Spring Training.
"We started out as hopeful about his defense and now we think there's a good chance he can play second base," McGrath said. "That's a testament to the work Michael has put in. He's spending a lot of time on the finer points of the position and not just on-boarding.
"His bat's really taking off and his ability to see pitches gives him an advantage. I'm not sure many Minor Leaguers take better at-bats than he does."
Alternate training site
The organization's two best prospects, catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray, began the spring in Major League camp before shifting to the alternate site, both of which were staged at the Camelback Ranch complex in Glendale, Ariz. They'll begin the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City and should be able to contribute in Los Angeles this year if needed.
Ruiz, who homered in his first big league at-bat last August, is a switch-hitter with bat-to-ball skills, developing power and solid defensive upside behind the plate. Gray has an athletic delivery that produces explosive mid-90s fastballs and mid-80s sliders.
"Keibert has carried himself like a professional who's ready to take the next step," McGrath said. "He understands his game, especially from a catching standpoint. The way he's commanding the field from behind the plate has been cool to see.
"JoJo understands what he does well and what areas he still needs to develop. He's taking initiative. He wants to be the next guy up. The fastball is going to play and he's working on his offspeed arsenal. He wants to be a frontline starter and do what it will take to get him there."
Prospects we’ll be talking about in 2022
A seventh-round pick out of James Madison in 2019, right-hander Nick Robertson split his pro debut between two Rookie levels that summer before his development was limited to instructional league last year. Despite his lack of experience, it's not out of the question that he could surface in Los Angeles this season.
After working at 92-94 mph in college, Robertson has added velocity and backspin to his fastball since turning pro and now has a mid-90s heater that hitters struggle to barrel. His slider has more power as well and his changeup gives him an effective third pitch. He'll make a three-level jump to Double-A to begin 2021.
"We've been pumped about Robertson's fastball for a while," McGrath said. "It's been 95, 96, 97 for a lot of camp, and the rise and approach angle on his fastball are great. In instructional league, he was operating on a different level than most guys there, and he held his own in big league games this spring."
Another seventh-rounder, outfielder James Outman, has one of the best power/speed combinations in the system. Drafted out of Sacramento State in 2018, he hit 11 homers in the final month of the 2019 season after buying into changes the Dodgers wanted him to make with his left-handed swing.