This was one of the more interesting minor-league seasons in the Dodgers’ system in quite some time. There were offensive prospects who were expected to perform — and did. There were pitching prospects who were expected to perform — and, for the most part, did not. Selecting my Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year was no easy task because of this.
I nailed the real Dodger Minor League Hitter and Pitchers of the Year in 2013, but I’m not confident in doing so this year. There are a number of quality candidates for each honor.
On the offensive side, it’s a 2-man race between Joc Pederson and Corey Seager. Last year’s winner Scott Schebler posted some even better numbers in Double-A than he did in High-A, but he’s not even close this year (says more about Pederson and Seager than it doesn’t say about Schebler).
On the pitching side, it’s a case of limited innings, low-level performance and a guy with a lot of innings who was good-not-great. Jose De Leon was flat-out dominant, but he did it in rookie ball and four games in Low-A. Julio Urias did some amazing things in his age-17 season in the hitter-friendly California League. Jharel Cotton — who struggled a lot early in his season — ended up with some really good peripherals.
Without further ado, here are my choices (though, you can probably already tell by the photo “illustration”).
Hitter of the Year
SS Corey Seager, Rancho Cucamonga/Chattanooga
If you tell me Pederson is more deserving of this award, I wouldn’t argue with you. What it came down to was the fact Seager was younger, hit better in the Cal League and (so far) in the Southern League than Pederson did coming up and his positional advantage. After a rough finish to the 2013 season in Rancho, Seager started the season decently — .294/.337/.482 through 20 games. Then he went on the Minor League disabled list for 10 days and was absolutely unstoppable when he returned — .372/.436/.686 with 16 home runs and 28 doubles. The performance earned him California League MVP honors — the first Dodger to win the Cal League MVP since Carlos Santana.
Seager didn’t really slow down when he got to Double-A. He hit .345/.381/.534 with two home runs, 16 doubles and three triples. He was the first Dodger minor-leaguer to reach 50 doubles in a season since Delwyn Young hit 54 at then-Triple-A Las Vegas in 2007. He logged 112 of his 118 games played games at shortstop, a position where he’s likely to stick for the foreseeable future (no matter what scouts say), despite making 22 errors (12 errors in 77 games at Rancho, 10 in Chattanooga).
This is not to take away anything from Pederson’s fantastic season. He was the first Pacific Coast League player to go 30-30 in 80 years. But, his numbers — despite his talent — were aided a little by the environment (moreso than Seager’s).
The only blemish on Seager’s résumé is his walk rate declined from the previous year. In 2013, he walked 10.8 percent of the time. In 2014, he that rate dipped to 8.4 percent. That could be attributed to him not being patient, but (more likely), it’s because he hit .349 on the season. When a hitter is swinging the bat well, he’s less inclined to take a lot of pitches. Seager has shown the ability to walk in the past (10.4 percent in 2012 to go along with his 2013 mark), so I’m not overly concerned by it.
Looking ahead, Seager should go back to Double-A (Tulsa?) for the 2015 season. A mid-to-late-season promotion to Triple-A (Oklahoma City?) could be in order, or perhaps a promotion to Los Angeles. Seager is the hitting prospect with the highest ceiling in the system — and the highest ceiling for any Dodger hitting prospect since Adrian Beltre. The future is bright for the shortstop who will eventually end up at third base. His defensive future is directly tied to what happens with Hanley Ramirez this offseason.
Runners-up: Pederson, Schebler
Pitcher of the Year
RHP Jharel Cotton, Rancho Cucamonga
This was extremely tough. Durability is what this came down to, and Cotton just edged Urias for this honor. If you had told me on June 11 Cotton would be here, I’d have said you were crazy. He had a 7.07 ERA in 42 innings and looked like a lost cause. Overall, his numbers don’t scream “pitcher of the year,” but you have to delve deeper into them. But from June 11 through the rest of the season, Cotton was lights-out: 2.55 ERA, 84 2/3 innings (6.5 per start), 1,9 BB/9, 9.9 K/9, 5.17 K/BB and a .222 batting average against. He had three double-digit strikeout games in that time, threw seven or more innings in a start six times, including five times in a row from July 22 through Aug. 23. Cotton established himself as the Quakes’ ace, even ahead of the phenom known as Urias. Part of being a good pitcher is being able to throw a lot of innings. Cotton did this, Urias did not (through no fault of his own). Urias is the odds-on favorite to be in this position next year.
The 22-year-old was a stabilizing force in the Quakes’ rotation that had anything but that. Chris Anderson was erratic (but better at the end of the season), Tom Windle started off well but kind of tapered off toward the end of the season and Urias was (rightly) not pushed too hard by the Dodger organization. Cotton was the most valuable pitcher in terms of the Quakes’ success, and it showed in the second half. The only thing that bit him was the home run ball (1.3 HR/9), which is directly responsible for the higher-than-optimal FIP.
Cotton will have a big test in Double-A next season, as he’s primarily a fastball/changeup pitcher at the moment. He has a curveball and slider, both of which are works in progress. His curve might be better than his slider, but it’s a negligible difference.
Runners-up: Urias, De Leon
Coming up next week, my All-Prospect team. That should be really fun.