We’ve talked a lot about how the big league roster is coming together, and the more I think about it, the less it feels like there’s any questions there. There’s some competition for the last man off the bench and the final 1-2 bullpen spots, but otherwise, the big league roster is pretty set. But what about the new Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers? It’s time to look at what the good people of OKC might be expecting in their first season of Dodger baseball.
Remember, anyway, that Triple-A is much more transient than the big leagues. In 2014, the Isotopes used 58 different players, a number that includes homegrown prospects (like Matt Magill and Griff Erickson), rehabbing big leaguers (like A.J. Ellis and Carl Crawford) and your typical “just passing through” Quad-A types (like Jamie Romak and Daniel Moskos). So while we’re going with our best guesses as of the first week of February, know that this could still change considerably, as more minor-league free agents arrive and spring training injuries or performances change the outlook.
Not included here: Any of the top three Dodger prospects. I’m assuming that Joc Pederson starts the year in the big leagues and that Corey Seager and Julio Urias begin at lower levels, though it’s not out of the question that one or both end the year in Triple-A. That means the first iteration of the Triple-A Dodgers might be short on high-end talent, though they’re not without interest. We’ll just look at hitters today, and pitchers in a separate post.
The Isotopes used six catchers last year. One was professional space filler John Cannon, who pitched in as many games for Albuquerque as he caught, which is to say, one. Otherwise, four of the remaining five are gone, and the fifth was Ellis, who was only there for two games. So yeah, there’s change coming here, and the first two names are easy. Barnes came from Miami in the Dee Gordon heist, and he’s someone we like a lot. Zarraga was acquired from Milwaukee, and he’s pretty interesting himself.
Since Barnes has the flexibility to play some second and third, that probably allows the Triple-A Dodgers — I already dislike that they don’t have their own name — to carry a third catcher, and that’s likely the 27-year-old Solis, who had big league cups of coffee with the Padres in 2012 and Rays in 2014. He’s absolutely cannot hit, though he’s apparently a very good defensive backstop. I imagine that 25-year-old Chris O’Brien, who spent all of last year in Double-A, would land here at some point, but it’s hard for me to see that on Opening Day. That said, Dustin disagrees with me, and thinks he’ll beat out Solis. We’ll see!
2B/3B Buck Britton
2B/SS/3B Darwin Barney
You know what that looks like? It looks like a Triple-A infield. Some space fillers, some mildly interesting prospects, and no one who’s likely to ever make a huge impact in the big leagues. Dickson, Dustin’s No. 34 overall Dodger prospect, has moved up a level in each season since being drafted in 2011, but as a 25-year-old first-base only prospect with decent yet hardly impressive power, it’s hard to see a ton of future here. The PCL does use the DH, so the righty swinger might find himself in something of a 1B/DH pairing with the lefty Anderson, who was once a top prospect due to his tremendous patience, but never found enough power himself to make it work.
I have Sweeney listed here as the second baseman, though it’s probably more likely he ends up as a 2B/SS/CF super utility type — and I have to admit, for a player with his speed, I was shocked to see that he was successful on only 15 of 31 steal attempts last year. He’ll share time there with fellow utility type Britton, loved by the projections, and probably Barney, since he still has options and it’s almost impossible to see him making the big league team along with both Justin Turner and Alex Guerrero. Barney might also see some time at short, but Arruebarrena should get the bulk of the time there. Though he’s highly flawed, he’s still good depth to have should anything happen to Jimmy Rollins. Of course, Seager is coming, perhaps by midseason.
I honestly don’t have any idea what to say about third base. Last year, 10 different players suited up there. This probably isn’t changing any time soon. Britton probably plays there a bit, and Barnes could too. But then there’s also 29-year-old Daniel Mayora, signed out of independent ball to be the main Double-A third baseman in 2014. There’s minor league free agent Jarek Cunningham, who spent the last three years in Double-A for the Pirates. There’s 34-year-old Brian Burgamy, who’s been kicking around since 2002 and spent 2009-13 in independent ball before surfacing to crush the ball in Double-A for the Mets last year. There’s also Luis Mateo, signed out of the Cardinals organization.
Which is to say: That position was a mess last year, and it’s going to be a mess this year. We might see 10 more third basemen in Triple-A in 2015.
CF Chris Heisey
RF Kyle Jensen
OF Matt Carson
Last year’s primary Triple-A outfielders: Pederson surrounded by Quad-A detritus Mike Baxter and Trayvon Robinson. That hasn’t changed a ton this year, as Schebler attempts to build on his successful Double-A 2014, potentially putting himself in position for a big league cup of coffee in September, though his ceiling isn’t likely to be as high as Pederson’s.
There’s a non-zero chance that Heisey makes the big team as a backup, but probably not if Andre Ethier is still floating around, and so he’s likely the primary center fielder in Triple-A, as well as being high among the contenders for the Blake DeWitt memorial “guy who goes back and forth between the bigs and farm 8 times” award. Hernandez, who I’m pretty excited about, is listed here as a backup outfielder, but that’s a little unfair because it’s easy to see him playing every day at a new position, perhaps mainly in the outfield but also injecting himself into the 2B/3B mix above.
We talked about Jensen a little when he was acquired, though he was ultimately DFA’d, unclaimed, and retained. There’s power there and a ton of contact issues; if the Dodgers can make him into the next Scott Van Slyke, all the better, but for now, he’s a guy you have to fill out a minor league roster. He’s at least got youth on his side, unlike Carson, 34 in July, who’s been bouncing around since the Yankees drafted him in the fifth round in 2002. Carson had cups of coffee with three teams in 2009-10 and 2012-13; he spent the last two years as a relatively non-descript part of Cleveland’s Triple-A team.
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Pitchers, as noted above, will be coming soon. Overall, the first hitting version of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers is a little short on star power, though at least Schebler, Sweeney, Barnes and Hernandez should be enough to keep our interest — until Seager shows up later this year, anyway.