Dodgers' endless prospect pipeline continues to flow
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers have equaled or broken franchise records for victories or winning percentage in each of the last four seasons, highlighted by a World Series championship in 2020. They keep squeezing top prospects onto a big league roster laden with talented veterans, and that task may be more difficult than ever this year.
Two hitters (third baseman Miguel Vargas, second baseman Michael Busch) and three right-handers (Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone, Ryan Pepiot) are on MLB Pipeline's 2023 Top 100 Prospects list could graduate to Los Angeles in 2023, as could non-Top 100 outfielder James Outman. The organization has more waves of prospects coming behind them, with catcher Diego Cartaya and outfielder Andy Pages -- two more Top 100 guys -- likely to arrive in 2024.
Beyond their famous prospects, the Dodgers also have several others who have joined the system in the last couple of years and could ascend to the Top 100 in the near future. They're reminiscent of the Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s, ranking near the top of the sport each year in winning in the Majors and developing talent in the Minors.
"We're excited about our younger group coming up through the system," Los Angeles farm director Will Rhymes said. "Our core group from the Dominican Summer League last summer is a rare, rare group. I feel like we're maybe the deepest we've been."
The most exciting member of that DSL contingent is outfielder Josue De Paula. Born in Brooklyn and a second cousin of former NBA guards Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, he signed out of the Dominican Republic in January 2022 for $397,500. He batted .349/.448/.522 while making his pro debut and not only has one of the best left-handed strokes in the system, but also advanced pitch recognition and swing decisions as well as plus power upside.
"Josue has one of the best young swings you'll ever see and his hitting ability and discipline are off the charts," Rhymes said. "It's such a special hit tool. He has rare, rare qualities and the power will come once he fills out."
Catcher Dalton Rushing and middle infielder Rayne Doncon are two more potential Top 100 position players. Los Angeles' top pick (second round) in the 2022 Draft, Rushing attracts more attention with his bat -- especially after hitting .424/.539/.778 with eight homers in 28 games at Single-A -- but continues to improve defensively as he gains more experience behind the plate. Signed for $497,500 from the Dominican in 2021, Doncon concluded his U.S. debut last summer with three homers in 11 games in Single-A at age 18 and added 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason without losing any athleticism.
The Dodgers also have a seeming never-ending supply of arms, and right-handers Nick Nastrini, Nick Frasso and River Ryan all could rise to Top 100 prominence in 2023. All of them were acquired rather inexpensively, with Nastrini dropping to the fourth round in 2021 following control issues at UCLA and Frasso (from the Blue Jays for Mitch White last August) and Ryan (from the Padres for Matt Beaty last March) arriving via trades last year.
Nastrini and Ryan both can reach the upper 90s with outstanding metrics on their fastballs, and they also have three secondary pitches that grade as solid or better. But the best heater of that group belongs to Frasso, who works at 95-100 mph with plenty of armside run and impressive extension in his delivery.
"Nick threw 64 percent fastballs last year, which is pretty high, so working on his secondary pitches has been a focus," Rhymes said. "When we got him, he was using a slower, bigger slider and we ticked it up to 85 mph last year and now it's in the upper 80s. He's also throwing some good changeups and has improved his physical routine after spending all offseason here."
Camp standout: Gavin Stone
The second-to-last pick in the shortened 2020 Draft, Stone has transformed his stuff since signing for a well below-slot $97,500 in the fifth round out of Central Arkansas. His fastball has gone from sitting at 91-93 mph in college to parking at 94-96 mph to 98 with plenty of induced vertical break, and he scrapped a downer curveball and came up with a solid mid-80s slider.
But both of those pitches pale in comparison to his changeup, which he barely used in college but is now a plus-plus weapon in the mid-80s with devastating tumble. After leading the Minors in ERA (1.48) and ranking fifth in strikeout rate (12.4 per nine innings) as he zoomed from High-A to Triple-A in 2022, he hasn't allowed a run in four Cactus League outings while striking out 14 in 6 2/3 innings.
"Gavin's changeup is ridiculous, close to the top of the scale," Rhymes said. "His slider has come a long way and he developed new shape to it last year. He has a fully formed arsenal."
Breakout potential: River Ryan
A two-way star at NCAA Division II UNC Pembroke, Ryan drew more pro interest as a pitcher but the Padres granted his wish and allowed him to focus on hitting in his pro debut after taking him in the 11th round of the 2021 Draft. After coming to the Dodgers last spring, he posted a 2.45 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings while reaching High-A.
"River is a tremendous athlete and he has taken another step this spring," Rhymes said. "He pitched at 97-99 mph and got up to 101 yesterday with a very high quality fastball. He's messing with slider grips and he can dial it up to the upper 80s with more movement or throw a cutter up to 93. His curveball is very good and we're trying to encourage him to use it more, and he has pretty good feel for his changeup too."
Something to prove: Landon Knack
Knack led NCAA Division I in strikeouts (51 in 25 innings) and K/BB ratio (51/1) during the truncated 2020 college season, then set a bonus record for fifth-year seniors when he signed for $712,500 in the second round. The Dodgers expected the East Tennessee State right-hander to move quickly, but hamstring injuries have hampered him in each of his first two pro seasons and the quality of his pitches dipped in Double-A last year. He focused on his conditioning during the offseason and is back to mixing four effective offerings and pounding the strike zone this spring.
"This guy can roll out of bed and dot all his pitches," Rhymes said. "He's healthy now, had a great offseason, changed his nutrition program. He's such a historically great strike-thrower but he was a little off mechanically last year and his stuff went a little backwards. He's in a good place now to bounce back and be in the mix for depth for the big league club."