It’s always easy to say the top prospects in a system are the most exciting, but I find myself really amped about this group of prospects. These names should be familiar to just about everyone, and some of them could see Los Angeles this season.
For the Top 30, I’ve included Overall Future Potential grades and risks. For example, if a guy gets a “50 low,” he’s basically a sure thing to be an average player at his position. If a guy gets a “55 high,” there’s a good chance he won’t reach that ceiling, but the potential is there. The grades are 20-80 (50 is average), and the risks are as follows:
- Low – Players who are older, have debuted, are relievers and/or have higher floors than ceilings
- Medium – Players who are a mix of young and old, usually have higher floors
- High – Players who are usually younger with potential, but also question marks
- Extreme – Players who are younger with star potential, but a ton of question marks
The aim is to offer a prediction of the player’s future worth in the majors. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus both do this.
Previous entries in the series:
Editor’s note: I am not a scout (#notascout). I am an amateur when it comes to evaluating players. I don’t claim to be a pro, I just want to pass along the information to the masses. Notes and comments are based on personal observation, talking to sources, reading scouting reports and watching video. All ratings in the charts below are on the standard 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is roughly average, 80 is elite and nearly unattainable (think Giancarlo Stanton‘s power), and 20 is unacceptably poor. Enjoy.
20. RHP Scott Barlow (6’3, 170 pounds, 22 years old)
The Dodgers drafted Barlow in the 6th round of the 2011 draft and had a limited debut (1 2/3 inning). In spring 2012, he had Tommy John surgery that cost him his entire 2012 campaign. He came back for 69 2/3 innings in 2013 with Ogden. Despite an ugly ERA (6.20), the fact he was able to make it back healthy and with his stuff was the most encouraging sign. He got his first taste of full-season ball in 2014 and was one of the Loons’ better starting pitchers. He threw six innings of 1-hit ball on May 5 and retired the first 15 hitters he faced. While the results haven’t been there, the stuff and potential are undeniable.
Barlow has a low-90s fastball that features some arm-side run when he gets on top of it. He can dial it up to the mid-90s when he needs it, but he gets more wild with it. He backs up his fastball with a 12-6 power curveball that sits in the mid-to-upper-70s. It flashes plus-potential and has some depth to it. He also features a low-80s slider that has good 11-5 tilt and could be an average offering. He also throws a changeup in the low-80s that is inconsistent and fringy. He uses it predominantly against left-handers and has a tendency to leave it up in strike zone. He has a classic starter’s repertoire.
He stands with his feet close together and pointed slightly toward the third base side of home plate, and his hands at belt level. His motion is standard as he makes the turn on the rubber. When he brings his leg up, his back leg gets a slight bend in it before he drops down in his motion. He drives off his back foot with his arm in a good position. It doesn’t drag behind his body. Even if it did, he has enough arm speed to make up for it (but that certainly wouldn’t be ideal). He releases his pitches from a high three-quarters arm slot, allowing him to get a some movement on his pitches. He keeps his front side closed well. His athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery, but he can get out of sync at times.
He has the ceiling of a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but he’ll need to improve his stamina and durability if he wishes to reach it. If not, he has plenty of arm to be a power reliever whose stuff could tick up out of the bullpen. He should be ticketed for Rancho Cucamonga.
2014 ranking: 32
2014 location: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
19. 2B/LF Alex Guerrero (5’10, 205 pounds, 28 years old)
The Dodgers signed Guerrero after he defected from Cuba to a 4-year, $28 million deal. He was supposed to be the team’s answer for its second base vacancy, but he spent almost all of his debut season in Triple-A and was less than impressive on many fronts. In fact, he played 14 innings of defense in the majors, all of which came in left field. He hit really well in Albuquerque (.994 OPS), but that doesn’t say a whole lot considering the environment. Some of it is probably legitimate, but he’s a man without a position on the field right now.
Guerrero has a compact stance at the plate that begins with his feet about shoulder width apart. His top half is a little crouched as opposed to straight up. His hands are held near his right ear and they stay there until he starts to swing. He has a slight bat wiggle that stops when the pitcher begins his motion. He has a toe-tapping time mechanism, but it isn’t the traditional “back-then-forward” tap. He taps it, twists his front leg toward the catcher and then steps forward. His hips clear before his quick hands come through the zone, allowing him to generate potentially average power. He keeps his hands inside the ball well and isn’t averse to going the other way. He has a short, line drive stroke that isn’t without fault. He still has holes in his swing and his plate discipline isn’t great. He isn’t a liability on the bases, but he has fringy speed that’s a little better underway.
The biggest issues with Guerrero lie on defense. He was a shortstop in Cuba, but that doesn’t mean anything here. Scouts have serious questions whether Guerrero can handle second base. He has a strong enough arm for the position, but his hands aren’t great, he doesn’t have a ton of range and is timid when trying to turn the double play. There’s a good chance he sees more left field than second base while in the majors (at least, with the Dodgers). Mike wrote a piece about Guerrero’s best-case scenario is him turning into Mark DeRosa. That really is it at this point. DeRosa was a solid player, but it’s doubtful Guerrero ever gets to that level.
If he can be an all-bat utility player (sounds oxymoronic, I know), that might be his best chance of success in the majors. He can’t be sent down to the minors without his consent this year, so he should be on the Dodgers’ bench (or disabled list) to start the 2015 season.
2014 ranking: 5
2015 location: Los Angeles
ETA: Debut 2014
18. RHP Yimi Garcia (6’1, 175 pounds, 24 years old)
Garcia signed with the Dodgers out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 and has been nothing but good while coming up through the system. He has 310 2/3 minor-league innings and 380 strikeouts. He misses bats without having elite stuff. In fact, he struck out Anthony Rendon for his first MLB strikeout. He has pitched really well at the two highest levels of the minors, and he should be a cheap bullpen option for the Dodgers for the foreseeable future.
He has a fastball that was originally reported to be in the 88-91 MPH range has ticked up to the 91-93 MPH range and even touched 94 MPH in his debut last year. He’s able to get it to sink periodically, but he’s mostly a fly ball pitcher, especially with this pitch. What might help him most is the spin rate he gets on his fastball. Chad wrote about this in December 2013. Garcia went to the Arizona Fall League in 2013 and Trackman Baseball had his fastball at 2,504 revolutions per minute. League-average spin rate is about 2,200 RPM, so he’s well above-average in that regard. He has a 10-4 slider that sits in the low-80s and got him a lot of swing-throughs in the minors. It has a chance to be a solid-average pitch for him. He also has a surprisingly decent changeup that could be an equalizing pitch against left-handed hitters. He throws it in the low-to-mid-8s0s and features some downward fade.
Garcia comes set with his hands away from his body a bit and at neck level. He kicks his leg high and his upper-half has a slight turn toward second base. He moves his hands all in one motion, drops his back leg, his upper-half a bit and drives toward the plate. His arm is in great position as his front foot lands as he delivers the pitch from a high three-quarters arm slot. He falls off slightly toward the first base side. He has a quick arm, and he has to because he is a full-circle thrower (his arm makes a full circle from start to finish).
He has been a closer in the minors and has the upside of an 8th-inning guy in the majors. More likely, he’s a solid middle reliever. The Dodgers’ bullpen is pretty full and Garcia has options, so it’s likely be begins in Oklahoma City in 2015. He should be the first or second reliever recalled, should the team need one (it will).
2014 ranking: 16
2015 location: Triple-A Oklahoma City/Los Angeles
ETA: Debuted 2014
17. RHP Carlos Frias (6’4, 170 pounds, 25 years old)
Frias was signed out of the Dominican Republic seven long years ago, and he has finally, in the last couple years, started to realize his potential. He has a projectable frame and has added velocity since signing as a teenager. He made his debut in 2014, mostly as a reliever. He had one really good start and one really dreadful start. He was surprisingly decent out of the bullpen.
Frias has a low-90s fastball that averaged 94 MPH in his big league debut season. It’s a heavy pitch that has some solid sink to it. He can also cut it (as you’ll read shortly). The problem is, he falls in love with the pitch too much — especially the 4-seam version — and it can get hit when he doesn’t vary his pitches. He has a slider that is basically a cut fastball. It’s an 87-90 MPH pitch that’s tight and doesn’t move a lot. Hitters don’t square it up much and he gets a fair amount of fly balls with it. His true breaking pitch is a fringy 12-6 curveball that sits in the low-to-mid-70s. It doesn’t have a lot of depth to it, so he’ll need to improve it if he wishes to remain in the rotation. He also has a hard changeup that flashes average potential. It’s a pitch he should consider throwing more often. None of his pitches project as big swing-and-miss offerings, but his pure stuff is among the best in the system.
He holds his hands just short of his face with his legs close together. He has a normal motion and turns on the rubber. He kicks his leg straight up and doesn’t get too low when he goes to drive off his back leg. His arm can drag through his delivery at times, but overall, his mechanics are clean. He delivers the pitch from a high three-quarters arm slot and is able to command his fastball relatively well. He does fly open at times when he isn’t going right, but he’s able to make adjustments on the mound to get back into sync.
He has all the looks of a starting pitcher, but his career probably lies in the bullpen. He could be a late-inning reliever with power stuff, but he’ll need to work on a swing-and-miss pitch if he wants to be more than a middle reliever. He has poise on the mound and doesn’t look rattled, even when he isn’t going well. He’ll probably begin his season at Oklahoma City in its rotation. There’s no reason for him to pitch out of the bullpen in the minors. He has a chance to come up when the team needs a starter or reliever.
2014 ranking: 28
2015 location: Triple-A Oklahoma City/Los Angeles
ETA: Debut 2014
16. 1B Cody Bellinger (6’4, 180 pounds, 19 years old)
The Dodgers drafted Bellinger in the 4th round of the 2013 draft and signed him to a $700,000 bonus, which was almost $300,000 more than the slot-recommended amount. It showed the Dodgers thought Bellinger had a lot of potential at first base. He went to the AZL and didn’t hit a lot in his first year. He suffered a separated shoulder in his second game of 2014 and missed almost a month. He came back and hit really well in Ogden.
Bellinger is a tall, skinny, projectable left-handed bat in the mold of a young James Loney (which isn’t a bad thing). His stance is straight up-and-down and slightly open. He holds his hands at shoulder level and wiggles the bat until the pitch is on its way. As the pitch is coming, he drops his hands to about chest level and cocks it slightly. He has a short leg kick and load and is able to bring his hands through the zone quickly. He produces average bat speed that projects to solid-average. He really likes to get his hands extended and can drive the outside pitch to the left-center field. He has gap power right now, but his frame lends itself to adding some strength so he can reach his power potential. If he can’t, he’ll need to improve his plate discipline. It’s already solid, but it could improve.
He’s more athletic than most first basemen, as he shows fringe-average speed on the base paths. He also has really good range at first base. His defense is already at least MLB-average and projects to be a plus-tool. At best, he could be a guy who hits 10-15 home runs a season with 30-double potential. He should also post an on-base percentage that makes his lack of power tolerable. More likely, he’s another Loney, but maybe not even as good. He should get his first taste of full-season ball in Great Lakes.
2014 ranking: 17
2015 location: Low-A Great Lakes
15. RHP Zachary Bird (6’4, 205 pounds, 20 years old)
When the Dodgers drafted Bird in the 9th round of the 2012 draft, it looked like he might be a steal. He signed for $140,000 out of high school ($13,900 more than the slot-recommended amount) and had a strong debut in the Arizona Rookie League. He had a rough 2013 season that was split between Great Lakes and Ogden. But his 2014, and postseason reports, have reignited his prospect status.
Bird has a low-90s fastball that has touched 95 MPH in the past. It doesn’t have a lot of movement, but he can sink it slightly at times when he gets on top of it. But, he showed some increased velocity toward the end of the season. He was sitting in the 93-96 MPH and almost cracked 100 MPH with it. That’s a pretty significant increase in velocity, especially for a guy who worked the most innings in his professional career. His frame is such that there’s a lot of projectability, and mybe this is the result of that. He can get wild with it at times, so he’ll probably back it down a bit to increase his command. Still, that’s borderline elite velocity for a starting pitcher.
His best secondary pitch is his curveball which has a 12-6 break and sits in the mid-70s. It flashes plus-potential at times, but it’s still inconsistent. He has a fringy mid-80s slider that he could probably ditch — even as a starter — to focus on improving his curveball. He also has a low-to-mid-80s changeup that is a work in progress, but could be a nice weapon against left-handers. It shows some decent fade and potential to be a true third pitch.
Bird is one of the rare starting pitchers who pitches from the stretch. It’s something he tried late in the season to improve his mechanics, and it seems to have worked well. He comes set at the belt and has a high leg kick. His back leg bends and he drives the pitch toward the plate. His front leg is straight before it lands and his arm doesn’t lag behind. He has good arm speed. Bird delivers his pitches from a true over-the-top arm slot, which impacts his command/control. On one hand, he’s able to get really good downward plane on his pitches. On the other hand, it’s harder to repeat the release point with it, leading to him leaving his pitches up and sometimes flat. He rushes his delivery at times, which causes his front side to fly open and to miss up-and-away. The fact he added velocity, let alone didn’t lose any, from the stretch is impressive.
Bird has a good feel for pitching, but he needs to be more consistent. He has the pure stuff to be a No. 2 starter, but his ceiling is likely a mid-rotation guy. If he can’t figure out his changeup and command his other pitches, he could be a filthy power reliever, where his velocity would almost certainly tick up. He should get an assignment to Rancho Cucamonga. I wouldn’t be as worried about his results there (i.e. ERA). I just want to see him get more consistent with his pitches and reduce his walk rate.
2014 ranking: 20
2015 location: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
14. C/2B/3B Austin Barnes (5’9, 185 pounds, 25 years old)
Acquired from the Marlins along with Enrique Hernandez and Andrew Heaney for Dee Gordon, Barnes’ versatility will be the key to his future in the majors. He has extensive experience at catcher, second base and third base. He’s even athletic enough to handle a corner outfield spot, if necessary. He was a player the Dodgers targeted in the trade as to improve the catching depth in the system. Barnes has a really good .298/.390 batting average/on-base percentage line in 1,855 minor-league plate appearances. He hasn’t shown a lot of power, but almost doubled his career total after hitting 13 in 2014.
His stance is compact and slightly open. He holds his hands high and behind his right ear. For a smaller guy, he has a really big leg kick that touches back down just as he’s starting the top-half of his swing. He opens his hips up well for a guy with not a lot of power in his past. His swing is short and quick to the ball when its right. When it isn’t, it gets long and slow. He has excellent plate discipline, as he has posted a positive walk-to-strikeout ratio in his pro career. He doesn’t have a ton of power, and the power he does have is all to the pull side. He has the ability to go the other way, but not with a ton of power.
For a catcher, he is really athletic, but not a fast runner. He’s a fringy-to-below-average runner, but has good instincts on the base paths. If he continues to play a lot of catcher, that will surely decline a bit. But, he plays a lot of second base, some third base and could even handle a corner outfield spot if necessary. His best defensive position is catcher, where he has natural leadership ability and is adept at working with a pitching staff. His arm is average at best. At second base, he has enough range and instincts to play the position well. He also can play the hot corner a little bit.
At best, Barnes continues to improve on his 2014 season offensively and becomes a full-time catcher. He’ll likely become a super utility player that every team would want. He’ll go to Oklahoma City to begin the 2015 season and could see Los Angeles if there are injuries ahead of him.
2014 ranking: NR
2015 location: Triple-A Oklahoma City
13. RHP Ross Stripling (6’3, 190 pounds, 25 years old)
Chances are Stripling wouldn’t even be on this list if he hadn’t missed the entire 2014 due to Tommy John surgery, but he still has upside as a former 5th-round pick in 2012. He signed for almost $100,00 less than the slot-recommended amount, and he was looking like a steal at that price. He added some sustainable velocity after turning pro, and the numbers back that up. He has a 2.47 ERA in 164 innings across three levels of the minors.
The following information is, obviously, before he had surgery, so take that for what it’s worth. Stripling has a low-90s fastball that features some arm-side life that allows him to keep the ball down in the strike zone. He was able to touch the 94-95 MPH range at times with it. He has one of the best curveballs in the system, as it’s a 12-6 breaker that sits in the mid-70s. He can also throw it with an 11-5 break to give hitters a different look to it. He has good feel for the pitch and isn’t afraid to throw it in any count. He also has a low-80s changeup that has some sink and fade to lefties. It flashes solid-average potential. He’ll rush it at times and it gets flat and easy to identify. Finally, he has a fringy slider that needs more development if it’s to be a legitimate fourth pitch.
Stripling’s delivery is clean and repeatable. He, like Barlow, begins with his feet close together and pointed slightly on toward the third base side of home plate. He holds his hands at chest level as he begins his motion. He turns and crosses his leg over his back one slightly and collapses it as he drives off the rubber. His arm is is in good position, as it doesn’t drag much. He keeps his front side closed well and doesn’t fly open through his delivery, which helps him have above-average command and control. His release point is over-the-top, which allows him to get some good downward plane on his pitches, giving them some life.
It’s entirely possible he returns from the injury as good or better than he was, but there’s no guarantee. Before TJ, he had middle-of-the-rotation potential or a back-end innings-eater. It remains to be seen what he is post-surgery. If he’s healthy and able to repeat his delivery, he could still reach that potential. Stripling could go to Triple-A Oklahoma City after some time at extended spring training, but an assignment to Double-A after extended might be better for him. He’ll see Oklahoma City at some point in 2015.
2014 ranking: 6
2015 location: Triple-A Oklahoma City/Double-A Tulsa
12. RHP Jharel Cotton (5’11, 195 pounds, 23 years old)
The Dodgers popped Cotton in the 20th round of the 2012 draft — a draft that looks like it could be a boon for the organization. It was a tale of two halves for Cotton. He totaled 25 appearances, and in his first 12, he was awful. He posted a 7.07 ERA in 42 innings. In his next 13, he had a 2.55 ERA in 84 2/3 innings. But he was even better in his last seven games. He had a 1.11 ERA in 48 2/3 innings. This is significant because the Quakes’ coaching staff saw that Cotton was tipping his pitches, but it took him awhile to fix it. The results speak for themselves after he figured it out. The talent has been there, as he showed flashes of being a good pitcher in his first full season (2013).
Cotton has a fastball that generally sits in the 88-92 MPH range with some life and arm-side run. He can add velocity at times, but, like most pitchers, he loses a little command with the pitch as he adds to it. But he is able to locate it well.
He has two breaking pitches, both of which need some work. His curveball projects better than his slider. It’s a low-to-mid-70s pitch that has an 11-5 break and some depth to it. His slider is a low-80s pitch that is inconsistent, but he made strides with it last season. He’ll need one of the two breaking pitches to take a step forward if he wants to remain a starting pitcher. His best off-speed pitch is easily his circle changeup. He throws it in the low-80s and features really good fade movement. He was tipping it early in the season, but he throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball. He’ll throw it to both lefties and righties, but he’s more comfortable throwing it to wrong-side hitters.
He comes set with his hands at face level and his feet close together. As he starts his delivery, he drops his hands to belt level and does a quick upper-body turn toward the third base dugout when his foot turns on the rubber. He has a high leg kick and then his upper-half drops and he puts a lot stress on his back leg. He comes through his motion with his arm in good throwing position. He has a high three-quarters arm slot and is able to repeat it consistently. He almost pushes the ball toward the plate, as the entire delivery isn’t picturesque. But, it works for him.
He has a small frame that isn’t normally conducive to a heavy workload, but Cotton will remain in the rotation as long as he’s successful and can physically handle it. His profile is somewhat reminiscent of Edinson Volquez. He could be a middle-of-the-rotation starter if he hits his ceiling, but there’s a much greater chance of him ending up in the bullpen. If he does, he could be a late-inning reliever with a strong fastball-changeup combination. He should be in the Double-A rotation to begin 2015.
2014 ranking: 27
2015 location: Double-A Tulsa
11. C Julian Leon (5’11, 215 pounds, 19 years old)
Leon was signed out of Mexico as part of a quartet of prospects, including Victor Gonzalez, Lenix Osuna and William Soto. Leon has a chance to be the best of this bunch by a healthy margin. He only tallied 94 plate appearances in his debut season with the AZL Dodgers in 2013, but went to Ogden in 2014 and was the team’s best hitter. One thing he’ll need to watch going forward is his conditioning. He doesn’t have a picturesque physique, but he’ll need to keep his conditioning up if he’s to improve behind the plate.
He stands straight up in his stance and wiggles his bat a little until he gets in good hitting position. He has modest leg kick and gets his front foot down quickly. His hips open up really fast and he’s able to generate potentially plus bat speed, hence the power potential scouts see in him. He stays inside the ball well and is able to drive it to all fields. Of his 12 home runs in 2014, only three were to the left-field side of center field. He projects to have solid-average power, if not better. He’s also adept at taking a walk and isn’t a particularly free swinger (but a reduced strikeout rate would be nice). He’s a well below-average runner and won’t be a threat on the bases.
Defensively, some think he’s a future average catcher, some think he’ll end up at first base. From everything I’ve seen, he at least has a chance to stay behind the plate. He’s a natural receiver, has solid footwork and decent athleticism behind the plate. His arm is fringy, but that can be improved with work. He is only 19 years old after all. Leon could be the heir apparent to Yasmani Grandal, but he’s still a number of years away from that possibility. He’s definitely a bat-first player whose bat could make his lack of defensive skills moot. He’ll begin 2015 in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. It’ll be the toughest test for him to date.
2014 ranking: NR
2015 location: Low-A Great Lakes
Next up: The Top 10