Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers have won four consecutive National League West titles and they've carried the three largest payrolls in the history of the sport in the past three seasons. Because they have more financial resources than most clubs, they don't have to rely as heavily on their farm system as others do.
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But a big reason behind Los Angeles' recent success is a system that's one of the most productive in baseball. In 2016 alone, Corey Seager won the NL Rookie of the Year award and finished third in MVP balloting, Julio Urias stepped into the rotation at age 19, Thomas Stripling also played a key rotation role and Alvin Toles went from free-agent pickup to batting .462 in the National League Championship Series. The organization also packaged pitching prospects Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas and Jharel Cotton to get needed reinforcements in Rich Hill and Josh Reddick in July.
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The Dodgers, whose system came in sixth in MLBPipeline.com's talent rankings, have more help on the way in 2017.
Toles, still a rookie, figures to be the starter in left field. Austin Barnes, who could catch regularly for several clubs, will be the backup behind the plate and offers the versatility to play second or third base. Right-handers Brock Stewart (the organization's 2016 Minor League pitcher of the year) and Trevor Oaks are ready to plug any rotation holes that might arise.
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The most significant possible newcomer in Los Angeles is first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger. He's blocked by Adrian Gonzalez at first base and a crowd of outfield candidates, so he'll almost certainly start the season in Triple-A. But the game's top power prospect and perhaps its best defensive prospect as well is too talented to keep in the Minors for long even if he's just 21 years old.
Bellinger made an early impression in big league camp by launching a home run against the Brewers that left Maryvale Baseball Park on one bounce.
"He came into camp in great shape and got out here a month early, ready to go," said Jeremy Zoll, Dodgers senior manager of player development. "Obviously, we have some other people who are pretty good at their jobs, like Adrian Gonzalez, so we're not sure how it's going to play out with Cody. He'll continue to get time in the outfield and center field. He's really learned his swing and what works the best to maximize his power production while making contact."
Waves of prospects on the way
The system is much deeper than it was in the final days of Frank McCourt's ownership, when cost-cutting took its toll. Guggenheim Baseball Management has been aggressive about spending on amateur talent, especially on the international market.
As a result, more waves of prospects are coming behind the 2016 and 2017 groups. Next year, outfielder Alex Verdugo, second baseman Willie Calhoun and right-handers Walker Buehler and Josh Sborz will be pushing for jobs in the Majors. Younger players are lining up behind them as well.
"There will be something to see at every level, as was the case last year," Zoll said. "Our Triple-A team should be loaded. Double-A will have a good rotation and some bats. In high Class A and low Class A, there will be fierce competition for starting pitching spots from among a big group. Players like Ronny Brito, Starling Heredia and O'Neil Cruz have just come Stateside. It's fun to see the talent spread all the way through the system."
A pop-up player whose stock soared as the 2016 Draft approached, right-hander Mitchell White continued to turn heads after signing for a well below-slot $590,800 in the second round out of Santa Clara. He didn't allow a run in 22 regular-season innings, permitting just seven hits and six walks while striking out 30 and reaching high Class A.
The 22-year-old White's best pitch is a high-80s cutter that was unhittable in his pro debut. He also throws a 92-96 mph with natural life, a downer curveball and a developing changeup.
"I don't think Mitchell could have been better," Zoll said. "With his big body, he should be able to handle innings. We like his four-pitch mix and he's pretty cerebral on the mound. He has the starter-type characteristics we get excited about."
O'Neil Cruz is likely the only player who's 6-foot-6 and saw regular action at shortstop in the Minors in 2016. Signed for $950,000 out of the Dominican Republic as part of the Dodgers' massive international spending spree in 2015, he shows surprising body control and agility at short, though he projects as more of a third baseman.
Cruz, 18, spent most of his time at the hot corner while hitting .294/.367/.444 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League during his pro debut last year. With his whippy left-handed stroke and the room to add a lot of strength, he offers some of the best power potential in the system.
"One big thing for O'Neil is to put on some more size and strength," Zoll said. "He's as lanky as they come. For someone who wasn't really on the radar last year, we're excited to see what 2017 will bring. With the swing and power he has, he has the chance to be pretty special."