|Original Published Date: December 28, 2018|
The Dodgers have been a factory recently in developing players. They’ve been so good that in 2016 and 2017 they delivered back-to-back winners in the Rookie of the Year voting. They almost pulled off a three-peat when Walker Buehler finished third in the voting last season. While I don’t see a ROY contender for 2019 in their farm system, it’s still very strong at all levels.
Alex Verdugo continues to be a divisive player as many see him an impact performer at the highest level while others just don’t believe the power projections. I happen to think there is 20-home run pop in the bat that will accompany a plus hit-tool. Therefore, I’m firmly on the “Impact” side of the equation. Dustin May is the top pitcher in the organization and continues to fly below the radar. He’s a big kid who can run his fastball up to the mid-’90s and could see the Majors as soon as 2019. If you’re looking for young kids who have huge upsides but are a lifetime away, check out Diego Cartaya, Ronny Brito, and Miguel Vargas. I think you’ll like what you read.
1. Alex Verdugo (OF)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
The ceiling of Alex Verdugo has been much discussed over the past two years. Most people agree that he can hit. In 512 games in the minor leagues, he’s hit .309 with a .367 on-base percentage. Where people differ, is on his power, particularly how much over-the-fence power he will have.
While he’s posted a .444 lifetime SLG, it’s been mostly doubles-power as he’s only hit 41 home runs with a high of 13 in 2016 in Double-A. I continue to believe that there is more power left to emerge. He’s got excellent bat speed and as he matures and fills-out, those doubles should turn into home runs. Plus, and let’s face it, many players alter their swings when they get to the major leagues. If he can some leverage, that should also allow him to add more power. Now, I don’t expect a 30 home run bat, but I can see 20 to 22 home runs with plenty of runs scored and RBIs as he should hit in a prime spot in the lineup. In fact, he could be used in the leadoff spot which would depress his RBIs but enhance his runs scored opportunity.
The Dodgers have given him major league looks in both 2017 and 2018 but he has yet to impress enough to get full-time at-bats. While he’ll enter the year still at only 22-years-old, I do believe he’ll get a longer look in 2019. The ceiling for me is a Top 40 outfielder with a .290/.380 average with 20 plus home runs and high single-digit stolen bases.
2. Dustin May (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Dustin May took a major step-forward in 2018 after dominating the California League. In 17 starts, he pitched to a 3.29 ERA striking almost a batter an inning while showing plus control (1.56 BB/9). The Dodgers rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A where he pitched very well. If you discard his debut where he gave up five earned runs in 3.2 innings, he pitched to a sub 3.00 ERA with over eight strikeouts per nine.
May was drafted in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft as a projectable right-hander. He now sits 93 to 95 MPH and can touch higher. He complements this fastball with an above-average slider while also showing a feel for a change-up. The best part is he can throw each for strikes and given his 6-foot-6 frame, that is quite impressive.
Let’s summarize what we have. A tall, athletic, projectable kid that can run his fastball up to the mid-90s, throws strikes and dominated one of the more difficult leagues in all of baseball. Assuming he stays healthy, the Dodgers have something here. If May is somehow sitting on your waiver wire, it’s time to move on him as he’ll make our Top 100 list and higher than what you might think.
3. Keibert Ruiz (C)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 C
It’s easy to see a .254 batting average and question whether the hype surrounding Keibert Ruiz is warranted. Then you realize that he just turned 20, is in Double-A and is a catcher. Remember, catchers have to spend considerable time working on their defensive skills and is one of the reasons they are slow to develop offensively. But Ruiz is doing just fine. He’s controlling the strike zone very well and showing good over-the-fence pop. The upside continues to be a Top five fantasy catcher with a chance to hit 15 to 20 home runs and bat .280.
After a down July, he was back to hitting the ball to all fields with a .357 batting average in August with more walks than strikeouts. Again, if you are an owner, don’t panic, just be patient as goodness should arrive next season or in 2020.
4. Gavin Lux (SS)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
After a disappointing 2017 season where Gavin Lux hit .244/.331 in the Midwest League, things got a lot easier for the Kenosha Wisconsin native in the California League. While that happens a lot, he didn’t miss a beat upon his promotion to Double-A in July. In fact, the stats were nearly identical. He hit .324 at both levels, nearly a .400 OBP, and a .500 SLG. He also added 15 home runs and 13 stolen bases across both levels.
At a minimum, Lux is a full-time regular but has a chance to be much more. He has already demonstrated an elite hit-tool with solid power and a little speed. In fact, he has a tool-set very similar to that of Alex Verdugo. Both can really hit and both have a swing that is more geared to doubles-power than over-the-fence power. As I’ve stated with Verdugo, I believe the power will develop. So too, do I believe the power will develop with Lux.
5. Will Smith (C/3B)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 C or Top 20 3B
Will Smith had a nice step-up season in 2018 where he showed increase power while also extending his defensive versatility by playing some third base. He was somewhat forced to find another position once Keibert Ruiz was promoted to Double-A and from all accounts, was adequate at the position. As a catcher, he showed enough arm strength to play the position but also enough athleticism to field the position. That said, the Dodgers could extract more value if they kept him behind the plate. However, Ruiz is the superior defender, so watching some videos of Brooks Robinson might be in his best interest.
As fantasy owners, we care about his offensive upside. While I don’t see a star, I do think there is 20 home run power but it could come with a .250 batting average. He does walk a lot, so if you play in an OBP league, he might be neutral or even a plus in that category.
6. Tony Gonsolin (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Drafted in the ninth round of the 2016 MLB Draft as a reliever, the Dodgers moved Tony Gonsolin to the starting rotation and he not only handled it well but thrived. In 26 starts across High and Double-A, he posted a 2.60 ERA striking out nearly 11 per nine while walking 3.0 per nine. He also kept the home runs he allowed in check by giving up 0.5 per nine.
As a former positional player, Gonsolin exhibits a high degree of athleticism on the mound with the ability to repeat his delivery. While his fastball hit the upper 90s as a reliever, as a starter he works more 93 to 94, touching 96. He has a variety of secondary pitches with his slider being his best swing and miss offering.
I added Gonsolin in Dynasty Leagues throughout the season after seeing him in Rancho Cucamonga earlier in the year. While I like May a little more, Gonsolin has come on quickly after moving to the rotation and present a nice under-the-radar option for owners looking to add a pitcher who could contribute to your fantasy team in 2020, or even late next season.
7. Mitch White (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Mitch White was one of the early surprise players two years ago after an impressive Spring Training. His outstanding performance continued early in the 2017 season where he dominated the challenging California League. However, injuries hit and he has struggled to make it back to the level he showed in early 2017. He started the 2018 season once again on the disabled list, not seeing game action until May. When he did pitch, he wasn’t very good. At the end of April, he was sporting a 9.69 ERA with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.
As the season progressed, White started to round into form and by August, he was pitching to a 2.08 ERA with a 25:3 strikeout-to-walk rate. The stuff is still good and assuming his control issues are behind him, White has the ceiling of a number three or perhaps number two pitcher. He has premium stuff with a delivery he can repeat. If an owner in your league has gotten frustrated and released White, which is totally understandable, adding him to your roster in a dynasty league is a prudent move.
8. Dennis Santana (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Reliever
Dennis Santana got off to a blistering start to begin the 2018 season that ended in a June 1st start in Colorado. While the start didn’t go well (5 earned runs in 3.2 innings), he also developed shoulder inflammation and spent the rest of the season on the Disabled List. Fortunately, he started rehabbing in August and will reportedly have no limitation as he enters Spring Training.
Santana has a solid arsenal with a fastball that touches the mid-90s and a hard slider that is his best pitch. His delivery though leaves a lot to be desired. It’s far from smooth, almost mechanical with a release point that isn’t consistent. While he has the arsenal of a starter, there is definite reliever risk in his delivery.
9. Diego Cartaya (C)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
The Dodgers spent $2.5 million dollars to sign Venezuelan catcher Diego Cartaya last July. Two things: one…that’s a lot of money in the International market and two, the Dodgers know what they are doing and haven’t made a ton of mistakes in player acquisitions recently. In other words, fantasy owners need to pay attention to Diego Cartaya.
I’ve never seen him play but have spoken to others who have that were glowing in their praise. Strong arm, soft hands, mature approach at the plate with good bat speed. Those skills are clearly a lot to work with and why I have put his ceiling at a Top 15 catcher. But remember, he’s a 16-year-old catcher and could take five or more years to develop. Bid accordingly in Dynasty League re-draft leagues.
10. Yadier Alvarez (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP or Closer, but with extreme risk
It was not a good year for Yadier Alvarez. He started the year with a groin injury and never got going. In fact, he completely lost the plate and in 48 innings, walked 43. Could his groin have caused him issues throughout the year, was there another injury or is there something else going on? The fastball was still sitting in the mid-90s and when he was moved to the bullpen, the fastball played up even better.
So, I’m not sure what to think. I never saw him as a top of the rotation talent, but I think the stuff will play as a mid-rotation starter. He could also be an effective bullpen arm and if the Dodgers decide to go that route, he could see Los Angeles sometime in 2019; provided he can find the plate. For Dynasty League owners, which I’m one, I think you must hold on and see if he can right the ship.
11. D.J. Peters (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Likely an extra bat but could be a Top 45 OF if he cuts down on the strikeouts
If you’ve read my prospects review, you know that I struggle with predicting the ceiling of players like DJ Peters. The evaluation is easy: Double-plus power, perhaps 80-grade power, long swing with significant strikeouts and an ability to take a walk. He’s not a classic three-true-outcome player as he doesn’t walk enough but he hit 29 home runs and struck out 34.3% of the time last season in Double-A. That resulted in a .236 batting average with a .320 OBP. So, let’s call it 2.5 true-outcome player.
For me, I think there is too much swing and miss in his game to warrant full-time at-bats at the highest level. You see, if you strike out 34% of the time in Double-A, what will happen when you hit the Major League where pitchers are consistently good? I don’t see it, but if he can tone down the strikeouts, he could be a 40-home run guy, which makes him very valuable even if he only hits .230-.240.
12. Michael Grove (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Despite having Tommy John reconstructive surgery during his draft year, the Dodgers still drafted Michael Grove in the second round and signed him to a $1.22 million dollar signing bonus. Before the injury, he had good stuff with a plus fastball/slider combination. He has good size and in college was able to throw strikes. It’s a gamble, but it worked with Walker Buehler so perhaps the Dodgers can catch lightning in a bottle again. Just to be clear…Grove doesn’t have the upside, Walker Buehler…not close!
13. Edwin Rios (3B)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
Edwin Rios season didn’t get started until May as he was held back with some nagging injuries. Once he got started, the stat line looked pretty good in Triple-A. He hit .304 with a .355 OBP and a .482 SLG. However, if you dig deeper, he also struck out 30% of the time with his batting average propped up by an unsustainable .433 BABIP. In digging even deeper, he’s always maintained a high BABIP which can happen and be legitimate (not a .433 but a .330) but High-BABIP guys usually have speed and Rios does not. All of this brings into question the ceiling of Rios.
I think there are red flags. He’s never shown a great deal of plate patience and I’m just not buying his lifetime .371 BABIP. I think he’s a .230/.280 hitter with no speed and capable of hitting 20 plus home runs. That just doesn’t excite me as Dynasty League owner.
14. Ronny Brito (SS)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS with extreme risk
The Dodgers signed Ronny Brito for a $2 million dollars signing bonus back in 2015 as a toolsy defensive-first shortstop that they hope they could teach to hit. After three years and Brito is still very much a work-in-progress.
In 244 plate appearances in Ogden of the Pioneer League, he struck out 30% of the time but did hit 11 home runs while walking 9% of the time. While he has excellent bat speed, he still needs to recognize strikes better, which I know sounds really bad, but it’s not terribly unusual for Latin players his age. He’s too risky to own at the moment but he should be monitored in all Dynasty League formats.
15. Miguel Vargas (3B/2B)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B with extreme risk
Miguel Vargas is a very intriguing player. He was one of better young players moving through the amateur ranks in Cuba when he decided to defect two years ago. Signed by the Dodgers, he hit the ground running last season hitting .330/.404 with two home runs and seven stolen bases. He also showed an above-average hit tool by walking nearly as much as he struck out. He did struggle a little once he was promoted to Low-A, but it was only in 23 games. Vargas has good bat speed and should be able to develop average power.
Dynasty League owners should write Vargas name down on their wish list and monitor his stat line in 2019.