Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Dodgers.
The Dodgers farm system placed No. 1 in MLB Pipeline's talent rankings entering the 2016 season, and it certainly has lived up to the hype.
• Dodgers Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with DJ Peters
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
It produced the last two National League Rookies of the Year in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, as well as ace-in-the-making Julio Urias (who's recovering from shoulder surgery), Austin Barnes, Thomas Stripling and Brock Stewart. The system also produced oodles of trade ammunition -- including past or present Top 100 Prospects Willie Calhoun, Jose De Leon, Grant Holmes, Zach Lee and Frankie Montas -- that yielded players such as Yu Darvish, John Forsythe, Rich Hill, Chris Taylor and Tony Watson. All told, 17 of the prospects on our Dodgers Top 30 two years ago have either graduated or been dealt.
And yet the Dodgers have remained a fixture in our system rankings, checking in at No. 10 in our latest edition. Farm director Brandon Gomes said he immediately noticed the quality and depth of Los Angeles' prospects when he joined the organization as pitching coordinator of performance last year.
"It's incredible depth of talent that we have," said Gomes, who pitched in the big leagues with the Rays for five seasons. "There are guys not in our Top 20, who would be in a lot of Top 20s. Our scouts are doing a great job of getting high-end arms with big velocity and impressive stuff. We're a very spoiled player-development staff with all the talent we have here."
The Dodgers have two more prime Rookie of the Year candidates in their two best prospects, right-hander Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo, though neither has a clear path for playing time on a club that came within one win of a World Series championship a year ago. (Then again, Bellinger didn't have a clear path at the beginning of 2017 either.) There are few prospects in baseball who can match Buehler's combination of stuff and polish or Verdugo's pure hitting ability.
"For both of those guys, we just want them to get a little more physical and work on the nuances of the game," Gomes said. "Walker barely even has 100 professional innings yet, and now that we've gotten him through a full season, we're starting to get him to break down hitters and understand what he needs to do with his pitches. Alex is in really good shape and he's really driving the ball well in Spring Training. He really controls the strike zone and he's beginning to understand when he can impact the baseball."
There's a good chance that Buehler, who has been slowed by discomfort in his upper back, and Verdugo will open the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City. But it's Double-A Tulsa that will be the most stacked team in the system.
The Drillers' rotation will feature live-armed right-handers Mitchell White, Yadier Alvarez and Dennis Santana as well as the system's top left-hander in Caleb Ferguson. They'll be handled by two of the game's best catching prospects, Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, and Tulsa will have a physical, all-prospect outfield with Yusniel Diaz, DJ Peters and Luke Raley.
Los Angeles spent $16 million on a bonus and a matching amount as a penalty tax to sign Alvarez in July 2015. He has electric stuff, but has difficulty harnessing it, as evidenced by his 50 walks in 92 1/3 innings last year between high Class A and Double-A. While many scouts outside the organization think he's destined for the bullpen, the Dodgers believe in him as a starter and have seen encouraging signs in Minor League camp this spring.
"He was 95-98 mph the other day in live BP, with an 82-83 12-to-6 curveball and an 88-89 slider," Gomes said. "It was elite big league stuff. He has been all over the strike zone in his bullpens and his live BP the other day.
"We push our guys and challenge them so they can deal with adversity. He went through command struggles last year but he's much better for it."
Six of the Dodgers' top seven hitters in Cactus League play so far are prospects: Ruiz (.667), catcher/third baseman James Farmer (.538), middle infielder Omar Estevez (.500), Peters (.467), Verdugo (.400) and utilityman Jake Peter (.368). Peters and Verdugo have slammed two homers each, while Peters has drilled three and is tied for second in baseball with 12 RBIs.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.