2015 Dodgers prospects: Best Tools

Folks who like prospects always point to the tools they possess, and the Dodgers have some toolsy players in the system.

Now, the winners (for lack of a better term) in the respective categories might not have the highest present or future grade from my Top 50 rankings (and there are some 51-100 guys listed as candidates), but it’s a pretty good reference point for what follows.

Best Hitter for Average

This category includes the ability to barrel up pitches, as well as the ability to get on base via the walk.

Candidates

Austin Barnes (.304 AVG/.398 OBP)
Joc Pederson (.303 AVG/.435 OBP)
Corey Seager (.349 AVG/.402 OBP)
Darnell Sweeney (.277 AVG/.387 OBP)

This one is pretty easy. Seager is the best all-around hitter in the system and makes extremely loud contact. While Barnes, Pederson and Sweeney all have better walk rates than him, Seager can take a walk. He had a better walk rate in his first two pro seasons, but it fell off a bit in 2014 because he was hitting the cover off the ball. He can hit to all fields with pop/power. He’s the best bat in the system.

Best Hitter: Seager

Best Hitter for Power

Tools Player
Best Hitter for Average Corey Seager
Best Power Hitter Joc Pederson
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Austin Barnes
Fastest Baserunner James Baldwin
Best Athlete James Baldwin
Best Fastball Chris Anderson
Best Curveball Grant Holmes
Best Slider Yimi Garcia
Best Changeup Jharel Cotton
Best Sinker Rob Rogers
Best Command/Control Lindsey Caughel
Best Defensive Catcher Spencer Navin
Best Defensive Infielder Erisbel Arruebarrena
Best Infield Arm Corey Seager
Best Defensive Outfielder James Baldwin
Best Outfield Arm Alex Verdugo
Best 5-Tool Prospect Joc Pederson

This category speaks for itself — it’s for the hitter who has the most power potential in the system. It isn’t necessarily the ability to hit the ball over the fence, but all extra base hits and the authority with which they hit the ball.

Candidates

Justin Chigbogu (23 HR/.468 SLG)
Michael Medina (5 HR/.496 SLG)
Joc Pederson (33 HR/.582 SLG)
Corey Seager (20 HR/.602 SLG)
Scott Schebler (28 HR/.556 SLG)

Chigbogu and Medina are immediately eliminated because they’re not as good as the other three and they’re at the lower levels of the minors. I will say, Medina has a chance to top this category in the next couple of seasons, while Chigbogu needs to improve his overall contact rates.

Seager has the most power potential of the three remaining, but Pederson and Schebler are extra base hit machines (especially Schebler). Of the three, Schebler actually has the highest percentage of extra base hits in his career (43.9 percent), but the fact Pederson has shown on multiple occasions that he has plus-raw power and the ability to get to it in games. Schebler has benefited from more doubles and triples than home runs.

Best Hitter for Power: Pederson

Best Strike Zone Discipline

This category for the players who display the best strike zone judgment and ability to minimize the bad pitches at which he chooses to swing.

Candidates

Austin Barnes (69 BB/61 K/.398 OBP)
Julian Leon (31 BB/53 K/.420 OBP)
Tyler Ogle (44 BB/59 K/.383 OBP)
Joc Pederson (100 BB/149 K/.435 OBP)
Alex Verdugo (20 BB/18K/.421 OBP)
Shawn Zarraga (47 BB/30 K/.416 OBP)

This isn’t just about who has the best on-base percentage, because Pederson would win this handily. I’m going to eliminate Leon and Verdugo because of their level of competition, but they do have real plate discipline skills. That leaves 2 1/2 catchers and a center fielder. While Pederson’s 100 walks are impressive, his 149 strikeouts are a little alarming. Sure, he was probably a little bored in Triple-A and tried to hit the long ball a lot, but he does have some swing-and-miss to his game. Ogle doesn’t have a lot of pop and won’t last as a bat-first first baseman/backup catcher without power, no matter how good his plate discipline is. That leaves Barnes and Zarraga. Zarraga actually has worse power potential than Ogle, and Barnes’ power is almost exclusively to his pull side. But, Barnes is a year younger and has more potential at the plate than Zarraga.

Best Strike Zone Discipline: Barnes

Best Speed

Of all the categories, this is the most self-explanatory. This is for the fastest Dodger prospect. I also factor in base-stealing ability (success rate, not just pure numbers).

Candidates

James Baldwin (28 SB/4 CS)
Malcolm Holland (42 SB/11 CS)
Johan Mieses (29 SB/3 CS)
Daniel Padilla (10 SB/6 CS)
Joc Pederson (30 SB/13 CS)

Baldwin is an annual contender for this distinction. Holland and Padilla also grade out as potentially plus-runners, while Pederson is solid-average. Pederson should be a 15 to 20-stolen base guy in the majors. Mieses was really impressive in his debut, but he did that damage in the Dominican Summer League as an 18-year-old. So, Baldwin and his pure 70-grade speed wins out.

Best Speed: Baldwin

Best Athlete

This is for the most athletic Dodger prospect. It’s usually reserved for an outfielder, but sometimes an infielder can sneak his way into the mix. And even a pitcher.

Candidates

Devan Ahart (4 3B/19 SB)
James Baldwin (6 3B/28 SB)
Malcolm Holland (5 3B/42 SB)
Daniel Padilla (4 3B/10 SB)
Jacob Scavuzzo (4 3B/17 SB)
Kam Uter (Pitcher)
Alex Verdugo (3 3B/11 SB)

Ahart looks like he’ll be able to handle center field going forward, but he isn’t the rangiest outfielder the Dodgers have in the system. Baldwin has range that is almost unmatched. Holland was a defensive back in high school and was committed to Boise St. before signing with the Dodgers. Padilla is a young, Venezuelan who should remain on this list for many years to come. Scavuzzo, despite the terrible 2014 season, still has tons of athleticism. Verdugo was praised for his athletic ability on the mound, and it has (so far) easily translated to center field. The biggest surprise here is Uter. He’s a pitcher and checks in at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. He’s here because he was committed to Wake Forest to play wide receiver before the Dodgers got him out of it with a $200,000 bonus. I really want to put him atop this list, but his athleticism will be limited by playing pitcher. He might be one of the game’s most athletic pitchers, but the impact of that is limited because of his position. Baldwin finishes just ahead of Holland for this “honor.”

Best Athlete: Baldwin

Best Fastball

This is not only the pitcher who throws his fastball with the most velocity, but the ability to command it is a factor.

Candidates (sitting velo; top velo)

Chris Anderson (92-95 MPH; 99 MPH)
Pedro Baez (92-95 MPH; 99 MPH)
Zachary Bird (92-95 MPH; 99 MPH)
Jeff Brigham (90-94 MPH; 97 MPH)
Joe Broussard (93-95 MPH; 97 MPH)
Ralston Cash (92-95 MPH; 97 MPH)
Jose De Leon (92-94 MPH; 96 MPH)
Carlos Frias (91-94 MPH; 97 MPH)
Grant Holmes (91-94 MPH; 98 MPH)
Jacob Rhame (92-95 MPH; 98 MPH)
Julio Urias (89-93 MPH; 97 MPH)
A.J. Vanegas (93-95 MPH; 98 MPH)

Each of these players are candidates because of pure velocity. Some have more movement than others, but all can touch the high-90s at their best.

I saw Anderson hit 99 MPH in person and sat in the low-90s with relative ease. Baez showed his velocity in the majors while Bird had a velo bump late in the season. Brigham gets a lot of movement on his heavy fastball. Broussard can be a mid-90s guy out of the bullpen, as can Cash and Rhame. Vanegas might have the best reliever fastball of the lot. De Leon tops out at 96 MPH, and Frias could have a velocity bump if he is in fact not the next Garrett Richards. Holmes touched 100 MPH in high school, but he’s more of a low-90s guy with a little reach-back velo. Urias’ fastball touching 97 MPH at age-16 is ridiculous, as he did in 2013.

Ultimately, I like to go with a starter in this category unless there’s a Jose Dominguez in the organization. There is not at present.

Best Fastball: Anderson

Best Curveball

No Clayton Kershaw public enemies here, but there are a few curves in the system that stand out and some that have long-term potential to get better.

Candidates

Scott Barlow (76-79 MPH, 12-6 break)
Zachary Bird (74-76 MPH, 12-6 break)
Daniel Coulombe (79-81 MPH, 12-6 break)
Grant Holmes (79-82 MPH, 11-5 break)
Zach Lee (72-75 MPH, 12-6 break)
John Richy (73-75 MPH, 12-6 break)
Ross Stripling (73-76 MPH, 12-6 break)
Julio Urias (75-79 MPH, 2-8 break)

Barlow and Bird have the potential to be atop this list before too long, but they still need work. Coulombe’s is a nice one out of the bullpen, but it’s limited in its potential and impact. Lee has developed a solid-average curve that won’t get a ton of swing-throughs, but it’ll be a pitch he uses somewhat frequently in the majors. Richy has only the second-best curveball of any 2014 Dodger draftee. Before his injury, Stripling had the best one in the system. Even if he hadn’t been hurt, his curve would have been surpassed by two others in the system.

That leaves Urias and Holmes. Urias’ curveball isn’t as heavy as Holmes’, but he’s able to get swinging strikes with it. It still battles his slider for shape, so he’ll need to find a consistent differentiation between the two pitches for his breakers to take the next step. Holmes has a true power curve that will be a swing-and-miss pitch at every level. For a spinner he throws so hard, he gets some nice depth on it.

Best Curveball: Holmes

Best Slider

The slider has seemingly taken over as the game’s primary swing-and-miss pitch (behind the fastball, of course). There aren’t any in the system at present that grade out as plus, but there are some to keep an eye on.

Candidates

Scott Barlow (80-83 MPH, 11-5 break)
Ralston Cash (84-86 MPH, 10-4 break)
Jose De Leon (83-85 MPH, 11-5 break)
Yimi Garcia (79-82 MPH, 10-4 break)
Michael Johnson (79-81 MPH, 1-7 break)
Chris Reed (82-84 MPH, 2-8 break)
Julio Urias (81-84 MPH, 1-7 break)
A.J. Vanegas (82-84 MPH, 10-4 break)

Cash throws his slider the hardest of anyone in the system not named Grant Holmes. It’s a legit mid-80s pitch out of the bullpen. De Leon’s slider might have the most potential of anyone on this list. If he takes stride with it this year, he could top the next version of this list. Johnson has the best left-handed reliever slider (until Reed heads to the bullpen full-time), and Vanegas might have the best right-handed reliever slider. His lack of command with it takes him out of the running for best slider, though.

That leaves Barlow, Garcia and Urias. Barlow’s slider is one that could take a huge leap forward, especially since he’s almost two full years removed from Tommy John surgery and has maintained his velocity. Urias’ slider is still a bit slurvy, but when he snaps it off, it flashes plus-potential. More likely, it’s a solid-average pitch for him going forward. Reed’s is better right now, but Urias’ should be better before too long. Garcia has made his living with his fastball-slider combination in the minors, and his slider has the most consistency to it. It might not have the tightest spin, most velocity or depth, but it’s the best overall slider in the system.

Best Slider: Garcia

Best Changeup

This is one of my favorite pitches, but it’s vastly underused in baseball.

Candidates

Jharel Cotton (79-81 MPH)
Victor Gonzalez (79-81 MPH)
Zach Lee (80-82 MPH)
Julio Urias (80-83 MPH)

Gonzalez uses his changeup well in the lower levels and it has potential. But he needs to be more consistent with it. Lee’s changeup was described by some as almost “MLB-ready” when he was drafted. It hasn’t progressed a ton since then. It flashes solid-average, but it’ll be at least an average pitch for him. Like most lefties, Urias has a natural ability to throw a changeup and it flashes the ability to be a big pitch for him going forward. It’s the second-best in the system. But Cotton’s changeup is so incredibly good that it is the clear-cut winner. It’s his best off-speed pitch and his fastball-changeup combination should get him at least a bullpen role in the majors at some point.

Best Changeup: Cotton

Best Sinker

These guys are not Derek Lowe or Brandon Webb, but they do a good job of keeping the ball down in the strike zone.

Candidates

Jeff Brigham (90-94 MPH, 1.64 GO/AO)
Carlos Felix (88-90 MPH, 1.19 GO/AO)
Chris Reed (88-91 MPH, 1.59 GO/AO)
Rob Rogers (91-93 MPH, 2.60 GO/AO)

Brigham has the most potential with his sinker of anyone on this list. He throws it the hardest and with the most movement. But, he hasn’t yet learned how to command it. That’s normal for a recent draftee. Felix didn’t allow a home run in his debut season and his sinker shows some good potential. But, he only did it in the Arizona Rookie League, so he’ll need to show it as he progresses through the minors. Reed’s sinker took a step back this season after establishing it as the best in the system last year. Rogers did an excellent job of getting ground balls in the hitter-happy California League and has the best sinker in the system.

Best Sinker: Rogers

Best Command/Control

Location, location, location, right? These are the guys who throw their pitches where they want.

Candidates

Lindsey Caughel (2.1 BB/9)
Jharel Cotton (2.4 BB/9)
Carlos Frias (2.2 BB/9)
Julio Urias (3.8 BB/9)

Pay no attention to Urias’ high walk rate. Most of that came early in the season when he was being bumped from starts (to the bullpen) for MLB guys on rehab assignments. He has some of the best control in the system. Cotton has displayed some above-average control in his minor-league career so far. Frias has shown the ability to control his stuff at the upper levels of the minors (and briefly in the majors). Ultimately, Caughel is the best control pitcher in the system. He has a sub-2.0 BB/9 in his MiLB career and has displayed the ability to do it consistently.

Best Command/Control: Caughel

Best Defensive Catcher

There may not be another Mike Scioscia in this group, but there are at least a couple potential catchers — starter or backup — here.

Candidates

Austin Barnes
Hendrick Clementina
Kyle Farmer
Spencer Navin

Barnes has solid abilities behind the plate and might be the best leader of the bunch. Clementina has a good arm, but he’s still at some of the lowest levels of the minors. Farmer has made a surprisingly good transition from shortstop in college to catcher in pro ball. He has a strong enough arm, but he’s far from a finished product. Navin has the best throwing arm and defensive skills in the system among those who wear the tools of ignorance. If he gets to the majors, it’ll be because of his defensive chops.

Best Defensive Catcher: Navin

Best Defensive Infielder

The best defensive infielder I’ve ever seen with the Dodgers is Cesar Izturis. Perhaps one player here could top that.

Candidates

Erisbel Arruebarrena
Cody Bellinger
Moises Perez

Two shortstops and a first baseman. No, it isn’t a sitcom, it’s the positions of the three players listed above. Perez is one of the only true shortstops in the system right now, but he’s so far down the ladder that he won’t top this list just yet. Bellinger’s defense is already MLB-average at first base, and he’s adept at throwing, too. But, it’s hard to put him ahead of a potentially 2-win defender in Arruebarrena. While he might not ever hit enough to be a regular, EA’s defensive chops are undeniable. He might be the best fielding shortstop in the minors.

Best Defensive Infielder: Arruebarrena

Best Infield Arm

No Adrian Beltre‘s here, but there are some strong arms in the system.

Candidates

Erisbel Arruebarrena
Moises Perez
Corey Seager

Perez has a potentially plus arm, but he needs to continue showing it as he progresses through the minors. Arruebarrena has a plus-arm that is potentially plus-plus. He makes difficult throws look easy. Seager has a cannon at shortstop, which will play equally well when he moves to third base. He’s accurate and throws seeds from short. He wins out over Arruebarrena, just barely.

Best Infield Arm: Seager

Best Defensive Outfielder

Usually, center fielders occupy this spot. The three candidates — shocker — all have the ability to play center field.

Candidates

James Baldwin
Joc Pederson
Ariel Sandoval

Baldwin is a true center fielder and could handle either corner (at least fielding-wise). Pederson probably fits best in a corner, but he should play an average center field for at least a handful of years. Sandoval’s athletic ability allows him to handle center field well, but he played a lot of left field last season. Baldwin is the most natural outfielder and the best in the system, but he’ll probably never crack the majors.

Best Defensive Outfielder: Baldwin

Best Outfield Arm

Before Yasiel Puig, there was Raul Mondesi. No 70-grade arms here, but there are some strong throwers.

Candidates

Joey Curletta
Jon Garcia
Johan Mieses
Alex Verdugo

Curletta was clocked in the 90s from the mound, and his plus-arm fits in well in right field. Garcia still has a strong arm, but he’s suffering from prospect fatigue. Mieses is new on the scene, but he has a strong arm that could play up in center field. Baseball America ranked his arm as the system’s best. But, Verdugo was seen as a pitcher by most and had the potential to have his fastball jump from the 88-90 MPH range to the low-90s. That arm in center field wins out for me.

Best Outfield Arm: Verdugo

Best 5-Tool Prospect

There, obviously, aren’t many 5-tool prospects in the system, nor are there in many systems around baseball. Some 5-toolers of days gone by are Puig, Mondesi and Reggie Abercrombie (I’ll wait a minute for your brain to come back after reading that name).

Candidates

Joc Pederson
Scott Schebler
Alex Verdugo

Most often, the 5-tool guys play outfield (or shortstop). If Corey Seager was even an average runner, he’d be on this list. But here we are with three outfielders. Schebler does four of the five things relatively well. His arm basically limits him to left field. Verdugo is young and hasn’t had the chance to show all of his tools over a longer period of time. That leaves Pederson, who is clearly the best 5-tool prospect in the system. Since the time he was drafted, he projected to have at least average tools (50-grades) across the board. Any prospect like that fits this category. His worst tool is his speed, which is usually the case for these guys.

Best 5-Tool Prospect: Pederson

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Next up: Projected 2018 Lineup

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.