|Original Published Date: December 23, 2016|
The Dodgers got very close to making it to the World Series last season but a pitching staff that was besieged with injuries the entire season couldn’t get them past the Cubs. Additionally, the team is old and not to mention expensive. Andrew Freidman was hired to fix that and is well on his to meeting that objective. First, players are starting to run out their contracts but realistically, the big purge takes place after the 2017 season. Secondly and most importantly, they have built a great farm system that has produced NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and one of the better young major league pitchers, Julio Urias. It doesn’t stop with those two players as there is more coming, and some of it is coming quickly.
Jose De Leon should help the Dodgers in a significant way in 2017. In fact, if it weren’t for some shoulder inflammation that required a DL stint, he might not be on this list as he would have burned his rookie eligibility. Instead, he only started four games down the stretch for the team. Brock Stewart took a big step forward last year and helped the Dodgers in a meaningful way in 2016. I think he helps again in 2017.
The three best positional prospects are number one prospect Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, and Willie Calhoun. All three are nearly ready for the big leagues with Bellinger having a chance to be an impact player. He’s started to play some in the outfield to give the Dodgers more roster flexibility. He’ll be a better first baseman but Adrian Gonzalez is signed through 2018 so the he’ll have to improvise until then.
It doesn’t stop there as there are numerous quality players that are further away from the majors that are interesting in their own right. It’s a deep and very balanced system that should give the Dodgers a lot of flexibility over the next five to 10 years to make them one of the best teams in all of baseball.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 Player
Cody Bellinger has the swing – the smooth lefty swing that is just made for hitting. He showed that in 2015 when he came into national prominence when he hit 30 home runs in the California League. While we were impressed, we wanted to see it in Double-A to see if the power was real or enhanced by one of the best hitting leagues in the minors. He didn’t hit 30, but he hit 25, mostly in Double-A and proved to me that not only was he going to be a quality hitter, but would also hit with power.
After spending time in the Arizona Fall League to primarily work on his transition to the outfield, Bellinger should be ready for the majors sometime in 2017. After seeing him in the outfield, I definitely prefer him at first, but he wasn’t a butcher and his plus arm should make him more than passable.
Scouting Report: I got a hitting comp of Christian Yelich while watching Bellinger square up ball-after-ball in a two-game scouting trip last summer. In the fall, I noticed that he’s added more loft to his swing and believe the 25 to 30 home run pace he’s been on over the past two years can be replicated at the highest level.
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 cut down on his strikeouts last season and I believe he should be able to post a .270 to .280 batting average with a .350 to .360 on-base percentage. If you add it all up, he has an all-star ceiling and once you see the swing, I think you’ll believe as I do that he has a good chance at meeting that ceiling.
Fantasy Impact: Bellinger has a chance to be a Top 30 player in fantasy – a second round pick. The ceiling is a .280 hitter with 25 to 30 home runs. Plus, there’s more. While he’s far from a burner, he has good base running instincts and should be able to steal high single-digit stolen bases annually. If he has outfield and first base eligibility…oh my…
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Jose De Leon made a name for himself when he started the 2015 season by completely dominating the California League. In seven starts, he struck out 58 and walked seven. He continued to pitch well upon his promotion to the Texas league, striking out 12.3 per nine while walking just over three per nine.
To begin 2016, he started the season on the DL with shoulder inflammation that caused him to miss the first two months of the season. Once he got going, he pitched extremely well. In 16 starts for the Oklahoma City Dodgers in the PCL, he posted a 2.61 ERA, striking out nearly eight per nine while walking only 20 in 86.1 innings. His only blemish was the nine home runs he gave up; and that high rate continued upon his promotion to Los Angeles where he gave up five in 17 innings of work. The good news is that he doesn’t walk many, so the impact of those home runs was minimized.
If everyone comes back healthy in Los Angeles, De Leon will likely start the season in Triple-A. However, I expect him to start 15 to 20 games in the big leagues with a chance to be very effective in those starts.
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. In fact, his four-seamer averaged 95.88 MPH in his 17 innings in the majors last season. His out pitch is a hard slider that sits 86 to 88 MPH that gets plenty of swings and misses. He worked hard on his change-up during the year and now it’s nearly as good as his curve ball.
If you add it all up, that’s three quality pitches; all of which he can throw for strikes. The only concern is that he’s ditched his two-seamer and is now throwing his four-seamer exclusively. He does pitch up in the zone with it and while he has the velocity to throw it by batters, he’s going to be prone to giving up home runs. If he solves that, he moves from a number three starter to a number two starter.
Fantasy Impact: De Leon is a great story – from a 24th round pick to a Top 50 prospect. He’s going to be good with a strikeout rate nearing a batter an inning. The only concern is the home runs. However, pitching in Dodgers stadium and some of the other big ballparks in the NL West should help minimize the impact of that.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
Drafted in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, the Dodgers are pushing Alex Verdugo hard and he’s responded to each and every challenge. In 2016, they started him off in the Texas League at the age of 20, making him the fifth youngest player in the league. Coincidentally, his teammate Cody Bellinger was the second youngest player in the league. In 126 games, Verdugo hit .273 and slugged .407 with 13 home runs. He improved his ability to control the strike zone by posting a 1.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with an 86% contact rate.
While his tools are not nearly as loud as Bellinger, he has the ceiling of a number three outfielder with a chance for a high batting average and 20 home runs annually.
Scouting Report: Toolsy and athletic, Verdugo’s tools have already started to translate into in-game production. 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 and therefore I expected more than the two stolen bases he contributed this past year. Plus, he got caught six times.
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.
The only negative that I saw in scouting him during the AFL last fall was he didn’t always hustle. Granted, it was the end of a long season but I observed him not running out balls several times. I’ve never heard this before but I saw what I saw and have noted here.
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. He’s a grinder who will work counts and be a tough out. The ceiling is a .290 hitter with 20 home runs and a handful of stolen bases.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
I first saw Brock Stewart pitch in Rancho Cucamonga in 2015 and thought he was another nice arm in a system that was stocked with quality arms. He hit 95 several times with forgettable secondary pitches and a delivery that lacked the use of his lower half. I thought about including him in my Top 10 last year but decided against it. Of course, he made me look silly as he absolutely shoved it this past season, all the way to the major leagues.
How good was he? He covered three levels (High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A) starting 21 games and posting a 1.79 ERA striking out 129 while walking 19. You could make an argument that he was the best pitcher in the minor leagues. After a rude awakening in his debut in Colorado where he gave up nine earned runs in four innings, he pitched really effectively. In fact, if you eliminate that outing, he posted a 3.38 ERA, striking out over a batter an inning.
Scouting Report: Stewart’s stuff has taken a tick-up from when I saw him in 2015. In his 28 big league innings, his four-seam fastball averaged 94.3 MPH and while he didn’t throw his two-seamer that often, he also threw it with high velocity as well. However, I saw that back in 2015. What took a step-up this year was his change-up and slider, particularly his change-up. Both pitches can miss bats and with him mixing in his two-seamer, he shouldn’t be as homer-prone.
His delivery is also better as the Dodgers have him using his lower-half more. That in turn is improving not only his ability to repeat his delivery but also giving his fastball more late hop.
Fantasy Impact: I was late on the Stewart bandwagon but still managed to snag him in three of my four Dynasty Leagues. I hope you did as well. The upside is a Top 40 pitcher with a strikeout per inning and very good ratios. I also expect him to see considerable playing time in Los Angeles in 2017.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
Willie Calhoun went to Yavapai Junior College, an institution that is literally in the middle of nowhere. The Dodgers drafted him in the fourth round in 2015 on the back of him hitting 31 home runs while at Yavapai. In his first season, he played well batting .316 and hitting 11 home runs. The Dodgers liked what they saw and gave him a very aggressive assignment to the Texas League in 2016. He didn’t disappoint. In 132 games, he slashed .254/.318/.469 with 27 home runs which was second in the league behind Matt Chapman. That was pretty impressive for a 21-year-old who is 5-foot-8.
The Dodgers should continue to move him quickly and assuming he plays well in Oklahoma City, he should see Los Angeles sometime in 2017. The position is wide open after the Dodgers moved Howard Kendrick and Chase Utley, assuming he re-signs, has become a part-time player.
Scouting Report: There’s just a lot to like with Willie Calhoun. He has a short compact swing with extremely strong hands that helps him generate plus power. He controls the strike zone well which is proven by his excellent strikeout and walk rates. He doesn’t have much speed, so stolen bases will not be part of the equation.
He’s just an average defender with second base his likely permanent spot. He does have the offensive chops for left field and could spend some time there as well.
Fantasy Impact: Calhoun is really good and should be rostered in all Dynasty Leagues. His fantasy impact will be limited because of his lack of speed but he could hit 30 home runs annually and bat .270 with a lot of runs scored and RBIs.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP with extreme risk
The Dodgers spent $16 million dollars to sign Cuban Émigré Yadier Alvarez in 2015. They kept him in extended spring training to start the 2016 season but once he started pitching in games, showed the kind of stuff that made him a millionaire.
In 14 starts across the AZL and Low-A, he pitched to a 2.12 ERA, striking out 81 while walking 21. He also only gave up one home run. He does turn 21 in the spring, but I think the Dodgers will continue to play it safe with their investment and start him back in Low-A. While he was going through the process of defecting, he didn’t pitch much so remaining conservative is the right move.
Scouting Report: I’ve never seen Alvarez pitch but have personal reports that he hits triple-digits with regularity. His secondary pitches are reported to be very raw with his slider being the most advanced. He doesn’t throw many change-up yet and reports I received said it needed a lot of work.
At 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, Alvarez does have the body to pitch in the rotation but with bullpens becoming so valuable, you can make an argument for Alvarez moving to the pen. The Dodgers could simply have him work on his slider and then turn him lose with his two-pitches. If they did that, he could be in the majors by 2018, perhaps even next year.
Fantasy Impact: Alvarez has one of the best arms in the minor leagues and could sneak into the back of our Top 100. If he stays in the rotation, it could take at least three years of training before he arrives in the majors. If they move him to the pen, it could be next year or 2018.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
Yusinel Diaz made our one of our emerging prospect last year after he signed for an impressive $15 million dollar signing bonus as a Cuban Emigre. In fact, that was really the only reason he made our list as he signed after the list was done and written but with the Dodgers making that level of investment, it warranted at minimum a mention.
The Dodgers assigned Diaz to the California League where he played well but did not put up eye-popping stat lines. In 81 games, he hit .270 with seven home runs and seven stolen bases. He was also caught eight times showing that there is work to be done on his base stealing ability. He also missed a month of time in the second half due to a shoulder injury.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to catch Diaz in a June series in Rancho Cucamonga and left very impressed. First, he’s long and lean and very athletic. He moves extremely well, particularly in the outfield where he just glides to the ball. He has plus speed so I was surprised to see that he only stole seven bases. I did not get a chance to see him attempt a stolen base but I would assume some work on the base paths is in order.
Diaz hit-tool is pretty raw. His swing can get long but he does have an idea of balls and strikes. His 28 walks illustrates his ability to take a walk. His swing is more line drive oriented so I’m not sure how much power he will eventually have. I did talk with a scout at the game who had seen him multiple times and believes he will grow into the power. If that’s true, he could be a 20/20 performer at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: Diaz is yet another potential impact fantasy player in the Dodgers organization. He’s still pretty raw but the upside is a Top 30 outfielder with 20/20 production with a .260 to .270 batting average. There is a lot of risk in him achieving the ceiling as there could be a lot of swing and miss in his game and you’re betting on the power developing.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
Johan Mieses graduates from our emerging prospect list to a spot on the main list. The Dodgers assigned him to the California League where he led the league in home runs with 28. He only hit .247 and contributing to that was a strikeout rate of 29%. He also only posted a .299 BABIP but he’s a below average runner, so expecting a high BABIP is probably not reasonable.
Scouting Report: Mieses carrying tool is plus raw power that has already translated into in-game production. I don’t think he’ll be able to replicate his 28 home runs next year in Double-A, but I do believe he has 20 to 25 home run potential at the highest level. His swing can get long and he will expand the strike zone, so swing and miss will likely always be part of the equation. He’s also pretty aggressive, looking to drive pitches instead of working counts. Finally, he’s also a fringe average runner so stolen bases will not be a big part of the overall package.
Adding it all up, Mieses has a chance to provide plus power assuming his hit tool does not hold him back. That said, if the power does in fact play, the upside is Khris Davis, maybe not 42 home-run-Davis, but more Khris Davis, circa 2015 (27 home runs with a .247 batting average).
Fantasy Impact: While there’s a lot of question around Mieses hit tool, he could be a source of cheap power that you can get late in a draft. I would consider rostering him in Dynasty Leagues with 200 or more minor league players.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
Gavin Lux was not in the first round for many teams, but the Dodgers nonetheless took him with the 20th overall pick in last year’s draft. If this was the pre-Friedman crew, I would have been all-in, but in Tampa, some of the top picks that Friedman made, particularly later in his tenure just didn’t work. So did they overdraft Lux or did they get a steal?
Based on his professional debut, the jury is still out. On the positive side, he controlled the strike zone very well. In 54 games, he posted a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a reasonable 19% strikeout rate and a very good 10% walk rate. What didn’t show up was any power or speed. In those same 54 games, he did not leave the yard once and only stole one base.
Scouting Report: Those who really like Lux believe he has well rounded tools with a chance to be an above-average hitter with a little bit of pop and the ability to steal 20 bases annually. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, he has good size and enough bat speed that he should be able to hit for average future power. He’s definitely a plus runner, so I’m not sure why there weren’t many stolen bases.
Defensively, most people I spoke to believe he has the athleticism and arm to stay at short. If he grows out of the position, second base would be his ultimate destination.
Fantasy Impact: I don’t have a great read yet on Lux but have put his ceiling at a Top 20 shortstop. He doesn’t have any current power yet and while there’s speed, he didn’t show that off in rookie ball. I would target him in the third round of Dynasty League rookie drafts.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Since I provided so many players in the upper minors on this list, I decided to put a high upside pitcher in the number ten slot. Dustin May was selected in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft and was assigned to the AZL. The 6-foot-6 Texan had an impress debut, striking out 34 while walking only four in 30.1 innings. He also did not give up a home run. Given the success he had, don’t be surprised in the Dodgers start him in full season Low-A to begin the 2017 season.
Scouting Report: May is a very intriguing prospect. He’s 6-foot-6 and a listed 180 pounds – tall and thin is an understatement. With that kind of physicality, he should be able to add weight and eventually add a few ticks on his low-90s fastball. His best secondary pitch is a slurve that can already miss bats.
With long-levers, control will likely be an issue; although he didn’t have any problem in his debut. He does have some athleticism so over-time, the hope is that he will be able to consistently repeat his delivery.
Fantasy Impact: I’m not sure what type of fantasy contributor May could be but he is clearly on my watch list. If you hear of improved velocity and continued excellent control, I would buy-in.
2017 Emerging Prospect
The Dodgers gambled on taking Walker Buehler in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. He was supposed to go higher but had TJ Surgery in his draft year which caused him to drop. He had a celebrated career at Vanderbilt posting a career 2.87 ERA while striking out over a batter an inning. He’s already 22 but assuming he’s healthy, he could move quickly through the system with a chance to be solid mid-rotation starter.