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Los Angeles Dodgers

Since the Dodgers are not shy at promoting players, you would expect their minor league system to take a hit eventually.  Yet, every year, it’s one of baseball’s strongest systems.  This year it’s no exception.

Diego Cartaya is rounding into form and will be an offensive force.  He can hit with plus power potential.  Bobby Miller also rounds into form and has the arsenal to pitch at the top of the rotation.  Miguel Vargas is also nearly ready and has plus power and a feel to hit.  Want more…Gavin Stone was one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues last season, and it looks like he could be a number two starter.  Andy Pages has enormous raw power and looks like he will hit enough to get to it.  It goes on and on.

The Dodgers are playing a different game than the rest of the league.  They have one of the best player development organizations and the finances to play the free-agent game.  They are the alpha dog, and everyone is chasing them.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Diego Cartaya
  • Biggest Mover: Josh Outman
  • Emerging Prospect: Maddux Bruns

1. Diego Cartaya (C)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 5 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: He has plus power potential with high on-base skills that could make him an elite catcher.

It’s understandable if you are tired of reading me drone on about the upside of Diego Cartaya.  I’ve been doing it since the Dodgers signed the Venezuelan catcher in 2018.  But the numbers speak for themselves.  In 175 games in the minor leagues, he’s slashing .269/.380/.502 with 36 home runs; and he just turned 21 in September.  For a catcher, that’s impressive.  The bat speed is elite, and when you combine that with his plate patience and physicality, you can project a 30-100 player with a .350+ OBP.   He should start the 2023 season in Double-A with a chance to see Los Angeles in 2024.

2. Bobby Miller (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Four-pitch mix with a fastball that will touch the upper 90’s.  While his control was inconsistent, the total package gives him a number two starter ceiling.

Bobby Miller has the size and arsenal to pitch at the top of the rotation.  It’s a true four-pitch arsenal with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and will scrape the upper 90s.  His primary outpitch is a nasty, hard, boring slider.  The change-up is fine and is keeping glove-side hitters honest.  He gave up more hits than his stuff would suggest and wasn’t as sharp as I expected, but with more experience, I think that gets resolved.

3. Miguel Vargas (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 1B
  • Tools Summary: Power with a feel to hit and a little bit of speed thrown in for good measure.

Miguel Vargas might be the most underrated top prospect in the game.  He’s a well-rounded hitter who walks nearly as much as he strikes out, with excellent exit velocities and a little speed. He spent the bulk of 2022 in Triple-A, where he slashed .304/.402/.511 with 17 home runs and 16 stolen bases.  He did get a few games in the Major Leagues in September, and while he didn’t play all that effectively, he got a chance to experience the bright lights, which will help him next season when he’ll likely play a prominent role. 

Defensively, he likely fits best at first base, although he came up as a third baseman, and the Dodgers played him a lot in left field last season.  The upside is an impact player with high on-base skills and 25+ home run pop with some speed early in his career.  I’m not sure what position he’ll play next season, but I believe it will be in Los Angeles.

4. Gavin Stone (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Swing-and-miss stuff with control gives him at least a mid-rotation ceiling.

It’s odd to label a Dodgers prospect as a breakout player as, by now, we should assume that every player they acquire has a chance to be a Major League player.  But here we are with Gavin Stone.  Drafted in the 5th round in 2020, he dominated High, Double, and even Triple-A in 2022.  In 25 starts, he pitched to a 1.48 ERA striking out 12 per nine while walking 3.3 per nine.  The arsenal is solid with a fastball that sits 94 to 95 MPH and touches higher with a plus change-up.  He is still working on his breaking pitches, but his slider looks to be the most promising.  He’s only 6-foot-1, which could make him homer-prone, but we might be nit-picking at this point.  The ceiling is a number two starter, particularly if his slider continues to develop.

5. Andy Pages (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 OF
  • Tools Summary: 70-grade raw power with a solid approach and enough contact to project 30+ home runs at the highest level.

It’s easy to fall into putting labels on players.  When you see that Andy Pages is from Cuba, you might assume that he’s toolsy with an aggressive approach.  While he’s plenty athletic, he’s not that type of player.  Instead, he possesses some of the most significant raw power in the minor leagues and an approach and contact rate that should allow him to get to it.  In 2021, he hit 31 home runs and followed that up last season with 26 while slugging .468 in Double-A.  More importantly, he kept his strikeout rate in check (24.5%) and continued to show improved patience at the plate (11% BB/9).  The ceiling is a middle-of-the-order bat with 30+ home run potential with a .350 OBP.

6. Michael Busch (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: Plus power potential with a high OBP but potentially pressure on his batting average as he’ll strike out more than you would like.

Michael Busch started 2022 back in Double-A and continued to show a solid approach with plus power.  The Dodgers promoted him in June to Triple-A, and his strikeout rate ballooned to 31%, and his usually high walk rate regressed to 8.5%.  Over time, the strikeouts did slow, and he wound up striking out 26% of the time, which is what he did in Double-A.  However, the walk rates did not and only posted a 10% walk rate.  He still showed power hitting 21 home runs in 111 games.  The ceiling for me is a 25+ home run hitter who strikes out too much, but with his patient approach, he could be a real asset in an OBP league.  He’s a full-time regular for me…a likely better version of Gavin Lux, who provides more pop.

7. James Outman (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with upside
  • Tools Summary: A late bloomer.  Had one of the most impressive seasons in the minor leagues in 2022.

At 25, James Outman broke out.  In 125 games across Double and Triple-A, he slashed .294/.392/.586 with 31 home runs and 13 stolen bases.  The Dodgers also noticed and gave him four games in the Major Leagues, where he went 6 for 13 with a home run.  He turns 26 in May but appears ready to help the Dodgers in a meaningful way next season.  Will he get the chance?  I’m not sure, but I’m investing if I’m a fantasy manager.

8. Ryan Pepiot (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: He has a top-of-the-rotation arsenal, but his inability to throw strikes is holding him back.

Ryan Pepiot made several spot starts for the Dodgers and pitched well.  He struck out over a batter an inning, pitching to a 3.47 ERA.  He also walked 27 in 36.1 innings.  It’s a plus arsenal with a fastball that sits 94 to 95 MPH with high spin, a curveball that is also a high spin offering, and a change-up that can be a devasting pitch for glove-side batters.  That’s the arsenal of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, maybe even an ace.  However, his lack of control reduces his ceiling by at least a grade, maybe more.  I still think he remains a starter, and the Dodgers are good at developing pitchers, so there’s a chance my ceiling of a number three pitcher is low.  However, he’s a mid-rotation or maybe a number-four starter without better control. 

9. Eddys Leonard (SS)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B or Top 20 SS
  • Tools Summary: He makes hard contact with solid-average speed.

After a breakout season in 2021, I had high hopes for Eddys Leonard entering the 2022 season.  He played fine but did not build on his 2022 season, and most importantly, the Dodgers kept him in High-A the entire season.  I love the swing as it’s short to the ball, and he makes hard contact with his excellent bat speed.  The swing is geared more for contact, so most of his power results in doubles, but as he adds loft to his swing, I think 25+ home runs are possible.  He’s a solid-average runner and should steal 5 to 10 bases annually. 

10. Jose Ramos (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: Huge raw power but with plenty of swing and miss.

Based on a combination of natural strength and elite bat speed, the ball explodes off Jose Ramos’s bat.  He has slugged at least .500 at each level he has played, and it’s easy to project 30+ home runs at the highest level.  As with many players, the problem is his ability to make consistent contact.  His strikeout rate averages between 25 and 30%, and without some changes, he could easily be a 30% strikeout rate player in the Major Leagues.  That will pressure his batting average and, ultimately, his playing time.  At the root of his problem is pitch recognition, which leads to a high chase rate.  As he faces more advanced pitching, he could get even more exposed.  All is not lost, though, as the Dodgers are good at developing players, and his bat speed does not grow on trees.

11. Dalton Rushing (C)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 Catcher with upside
  • Tools Summary: He controls the strike zone with a chance to hit for a high average and OBP.  If he can show power, the upside is a full-time regular.

The Dodgers drafted Dalton Rushing in the second round (their first pick) last July on the back of a very successful junior season at Louisville.  He showed excellent bat-to-ball skills with solid power.  He continued that in his first exposure to Professional Ball, where he hit .424 in 28 games in Low-A with eight home runs.  There is some concern about his bat speed, and he could be exposed as he faces better pitching.  But the Dodgers are good at this, and I expect Rushing to become at least a backup catcher at the highest level, if not more.

12. Nick Nastrini (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP or a High-Leveraged reliever
  • Tools Summary: Plus arsenal but with little ability to find the strike zone.

Nick Nastrini is a fun guy to dream on.  The arsenal is downright nasty.  He has a big fastball that can touch the upper 90s with great movement, a slider that is an actual swing-and-miss pitch, a show-me curve, and a splitter that shows promise of being a plus pitch.  The problem is he can’t throw strikes – not consistent strikes but strikes, period.   In 27 starts across High and Double-A, he walked 55 or 4.2 per nine.  The good news is that he’s athletic, so there is hope that the control will get to at least average.  His control improved as the season progressed.  If that continues, he could be a mid-rotation starter, maybe more.  If it doesn’t, the Dodgers will likely move him to the bullpen, where he could be an option as a high-leveraged reliever.

13. Landon Knack (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: His usually pinpoint control eluded him last season.  His arsenal is average across the board.

Landon Knack strained his hamstring in spring training and didn’t get into game action until May.  At times, he looked unhittable; at others, he struggled mightily with his control.  Control was not a problem in 2021, as he rarely walked anyone (1.15 BB/9).  In 2022, he walked nearly four per nine (3.76 BB/9).  His stuff grades out as average with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH, so without control, he will be hittable, which is why his ERA ballooned to 5.01.  Assuming the control returns, the ceiling for me is a number four starter.

14. Rayne Doncon (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B with risk
  • Tools Summary: He has plus bat speed that should translate into plenty of home runs down the road.  Assuming he continues to make excellent contact, the upside is a full-time regular.

Rayne Doncon showed promise in 2021 while playing in the Dominican Summer League with a mature approach and plenty of bat speed to project future power.  The Dodgers brought him stateside last season, where he continued to play well in the Complex League and Low-A.  As he gets stronger, he has a chance to hit for plus power and assuming he continues to make adequate contact; the upside is a full-time regular.  He did become aggressive at the plate last season, and his walk rate suffered as a result.  It’s something to monitor as he goes through the development process, but he just turned 19 in September, so there’s plenty of time to address the issue. He’s athletic enough to stay at short, but as he fills out, a move to third base might be in the cards.

15. Maddux Bruns (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with risk
  • Tools Summary: He’s the definition of raw talent.  If he throws enough strikes, he could be a mid-rotation starter, if not more.

Maddux Bruns is a project.  So, if you are in a Dynasty League and decide to invest as I have, you must be patient.  First, he has four above-average pitches.  The fastball sits 94 to 96 with a high spin rate. His slider is a wipe-out chaser variety, and he also throws a solid curveball and change-up.  Here’s the problem.  He’s walking everyone.  In 44.1 innings, he’s walked 45.  At worse, I think he develops enough control to be an effective reliever, but the Dodgers are good and believe they can sort him out.  That’s all I need to hear.

16. Yeiner Fernandez (C/2B)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: He doesn’t have fantasy-friendly skills, but he can hit, which could make him a big leaguer.

Yeiner Fernandez can really hit! In 423 plate appearances as a 19-year-old in Low-A, he hit .292 with a .383 OBP striking out 13% of the time and walking 11% of the time.  There’s not a ton of current power, and the body type doesn’t project him to have much speed.  However, there’s plenty of bat speed, and with some swing changes, there’s 15 to 20 home run power potential.  He was signed as a catcher, but the Dodgers have played him at second base to give him greater flexibility.  While he doesn’t have the ideal fantasy profile, he can hit, and that’s half the battle.

17. Wilman Diaz (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Complex ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: He stumbled in his first exposure to stateside pitching.

Last season I wrote that there were whispers of Carlos Correa when people saw Wilman Diaz play.  I bought in and ranked him #4 on a deep Los Angeles system last year.  After being overwhelmed in the Complex League, where he hit a woeful .167 while striking out 38% of the time, those whispers have turned into “gasped.”  What happened?  Well, he needs to get stronger for one.  Secondly, he chased pitches out of the strike zone more than I anticipated.  The core skills are still there – the bat speed and athleticism, but much work is ahead.  Fortunately, he’s still young (he turned 19 in November), and the Dodgers have $2.7 million invested in him, so there is plenty of time and motivation to get him through the tough start.

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