With alternative training sites having ended, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.
Top position prospect: Keibert Ruiz, C (No. 2 on Dodgers Top 30)
The Dodgers already have one of baseball's best catchers in Will Smith, and they have one of the game's best backstop prospects in Ruiz. They split time behind the plate in Double-A in 2018, when Ruiz was the second-youngest regular in the Texas League at age 19. Though he posted the worst offensive numbers of his career last season and didn't get a chance to improve upon them in 2020, he did make some promising adjustments.
Ruiz worked on unlocking his power with hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc, hitting strategist Brant Brown and assistant hitting coach Aaron Bates during Spring Training and Summer Camp. That remained on his to-do list at Los Angeles' alternate site at the University of Southern California, as did fine-tuning his defense. He made his big league debut, appearing in two games and homering in his first at-bat, and cracked the Dodgers' Wild Card Series roster.
"Keibert made an adjustment to his lower half to give him more space to operate," Dodgers farm director Will Rhymes said. "We were all encouraged. He looked very good in alternative camp and then he got up to the big leagues and homered in his first at-bat, which was exciting.
"There are no red flags with his defense but he just kind of rounded out his skillset. One thing that was noticeable was that his arm strength improved quite a bit. That wasn't a point of focus. It just happened organically, which was good to see. He also continued to dive into the game-calling aspects."
Top pitching prospect: Josiah Gray, RHP (No. 1)
Acquired as part of the Yasiel Puig/Matt Kemp trade with the Reds in December 2018, Gray broke out in his first season with his new organization. The Dodgers' 2019 Minor League pitcher of the year posted a 2.28 ERA, .207 opponent batting average and a 147/31 K/BB ratio in 130 innings while reaching Double-A at age 21.
Gray might have debuted in Los Angeles if 2020 had been a normal season. Instead, he spent the summer at USC refining his secondary pitches, a task that perhaps became easier without actual games.
"It was more of the same with JoJo," Rhymes said. "He still has an electric fastball and a ton of confidence in it. He took the opportunity to work on rounding out his arsenal a little bit: curveball, slider and changeup.
"He's so competitive that getting him away game competition and trying to win helped him round out his pitches. We saw improvement in the characteristics of his slider and curveball and wanting to use all of his pitches. His slider remains his main secondary pitch."
Youngest prospect: Jake Vogel, OF (No. 14)
The Dodgers were one of the few organizations to bring a 2020 high school draftee to their alternative site. A California prep outfielder, Vogel could be a third-round steal after signing for a well over-slot $1,622,500. Though the 18-year-old was the lightest player (165 pounds) any club selected in the Draft, he offers plus-plus speed, upside and some sneaky power at the plate as well as a strong arm.
"Jake's really exciting," Rhymes said. "He's a great kid with a fantastic mentality and attitude. He loved being at USC with the older kids and fit in seamlessly. He competed well in his at-bats with JoJo and really held his own. He never looked overmatched.
"I was surprised when I saw him hit in BP -- he hits the ball really hard. There are some components to his swing that we really like. Watching him against way, way more advanced pitching, he showed very good pitch tracking and recognition and the ability to stay balanced and make adjustments. His defense in center field is going to be really good. He's a burner and really gets after it."
2020 Draft picks
The Dodgers invited their top four Draft choices to alternative camp, with college right-handers Bobby Miller (No. 7, first round), Clayton Beeter (No. 8, second) and Landon Knack (No. 15, supplemental second) joining Vogel. Miller (heavy 95-99 mph fastball, upper-80s slider/cutter), Beeter (93-98 mph heater, a high-spin curveball some scouts though was the best in the Draft, mid-80s slider) and Knack (93-98 mph fastball, flashes of a plus slider and changeup) had some of the best overall stuff in this year's college crop. The best fifth-year senior prospect in years, Knack also has premium command and led NCAA Division I in strikeouts (51 in 25 innings) and K/BB ratio (51/1) last spring.
"For the most part, we just wanted to get to know those guys and get them some innings," Rhymes said. "All of those guys were trending up heavily this year and we wanted to continue that momentum going rather than waiting and trying to recapture it next year. We wanted to get them up to speed understanding their mechanics and pitch characteristics, and they all did great."
Third baseman Kody Hoese, (No. 3), a 2019 first-round pick, was the Dodgers' best hitter at their alternative site. With a quality right-handed swing and the strength and leverage in his 6-foot-4 frame, he generates power to all fields. The organization excels at making adjustments to maximize a hitter's potential, but Rhymes said they've left Hoese alone: "We just told him, go do what you do."
Los Angeles' second 2019 first-rounder, Michael Busch (No. 4), impressed with the work he did on his own during the pandemic-induced layoff. He got quicker and more athletic, enhancing his chances of sticking at second base despite being a 6-foot, 207-pounder with little experience at the keystone before pro ball. And while his offensive production is what got him drafted 31st overall, his left-handed swing looked more explosive than ever.
Right-hander Ryan Pepiot (No. 24) had the best changeup in the 2019 Draft, which helped make him a third-round pick. Alternative-site hitters hated facing him because his fastball added velocity (sitting at 95 mph) and vertical movement, which made his changeup even more dastardly.