Los Angeles Dodgers

Original Published Date: December 18, 2015

The Dodgers have the largest payroll in baseball…by far…and after several years of great drafting and the signing of seemingly every Cuban émigré over the past year, they have one of the best farm systems as well.  New field manager Dave Roberts will have a lot to work with as he enters the 2016 season.

Corey Seager tops the list and is not only the number one prospect for the Dodgers but is also the number one prospect in the minors.  He’s ready for the majors and will be the early NL Rookie of the year favorite.  Right after him is Julio Urias, one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues.  If it were not for cosmetic eye surgery last summer, the 19-year-old lefty could have made his debut in Los Angeles.  If Seager doesn’t win the ROY, Urias just might.

Jose De Leon and Grant Holmes are coming along quickly with De Leon having a chance to see Los Angeles next year as well.  While he doesn’t have the stuff of Urias, he has a solid mid-rotation arsenal and could fill innings next year.  Jose Peraza is also nearly ready and saw several games in the majors in 2015.  Why the Braves gave up on him is a mystery, but the Dodgers have something in the dynamic middle infielder.

As I write this introduction in mid-November, the Dodgers seem to be signing every Cuban player available.  Yusinal Diaz and Yadier Alvarez made our list with Alvarez ranked and Diaz thrown in the “catch-all” Emerging Prospect category.  Both cost the Dodgers a ton of money as did several other players including Omar Estevez.  I guess they are happy with what they got with Yasiel Puig and have decided to go all-in with the Cuban strategy.

1. Corey Seager (SS)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 175 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 AA,AAA 501 81 18 76 4 .293 .344 84.8 6.7 .312

I contended at the beginning of the year that Corey Seager would follow the Joc Pederson development process; spend an entire season in Triple-A and then a September call up.  After the poor performance of Jimmy Rollins combined with Seager’s excellent play across Double and Triple-A, I assumed the plan would go out-the-door and Seager would be up in the summer.  I thought wrong and Seager was finally promoted on September 3rd; just as I had assumed at the start of the year.

Regardless of the process, Seager played great in his callup.  In 27 games in September and October he hit .337/.425/.561 with four home runs and 19 strikeouts and 14 walks.  In fact, he played so well that the Dodgers started him in the playoffs with Don Mattingly saying…”We’re going with the kid”.  “That’s the lineup we feel is best”.

With Major League teams promoting young players so aggressively, it was surprising to see the Dodgers stick so long with Rollins when Seager was clearly the better option.  With some exceptions, the days of playing veteran players over kids appear to be over.  Is it the right thing for baseball?  I don’t know but I do love a meritocracy and in this case, Corey Seager deserved to play ahead of Rollins, probably back in May.

Scouting Report:  I’ve seen Seager play several times in the minor leagues and in each game, he looked over matched.  I saw him in his second game in High-A in 2013 and he was totally overmatched.  I saw him again last year in the AFL and he again looked overmatched, or perhaps just tired.  That said, you could see the talent.  He showed hard contact to all fields with a mature approach at the plate.  In the California League, he was clearly fooled by breaking stuff but once he got his feet under him, that was eliminated.

His power has yet to truly emerge.  While his swing is not a classic power-hitting stroke, he has enough bat speed, strength and backspin that he should hit minimally 20 home runs annually.  He should match that with a .280 batting average and a .340 plus on-base percentage.  It’s a classic number three-hole profile or if you believe that your best hitter should bat second, then…second.

Defensively, Seager will stay at shortstop for the next several years, with a move to third likely as he continues to fill out.  If he were a plus defender, I would be more bullish with him staying at short, but while he’s adequate there, eventually there will be better options.

Fantasy Impact:  Could Seager pull a Carlos Correa next year?  I don’t think so, but he could be an 80% version of him and that should be good enough to put him squarely in the Rookie of the Year discussion.  He’s going to be an impact fantasy shortstop with a .280 plus batting average, 20 to 25 home runs with plenty of RBIs and run scored.  He’s a below-average runner so speed will not be part of his game.  If you’re thinking Troy Tulowitzki…well, I’m starting to think that way myself.

2. Julio Urias (LHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #1 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA,AAA 80.1 73 34 5 2.46 9.86 3,81 1.18

The only thing that was going to slow Julio Urias quick ascension to the majors was an injury.  While technically not an injury, Urias was sidelined for two months while under-going eye surgery to remove a peri orbital benign mass.  If you saw photos of Urias before the surgery, you could visibly see the mass.  His left eye was nearly fully closed.

The surgery was a success and two months later, Urias was pitching again. There was even speculation that he could join the Dodgers in the bullpen for the stretch run, but whether it was two poor starts in Triple-A to end the season or the Dodgers just not wanting to push their teenage Phenom, his September fifth outing against Memphis was his last of the season.

Ignoring his two very poor starts in the PCL, Urias pitched extremely well in his 11 starts in Double-A.  In 68.1 innings, he posted a 2.77 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 15 walks.  If that isn’t impressive, he did it as an 18-year-old; the youngest pitcher in the league by almost a full year.  While he didn’t make his big league debut in 2015, it’s going to happen in 2016 with a mid-season call up likely.

Scouting Report:  Urias has a three pitch arsenal that consists of a fastball that sits 92 to 95 MPH (T96). While he’s listed at 5-foot-11, his delivery allows him to get on top of his pitches and keep his fastball down in the zone. The result was a 1.73 ground-ball-to-fly ball ratio in Double-A. He complements his fastball with a plus curve ball that ranges from 75 MPH to 81 MPH. The slower version is more of a classic curve ball with excellent shape and depth and the harder is more of a slurvy tighter curve. He can throw all of it for strikes. His change-up is a little behind the other two pitches, but I would grade it out as an average pitch.

Urias is a battler on the mound. He challenges hitters and throws strikes. He does work slow, and things really bog down when runners get on base. He’s also slow to plate from the stretch (1.44 to 1.58). The pick-off move is also impressive.

The arsenal is plus, the control is there, the command is inconsistent but should develop. Is there any concerns? There’s one and it’s his delivery. It’s funky but inconsistent. His landing is stiff and he almost throws his trailing leg over to complete the delivery. It’s just not natural.   What’s more concerning is sometimes he doesn’t follow through with his trailing leg and all the kinetic energy lands in his shoulder. It’s very apparent when looking at him from the first base side. It’s clearly something in which the Dodgers need to work on with Urias but remember, he’s still a teenager, so you have to expect some fine tuning.

Fantasy Impact:  Julio Urias is one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  While I have the power-trio of Reyes, Glasnow and Giolito ahead of him, it’s not by much.  He has great stuff with excellent control that will only get better.  While I do have concerns over his size and delivery, the overall package is enough for me to put a strong number two ceiling.

3. Jose De Leon (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+,AA 114.1 87 38 12 2.91 12.83 2.99 1.08

Jose De Leon didn’t even make our Dodgers Top 10 list last year but after seeing him in an outing in early May, that quickly changed.  The Dodgers worked hard with De Leon after drafting him in the 24th round in 2013, first getting him into shape and then working on his mechanics.  The results were indeed impressive.

He dominated the California League, striking out nearly 14 per nine and walking less than two.   As a college pitcher, you would expect him to be competitive at the level, but the Cali League can challenge, even humble pitchers with better pedigrees.  Not so with De Leon and the Dodgers recognized it and promoted him to Double-A shortly after I saw him.

While Double-A was clearly more challenging, De Leon pitched well.  In 16 starts, he posted a 3.64 ERA while striking out 12.33 batters per nine.  The only red flag was the 11 home runs he gave up.  When you combine that with a 1.18 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio, it could be a problem for De Leon going forward, particularly as he hits the PCL next year.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-2, De Leon is not an imposing presence on the mound, but he pitches very aggressively and is not afraid to pound batters inside with a fastball that he can run up to 96 MPH.  When I saw him in May, his fastball sat 92 to 94 MPH.  His two-seamer had hard sinking downward movement but his four seamer lacked bite and could have been the reason he gave up so many home runs after this promotion to the Texas League.

His out pitch is a hard slurve that sits 81 to 82 MPH, showing more slider than curve.  While in general, I’m not a fan of the hybrid slurvy pitch, it’s a good offering for De Leon and gets plenty of swings and misses.  He worked hard on his change-up during the year and first-hand reports I have on those who saw him in Double-A said he showed a real feel for it with good fading action.

The Dodgers are moving quickly with De Leon and he has responded to each challenge.  The PCL will likely pose some difficult challenges but in the end, it should actually help in his development.  The PCL forces you to command your arsenal or wind up with a 5.00-plus ERA.

Fantasy Impact:  De Leon is a great story – from a 24th round pick to a Top 100 prospect.   While he’s nearly ready, the home runs could prove to be a stumbling block for him.  If I were the Dodgers, I would have him rely more on his two-seamer.  It’s got nice movement and should induce a ton of ground balls.  The ceiling is a solid number three starter with a chance to be more.

4. Grant Holmes (RHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2018
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A 103.1 86 36 6 4.70 10.19 3.14 1.35

Taken in the first round (Pick 22) of the 2014 first year player draft, Grant Holmes had a solid, but inconsistent full season debut in the Midwest League.  At times, he looked unhittable and dominated lineups but in more than a few occasions, walked too many players and got into trouble.  The overall stat line was a 3.14 ERA with 10.2 strikeouts per nine but he also walked 4.7 per nine.

Scouting Report:  Holmes has a big-time fastball that sits 94 to 95 MPH and can touch higher in shorter burst.  He complements his fastball with a hard curve that has good depth and shape.  The change-up needs work but over time, it profiles to be at least an average pitch.  He just needs to learn to throw strikes.

Holmes played the entire year as a 19-year-old and the fact that he not only held his own, but punched out over 10 per nine is impressive.  The delivery is the problem.  The arm slot doesn’t stay consistent and he just doesn’t finish his pitches off well.  However, he’s got enough athleticism that through just more pitching, I think the control will grade out to at least average.

Fantasy Impact:  Holmes doesn’t get a lot of love in Dynasty Leagues and I’m not sure why.  He has great stuff and should be able to strikeout a batter an inning and while his control is currently poor, it will improve.  The ceiling is a solid number three starter.

5. Jose Peraza (SS/2B)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 AAA 481 63 4 42 33 .293 .316 90.6 3.3 .312

Getting Jose Peraza in the trade for Hector Olivera helped reduce the sting of having to give the Braves $15 million to cover part of Olivera’s signing bonus.  When you have the ability to pay money like the Dodgers can, you can essentially buy prospects.

Peraza had a very good season in Triple-A, batting .293 with 33 stolen bases in 40 attempts. The Dodgers were impressed enough to give him 25 plate appearances in the majors at the end of the season where he got four hits and stole three bags.  With Howard Kendrick a free agent and Chase Utley likely moving on, would the Dodgers give Peraza the full-time second base job?  While conventional wisdom would say no, young controllable players are very important to an organization, even for the wealthy of the wealthiest.

Scouting Report:  Peraza’s carrying tool is double-plus speed that he uses extremely well on the base paths.  In 461 games in his minor league career, Peraza has stolen 210 bases in 259 attempts for an 81% success rate.  His swing is built for contact with a short compact stoke that lacks punch.  It’s a classic slappy approach – hit the ball, preferably on the ground, and use your speed to get on base.  It’s worked for Dee Gordon, who has a similar approach.

Peraza also has an extremely aggressive approach and relies on a high BABIP to get on base.  Speed and contact are essential for this approach to work and while history in general has not been kind to the profile, it has also worked for many players – see Dee Gordon.  By now, you should be able to see the “comp”, but with one exception.  I still believe Peraza can play short at the highest level.  While it’s doubtful that the Dodgers would move Seager off the position, Peraza does provide an intriguing option.

Fantasy Impact:  The downside risk for fantasy owners is that Peraza becomes a utility player, particularly if he stays in the Dodgers organization.  I believe this is a real possibility and while the 50 stolen bases would look great on your fantasy team, it might not happen.  If you own him, you need to hold onto him to see how it plays out, but in a new league, I would probably let his playing time be another owner’s problem.

6. Alex Verdugo (OF)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
2015 A,A+ 512 70 9 61 14 .311 .340 87.3 3.9 .341

Alex Verdugo built off a nice inaugural professional season to hit .311/.336/.441 across Low and High-A in 2015. While he’s an aggressive hitter, only walking 21 times in 124 games, he’s got elite hand-eye coordination and just knows how to make contact. That said, balancing out his natural aggressiveness with some plate patience will ultimately help him in the long run.  But for now, he’s doing just fine.

Scouting Report:  Toolsy and athletic, Verdugo has a ton of tools that are already starting to show during game play.  He has good bat speed with a short compact swing that is more geared for contact than over-the-fence power.  However, he has enough physicality to project at least future average power.  He’s an average runner from home to first but the speed plays up on the base paths as he gets great jumps.  His 14 stolen bases out of 19 attempts should be a good baseline going forward.

His best tool is his arm and that should allow him to play any outfield position.  A pitcher in high school with a plus fastball, many thought he would be drafted as a pitcher.  However, he wanted to play the outfield and so far it’s worked out well.  But the plus arm still exists and that should allow him to be a real defensive asset in the outfield.

Fantasy Impact:  There’s a lot to like with Verdugo from a scouting perspective and the fact that the talent has already translated into on the field performance is encouraging.  The profile reminds me a lot of Brett Phillips – a scrappy player with a ton of tools across the board but none that plays double-plus (except the arm).  The ceiling is a .290 hitter with 15 to 20 home runs and 15 to 20 stolen bases.

7. Walker Buehler (RHP)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 DNP

Walker Buehler had the stuff to be a Top 5 pitcher in the 2015 first year player draft, but concerns about a barking elbow dropped him to the Dodgers at pick 24.  The Dodgers took the gamble and paid him a below slot bonus of $1.77 million dollars.  Buehler had Tommy John Reconstructive surgery shortly after he signed.

While it’s always dicey to draft a player that needs elbow surgery, it was a reasonable gamble given the current depth in the Dodgers system and where they were drafting.  The 2015 just wasn’t very deep and based on the price they paid and the potential upside, it was a reasonable gamble.

Scouting Report:  Buehler will likely miss the entire 2016 season recovering from TJS.  There’s a chance that he will pitch in the Fall Instructional League but that will depend on how the recovery progresses.  Assuming he comes back healthy, he has a solid four-pitch miss with both a two and four-seam fastball that sit 91 to 95 MPH.  His best off speed pitch is his slider but he also throws a serviceable curve and a change-up that shows a lot of promise.

At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, Buehler doesn’t have the prototypical size you want in a front-line starter.  While it’s a concern, he has very good mechanics, excellent stuff and the bulldog mentality that you like to see on the mound.  Given everything he’s gone through, we will put his ceiling at a strong number three starter with a chance to be more.  But first, let him get healthy.

Fantasy Impact:  While Buehler has a chance to be a top 40 pitcher in baseball, you need to downshift on him in a Dynasty re-draft.  He won’t pitch in 2016 and will likely be limited to 100 innings in 2017.  That should put his arrival in the big leagues at best in 2018 with 2019 more likely.  Given his current physical status, you should only draft him in deeper mixed leagues with 300 or fewer minor league rostered players.

8. Cody Bellinger (1B)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
2015 A+ 478 97 30 103 10 .264 .336 68.6 9.6 .314

The Dodgers really liked Cody Bellinger and drafted the 6-foot-4, 180 pound teenager in the fourth round of the 2013 first year player draft, paying him an over slot bonus of $700,000.  He started to show his promise in 2014 but really broke out this year, posting an .874 OPS in the California League with 30 home runs.  While the Cali League is a hitters league, Rancho Cucamongo plays fairly neutral and well, 30 home runs is 30 home runs and doing it as a teenager is quite impressive.

Scouting Report:  I got a hitting comp of Christian Yelich while watching Bellinger square up ball-after-ball in a two-game scouting trip this summer.  The lefty stroke is very smooth and while I don’t think Bellinger will be a 30 home run player in the major leagues, I do believe he’ll hit for a high average with 20 to 25 home runs.

As with most lefty hitters, his power is down and inside.  When he was pitched to the outside, he simply went the opposite way.  He did rack up 150 strikeouts which I do believe will be his career high watermark.  While the swing does have some length, he has enough bat control that a mid 70’s or higher contact rate is likely.  He also has a good understanding of the strike zone as his 9.6% walk rate shows.

Fantasy Impact:  Bellinger will not get a lot of love in off season lists because his primary position is first base.  Candidly, he’s too athletic with good speed and a hose for an arm to have him play exclusively at first base.  Offensively, he could hit .270 with 20 to 25 home runs while stealing high single-digit stolen bases.  Everyone is always looking for under-the-radar prospect…well, here you go.

9. Yadier Alvarez (RHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 DNP

Rich teams can take gambles and call it want you want, the Dodgers took a huge gamble on 19-year-old Yadier Alvarez.  Amongst the best of the best young Cuban players, Alvarez name was never mentioned and then as an 18-year-old, he came out firing 95 to 97 miles an hour and wound up with a $16 million dollar signing bonus.

It’s a reminder of how the amateur draft truly restricts signing bonuses.  If a relatively unproven and un-scouted Latin player can command a $16 million dollar signing bonus because he has a fast arm and can throw hard, what would Gerrit Cole or Steven Strasburg have commanded in a totally free market?  Then, because budgets are not unlimited, what would second and third round level players command?  It makes you really ponder both the good and bad of the current draft system.

Scouting Report:  I’ve never seen Alvarez and have only talked to one person who was at the showcase last February where he opened eyes.  In a nutshell, he’s an arm strength kid who throws as hard as he can but has 20-grade control.  His secondary pitches are very raw but he does show the ability to spin a curve.  At 20-years-old, he’s clearly a project that could easily take four to five years of development before he even smells the major leagues.  If the Dodgers move him to the bullpen, he could get there faster.

Fantasy Impact:  Alvarez is the definition of a lottery pick.  If you could get him later in a Dynasty re-draft leagues (round 4 or 5), I would take the gamble.  However, I would only take the gamble if my league rosters 350 or fewer minor leaguers.  While his market value is clearly high and to a certain extent, Dynasty League owners need to rely on major league teams to help prioritize player, at some point, certain players are simply guesses and gambles.  Yadier Alvarez falls into that category for me.

10. Scott Schebler (OF)

2016 Age: 25 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 225 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 AAA 432 57 13 50 15 .241 .322 78.5 8.2 .278

After hitting 55 home runs after the past two years, the Dodgers promoted Scott Schebler to Triple-A to begin the 2015 season.  With the PCL being a hitters league with some of the best power hitting ballparks, I fully expected the power output to continue.  It didn’t.  In 121 games, Schebler only clubbed 13 with a disappointing .732 OPS.  He did hit three home runs in his September call up to the majors, so perhaps Oklahoma City, which plays more neutral was the culprit.

Scouting Report:  I continue to believe that Schebler doesn’t get enough love in prospect circles.  He has plus power that is generated more from his physicality than pure bat speed but he does control the strik zone better than you would think.  In 432 at-bats, he posted a 19.2% strikeout rate and an 8.2% walk rate.  In other words, he’s not a .220 batting average player that can hit 25 home runs.  Instead, I think he’ll project as a .250 to .260 hitter with a .350 on-base percentage, 20 home runs and high single digit stolen bases.  For me, that’s an everyday regular, but likely not for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Fantasy Impact:  I do believe that Schebler will be moved during the off season or sometime next year and that could open up playing time.  If it does, the ceiling is an everyday regular with 20 to 25 home runs and high single digit stolen base with a .260 batting.  Khris Davis of the Milwaukee Brewers is a good fantasy baseball comp for Schebler.  While not a star, Davis is a solid $15 player and a nice number three or four outfielder on your fantasy team.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Yusinal Diaz (OF)

After finishing the research for this list, the Dodgers signed Cuban émigré Yusinal Diaz to a $15 million dollar signing bonus which triggered a $15 million dollar penalty.  The investment alone likely makes Diaz a top 100 prospect in the game but since I’ve never seen him play and have only sketchy reports from those who have, I’ve punted and placed him in the Emerging Prospect category.  While young, he showed impressive skills in his inaugural season in the Serie National, batting .348 across 65 games.

The only feedback I received on Diaz was cryptic.  One source told me: great athlete, plus speed, no power, with a swing that needs work.  Unfortunately, that’s all I have.  Fantasy owners will want to jump all over him and while I get the rationale, hopefully more will come out about him before your draft begins.

Johan Mieses (OF)

The Dodgers signed toolsy outfielder Johan Mieses in 2013 and after some visa issues limited him to two years in the DSL, he started to show his talents in 2015.  Across Low and High-A, he posted a .748 OPS with 11 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 96 games.  He’s still very raw but has the power/speed combination that with time, could develop into a regular player at the major league level.

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