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Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Original Published Date: December 22, 2017

They were that close!

The Dodgers are good, really good and with a great system and an ownership who is willing to spend money, they are going to be contenders for a long time.  While there is a ton of luck in winning it all, with all the cracks the Dodgers should have at it over the next several years, I think they eventually break through.

The system is stacked with both pitching and positional depth.  Walker Buehler should see significant time in the major leagues in 2018 and has a chance to pitch at the top of the rotation.  Mitch White is not that far behind with a chance to be a solid number two.  While Buehler and White are polished with great stuff, Yadier Alvarez might have the best stuff of the three.  He’s got a great arm but still needs to show more consistency.

With back-to-back rookie of the year awards, will Alex Verdugo make it three in a row?  Unlikely, but the kid can really hit.  He doesn’t have the power of Seager or Bellinger but the upside is an impact major leaguer.  After that, there is Cuban Yusniel Diaz and his elite bat speed and 6-foot-6 DJ Peters and his double-plus raw power.

It’s fun to be a Dodgers fan again and as a fantasy owner, get as many of these prospect on your team that you can.

Walker Buehler (RHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SP

After blowing through three minor league levels to finish the year in the major leagues, it’s hard to understand how Walker Buehler lasted to the 24th pick in the 2015 Draft.  I’ll save you the research.  In his draft year, the other 23 teams were scared off because he needed Tommy John Surgery, which he had shortly after being drafted.

He started the last year in the California League where he had no problems.  In five starts, he struck out 27 and walked five while pitching to a 1.10 ERA.  It was more of the same in 11 starts in Double-A.  In Triple-A, the Dodgers decided to move him to the bullpen to prepare him for a bullpen role in the major leagues.  He was inconsistent. The velocity went up but so did the walks.

None of it mattered as he made it to the big leagues and helped the Dodgers down the stretch.  He didn’t pitch all that effective but showed electric stuff.  If you want more accolades for this year…he pitched five innings in 2016 and the next year, he’s in the majors.

Scouting Report: Nobody impressed me more in my travels this year than Buehler.  I had him hitting 98 on my guy multiple time with a nice 90 MPH slider and with an equally impressive curveball.  Even his changeup shows promise.  He’s not a big guy though and that does give me some pause.  Can he handle the rigors of pitching 200 innings year-after-year?

Make no mistake, Buehler is a starter and not a reliever and the Dodgers will continue down the path.  He might start the year back in Triple-A, but he should also see plenty of time in the majors.  The upside is a Top 20 starting pitching or possibly more.

Fantasy Impact:  If you have Walker Buehler on your Dynasty League team, congratulations.  I have him on two of five teams, so I get a gold star, albeit a very dull one.  He has the stuff and pitchability to pitch at the top of the rotation.  There will be ups-and-downs early in his career, but from what I’ve seen the upside is there and the scary part, is the floor is very high; as in a number three starter.

Alex Verdugo (OF)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF

If you’re bullish on Alex Verdugo, you point to the .389 on-base percentage he posted in 117 games in Triple-A where he walked more times than he struck out.  If you are more bearish, you see an empty batting average with six home runs and nine stolen bases, sending me comments on Twitter…” what’s up this guy?”

Count me on the bullish side of Verdugo.  Remember, he was the fourth youngest full-time player in the PCL this year.  Who was younger?  Franklin Barreto, Amed Rosario, and Raul Mondesi Jr.  If Mondesi surprised you, you’re not alone.  It shows how the Royals really over-pushed this kid and now everyone is down on him.  It’s the curse of being young for a level and Verdugo is suffering from that a little.  The power will come as the bat speed is too good.  I don’t see him ever being a power hitter, but 15 to 18 home runs is totally in the realm of possibilities.

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 8 to 12 stolen bases annually seems reasonable.

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’ve seen in the times I have scouting him is his attitude.  I’ve seen him not run out balls and then play with incredible intenseness; as in Brett Lawrie intenseness. I would hope as he matures, he’ll be able to harness his emotion so that he can get the most out of his skills.  It’s happening to Yasiel Puig and I believe it will happen with Verdugo.

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 15 to 18 home runs and a 8 to 12 stolen bases.

Mitch White (RHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP

The Dodgers scored a huge win when they snagged Mitchell White in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft.  It was a risk as White was only a starter in his junior year at Santa Clara after recovering from TJ Surgery in his freshman year and being limited in his second year.

White had no problem with the California League posting a 3.72 ERA in nine starts while strikeout out over 11 per nine.  He broke his toe in mid-May and didn’t pitch again until July where after rehabbing in the AZL, the Dodgers promoted him to Double-A.  Again, he pitched well posting a 2.57 ERA in seven starts striking out nearly 10 per nine.

He’ll likely start the season back in Double-A and given his stuff and mound presence could follow a similar path that Walker Buehler did last season and see time in the bullpen in Los Angeles late in the season.  I think if that happens, the Dodgers will just be looking for help as White is clearly a starter long-term.

Scouting Report:  I had a chance to see Mitch White on April 18th against Lancaster and it didn’t go well.  He lasted only 1.2 innings giving up six hits a walk and hitting two batters.  Yet, I left wishing I had him on more fantasy teams.

At 6-foot-4 and reported 210 pounds, he just looks the part – tall and athletic.  His arsenal consists of a plus fastball that topped out at 95 MPH that evening but generally sat 92 to 94 MPH.  He pitched from a high three-quarters delivery and kept the ball down in the zone.  He also threw a plus curveball and flashed a promising changeup.  He blew through the first inning and then lost his release point in the second where he crashed and burned.  Given his injury background, I’m assuming the Dodgers were just being cautious with him and took him out early.

Fantasy Impact:  White is still flying under the radar in most leagues.  Well, in leagues in which I don’t play.  He’s one of the better pitching prospects in the game as he has the size, stuff and mound presence to be a number two starter on a fantasy pitching staff.  In fact, the ceiling might even be a little more.

Yadier Alvarez (RHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP or Closer

It was a rough year for 21-year-old Yadier Alvarez.  He shot up on our list last season based on his easy upper 90’s fastball and his 12.5 K/9 in nine starts in Low-A.  However, he showed up to camp out of shape and not ready for the season and struggled out of the gate.

In 14 games, 11 starts in High-A, the strikeouts were there but so were the walks.  In 59.1 innings, he struck out 61 but walked 25.  He also was hittable as he gave up a hit an inning.  After he was promoted to Double-A, the walks really shot up.  In 33 innings he walked 25 for an ugly 6.8 BB/9 rate.  All of this has led us to the obvious question…is this guy good enough to start or is ultimately a bullpen arm?

Scouting Report:  I had a chance to catch a game with Alvarez in early May and based on what I had heard, I was expecting an overweight and out of shape guy.  Well, he wasn’t overweight and didn’t look out of shape to me.  The arm though was electric.  He was able to hit 98 and 99 MPH with little effort and flashed a 87 to 89 MPH slider that is a real weapon.  He also showed poor control.  He wasn’t wild but just could not finish his pitches.  He left fastball after fastball high and outside.  Fastball command was non-existent on that evening.  Based on the success the Dodgers have had recently, it’s hard to criticize their moves, but I was surprised he was promoted.  My scouting report said he needed work and that was backed up by the stat line.

Long-term, I’m still bullish.  Alvarez is athletic and I do think through repetition, the control will improve.  I don’t understand the need to move him so aggressively and believe he should spend the entire season in Double-A.  While I think the Dodgers will keep him a starter, there’s a non zero chance that a move to the bullpen will occur.  Again, I see this as a backup plan and not the likely scenario.

Fantasy Impact:  With two potential double-plus pitches, it’s easy to get excited about Alvarez.  He is still a couple of years away from the major leagues and while the control is well below average and fastball command is nascent at best, I think he figures it out.  If not, the Dodgers will throw him in the pen and he’ll come out hitting triple-digits.  Alvarez is not a buy-low for me, but if I’m an owner, I’m holding on for now.

Keibert Ruiz (C)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher

Keibert Ruiz is a name that may be new to prospect watchers.  Signed in 2015 out of Venezuela, the 6-foot catcher made a significant leap forward last year when he hit .316 across Low and High-A.  More importantly, he accomplished that as one of the youngest players in both leagues; not turning 19 until July.

In 48 games in Low-A, he slashed .317/.372/.423, striking out only 12% of the time.  After his promotion to High-A, he continued to show a knack to put the bat on the ball striking out 14% of the time.  He didn’t show a lot of secondary offensive skills as was evident by his slugging percentage and eight total home runs.  Six of those home runs were hit in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League.

The Dodgers have clearly found something in Ruiz and are pushing him hard.  He’ll likely start next season in Double-A at the ripe age of 19.  As a catcher, that is extraordinary.

Scouting Report:  While I missed seeing Ruiz when he was in Rancho Cucamonga, the reports I have on him are very impressive.  One observer equated his hit-tool to another young catching prospect, Francisco Meija.  That grabbed my attention and made me dig deeper.

Ruiz is equally effective from both sides of the plate with great hand-eye coordination.  He understands the strike zone and has plus plate coverage.  He can get aggressive but when you strike out less than 15% of the time, coaches have a tendency to let you swing away.  He does have good bat speed and while the power has yet to show up in games, he should be able to hit 12 to 15 home runs once he physically matures.

Defensively, his tools grade out as average to plus.  Pitchers like to throw to him given his quiet setup and he has enough arm to keep base runners in check.

Fantasy Impact:  Ruiz will be a popular name in Dynasty League drafts this spring, particularly with hit-tool comparisons being made to Francisco Meija.  He’s still very young, but if it all comes together, he could be a Top 15 fantasy catcher over the next three to five years.

Yusniel Diaz (OF)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF

The Dodgers laid down $15.5 million dollars in 2015 to secure the services of Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz.  Having seen him now several times, I get the investment.  In fact, you don’t need to be a scout to see the bat speed and hear the explosion the ball makes when it comes in contact with the bat.  While the stat line has not yet caught up to the scouting upside, progress is starting to be made.

Diaz split his time last season between High and Double-A.  In 114 games he slashed .292/.354/.433 hitting 11 home runs and stealing nine bases. There is definitely more in the tank in both the power and speed department.  In fact, his 14 caught stealing shows the opportunity on the bases.  It’s not that he’s slow, he just hasn’t learned yet how to steal bases.

Scouting Report:  I had a chance to catch Diaz in Rancho Cucamonga last spring and again at the AFL and again, I was 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 but clearly, it has yet to translate on the base paths.

Diaz hit-tool is pretty raw.  His swing can get long but he does have an idea of balls and strikes.  His 9% walk rate illustrates his ability to take a walk.  His swing is more line drive oriented but as he adds loft, I think the power will increase.  I have talked with a scout who concurs that they believe 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.

D.J. Peters (OF)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF

D.J. Peters was drafted in both the 2014 and 2015 MLB Draft (both times in the 36th round) but did not sign.  He chose instead to continue his development in junior college and in the 2016 Draft, the Dodgers decided to up the ante and draft him in the 4th round.  He signed a $247K signing bonus, proving that those two years he invested in community college paid off.

Peters took full advantage of the small confines of the California League, slugging .514 while hitting 27 home runs in 132 games.  He also walked 11% of the time but also struck out an equally impressive 32% of the time.  So, that’s plus in-game power, a lot of walks and a ton strikeouts.  That’s the definition of a three-true-outcome player.

Scouting Report:  I’ve seen Peters play both in High-A and again last fall in the AFL.  First, at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, he’s a physically impressive player.  He’s also not a glogger on the base paths with enough speed to even steal a handful of bases annually.

Power is what Peters game is all about and power he has.  The swing is long and levered and therefore strikeouts will naturally be part of his game.  Given his swing mechanics, he will likely always be susceptible to pitches in the upper register of the strike zone and a 25 to 30% strikeout rate should follow.  If he can keep up his walk rate up though, he has a chance to add 80 to 100 points to his on-base percentage and that could be enough to make his a major league regular.

Fantasy Impact:  While Peters is a good defender with a good arm, fantasy-wise, he’s pretty one-dimensional. He has the upside to hit 30 home runs at the major league level but it’s going to come with pressure on his batting average.  If your team construction can sustain a .230 or lower BA, then he should be added.  If not, it might be time to sell high.

Edwin Rios (3B/1B)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B/3B

In yet another example of the Dodgers embarrassment of riches, Edwin Rios slashed .309/.362/.533 in 128 games across Double-A and Triple-A last season.  Sure, he only walked 35 times, or a little more than once every week, but Rios can flat out hit.

The problem of course is he’s blocked at both third and first base.  Justin Turner is signed through 2020 and Cody Bellinger won’t be going anywhere for a while.  That leaves Rios on the outside, looking in.  Translated another way, he’ll be moved over the next year or two for another piece that will help the Dodgers short-term.  Regardless, Rios is a major leaguer and could be a very good one.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Rios is a power hitter who also can hit for average.  He has a good understand the strike zone, posting a 77% contact rate but does love to swing the pole.  In Double-A, he only posted a 5% walk rate but was better upon his promotion to Triple-A.  Over time, he should be able to post a low 20’s strikeout rate and a 7 to 8% walk rate which should allow him to post a .260 batting average with a .300 on-base percentage.  When you combine that with 25 plus home runs, the offensive upside is a major league regular.

Defensively the Dodgers had him play both third and first last season, but more first than third as the season wore on.  I do believe the bat will play at either position.

Fantasy Impact: Given how close Rios is to the majors, I believe he should be owned in more leagues than he is.  I think he profiles as a Top 15 offensive third baseman, maybe slightly less at first.  The key will be playing time.  If he stays a Dodgers, at-bats will be at a premium.  However, I think he gets moved and things will then get interesting.

Will Smith (C)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 C

Will Smith reminds me a little of Austin Barnes.  A really good defensive catcher that pitchers love to throw to, an ability to hit with a little pop and speed.  Managers love profiles like this and if you watched the postseason carefully, who got more playing time down the stretch?  Barnes or Yasmani Grandal?  Smith is somebody you need to put on your radar.

He played well in High-A last season.  In 250 at-bats, he slashed .232/.355/.448.  Don’t get too alarmed at the low batting average as it came with a .267 BABIP.  You should get excited instead at the 12% walk rate and the very reasonable 23% strikeout rate.

Scouting Report:  Smith is a plus defender who pitchers love to throw to.  At 6-foot and 190 pounds, he has the perfect size of a catcher and is athletic enough to provide a great target.  Offensively, his game is starting to come together.  He has a good understanding of the strike zone with good bat speed that should translate into 15 to 18 home runs at the highest level.  He’s also an average runner, well above average for a catcher and should be able to steal a handful of bases annually.

Fantasy Impact:  Smith is an intriguing fantasy asset and should definitely be considered in two-catcher Dynasty Leagues.  His defensive skills will provide his ticket to the majors and his ability to hit should get him plenty of at-bats.  I doubt that will be in Los Angeles, but that might actually help his cause.

Jaren Kendall (OF)

Highest Level: Low, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF with extreme risk

Even though Jaren Kendall was drafted in the first round of last season’s MLB Draft, he’s a boom or bust prospect.  Why?

There’s no doubt he has tools and those tools led to a $2.9 million dollar signing bonus.  In his junior year at Vanderbilt, he hit 15 home runs and stole 20 bases.  However, he also struck out 74 times in 60 games while only walking 24 times.  In his inaugural minor league season, it was more of the same.  After a brief stay in the Pioneer League, he hit just .221 in 39 games in the Midwest League, striking out 42 times in 35 games.

Scouting Report:  Kendall has excellent bat speed, is a double-plus runner that could translate into a 20/20 player at the highest level. The problem is he’s a free swinger who’s swing can get long.  The Dodgers do believe they can make him shorter to the ball and worked on that extensively in the Fall Instructional League.

If he can make better contact, he has a chance to be an impact major league player, not to mention an impact fantasy player.  On Draft night Cliff Floyd said he had the upside of Jacoby Ellsbury.  I guess if I squint, I can see it, but he’s got to prove he can post a 80% contact rate while walking more than once a week.  If he can improve his approach, watch out.

Fantasy Impact:  As I stated in the first line of this write-up, I view Kendall as a boom/bust prospect.  The tools are great but he needs to work on his approach and swing.  If you believe that the Dodgers can fix that, which at this point, there’s plenty of evidence that they know how to develop players, then you should add him to your Dynasty League team.  Me?  Yep, I’m adding him…

2018 Emerging Prospect

Dustin May (RHP)

Drafted in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft, 6-foot-6, 180-pound right-hander Dustin May had an impressive year.  In 23 starts in the Midwest League, he struck out over eight per nine while walking less than two.  He’s not a command and control pitcher either.  His fastball will touch 94 MPH and as he puts on weight, his fastball should improve at least a grade.  I’m not sure how the Dodgers keep doing it, but it looks like they found a diamond in the third round that just needs development, which yes, does include putting on weight.

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