These young arms are getting the most out of Dodgers' developmental strengths

March 23rd, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If you’re a pitcher with good stuff, or some projectability that needs help to be turned into performance, coming to the Dodgers might be a very good idea. And it doesn’t really matter how you get there. A late-round Draft pick, a minor acquisition in a trade? The Dodgers' pitching apparatus has a pretty good track record of helping maximize your talents.

That starts, of course, at the big league level, where the acquisition of Tyler Glasnow fits right into what they do down on the farm. The veteran is still seen as having untapped potential and he’ll front a five that includes homegrown guys with elite stuff like Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone, both from the shortened 2020 Draft, Miller a first-rounder and Stone coming in the fifth.

There’s another wave coming, all via trade, with just as much pure stuff when healthy. Dodgers fans will have to wait on Nick Frasso, the club’s No. 2 prospect, with shoulder surgery keeping him out for nearly all of 2024. He’s also a 2020 draftee, by the Blue Jays, who came over at the 2022 Trade Deadline. But he’s up to 100 mph and has two at least above-average secondary offerings.

River Ryan was taken in Round 11 of the 2021 Draft by the Padres and picked up by the Dodgers in March of 2022 in the Matt Beaty deal. A former two-way guy, his stuff has taken off since focusing on the mound and he now has a fastball that tops out at 99 mph with a ton of induced vertical break. His curve and slider are both plus and he’s even shown good feel for a changeup in the past.

Kyle Hurt, yet another 2020 draftee, came from the Marlins via trade in February 2021 and made his big league debut last year. Lefty Jackson Ferris is the latest acquisition, arriving from the Cubs in January’s Michael Busch trade. All of these young arms, with the exception of Miller, who graduated from prospect status in 2023, are in the top 10 of the Dodgers’ current Top 30 Prospects list.

“Some of it is just doing a really good job in identification, whether it’s amateur or pro scouts, our front office when we’re doing these smaller deals like some we did this offseason or bigger deals that we’ve done,” said Dodgers farm director Will Rhymes, now entering his ninth season with the Dodgers, his fifth in charge of player development. “And I think our guys in development have a really aspirational way of looking at things and if we see glimpses in the past of someone getting to higher velos, even if it’s just for a short period of time, or there are things in the throw that we like, we’re just looking for levers to pull with guys and things we can do to help them.”

Some of the improvements come naturally, some just by nature of things as straightforward as throwing, strength and conditioning programs. And when it’s needed, the instructors in the Dodgers organization can step in and help make mechanical changes that can help unlock unreached potential.

“There can be a huge benefit to just getting guys on a really good, consistent throwing program, something as simple as that,” Rhymes said, especially for guys coming out of the Draft. “And balancing that with what they’re doing in the weight room. Those are just levers we can pull. Then there are much more nuanced things that we can do with the delivery with each guy, so we’re looking for certain things we can target and then our development guys just go to work.”

Breakout candidate: Josue De Paula

We couldn’t only talk about pitching. De Paula isn’t exactly unknown as the No. 4 prospect in the organization. But the teenager -- he’ll turn 19 in late May -- isn’t on the elite prospect radar ... yet.

“He’ll be consensus Top 50 on every list by the end of the year, there’s no doubt,” Rhymes predicted.

De Paula has already impressed since signing in January of 2022 for just $397,500. After posting a .970 OPS in the Dominican Summer League after signing, he skipped over the complex league and more than held his own (.284/.396/.372) in 74 California League games. He knows what he’s doing at the plate, with an advanced approach, and adding strength is going to help him get to his power more, as will learning to drive balls in the air more.

It's already shown up this spring, when he hit a home run in a big league Spring Training game and homered off of Joe Kelly in a backfield game, then had two RBI singles in the Spring Breakout game.

“He gained like 20 pounds of muscle,” Rhymes said. “He’s really filling in his frame and is even more strong and explosive. We’re very excited about the kind of physical gains that he made.

“It’s an elite hit tool, an elite swing. The power is going to come as a function of just how good of a natural hitter he is. The physical gains, his zone control, contact skills at his age are so far beyond [his years]. Mostly, we try to get out of his way.”

Something to prove: Diego Cartaya

Just 22 years old for nearly all of the 2024 season, Cartaya looked poised to become perhaps the best catching prospect in baseball after a very strong 2022 season that earned him Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year honors. But the move to Double-A was a stumbling block. He chased too much and was fooled by soft stuff as he tried to pull everything for power. It resulted in a .189/.278/.379 line and a drop out of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. Now the club’s No. 9 prospect, Cartaya’s toughest critic tends to be ... Cartaya.

“He has such high expectations for himself,” said Rhymes, who pointed out he still managed to hit 19 homers in his rough year with Tulsa. “I think he would tell you that he was a little disappointed last year.

“But he was almost three years young for the level. Very few people just skate through the Minor Leagues with zero challenges, and he faced the challenge. He’s working really hard and he is laser-focused on having a great year this year.”

What’s new: Jackson Ferris

We’ll squeeze in one last pitching note. Ferris is new to the organization and he’s already working with Dodgers staff on a new offering. He has the plus fastball and plus downer curve. He added a sweeping slider with the Cubs and his changeup has the chance to be good. Now he’s tinkering with a harder cutter-like slider that could really round out his arsenal.

“It’s in the infancy stage, but it’s something to watch and monitor because he has pretty good other pitches,” Rhymes said. “We think something kind of in the middle velocity-wise will be good for him.”