2016 Dodgers prospects: Best Tools

Here is the 2016 installment of the best tools in the Dodgers’ minor-league system. One of the best minor-league systems in the game has a lot of intriguing prospects in each category.

There are players below from all over the list, including one player who didn’t make the list entirely.

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 (.315 AVG/.389 OBP)
Willie Calhoun (.316 AVG/.390 OBP)
Yusniel Diaz (NA/NA)
Corey Seager (.337 AVG/.425 OBP)
Alex Verdugo (.311 AVG/.340 OBP)

There are some quality hitters in this system, some already MLB-ready, some almost there. Barnes has the best bat-to-ball skills in the system, while Calhoun showed great ability in his debut season. Diaz is an unknown at this point and very well could end up being the best hitter in the system as early as next year. Seager has a long track record of minor-league success and a shorter-term record of MLB success. Verdugo barrels up pitches well from the left side.

This one easily goes to Seager because his hit tool is the only plus-plus one in the system. His swing is so easy and natural. He puts a charge into the ball and makes consistently hard contact. He should be close to a .300 hitter for his career.

Best Hitter: Seager

Best Hitter for Power

Tools Player
Best Hitter for Average Corey Seager
Best Power Hitter Cody Bellinger
Best Strike Zone Discipline Austin Barnes
Fastest Baserunner Edwin Drexler
Best Athlete Trayce Thompson
Best Fastball Frankie Montas
Best Curveball Grant Holmes
Best Slider Kenta Maeda
Best Changeup Julio Urias
Best Sinker Trevor Oaks
Best Command/Control Kenta Maeda
Best Defensive Catcher Austin Barnes
Best Defensive Infielder Cody Bellinger
Best Infield Arm Corey Seager
Best Defensive Outfielder Trayce Thompson
Best Outfield Arm Alex Verdugo
Best 5-Tool Prospect Trayce Thompson

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

Cody Bellinger (30 HR/.274 ISO)
Willie Calhoun
(11 HR/.203 ISO)
Justin Chigbogu
 (13 HR/.178 ISO)
Matt Jones (11 HR/.213 ISO)
Michael Medina (9 HR/.260 ISO)
Corey Seager (18 HR/.194 ISO)

This is the tool that makes or breaks some players. It determines whether someone is a Chris Davis or Billy Ashley. Bellinger broke out with a 30-home run campaign. Sure, some of the homers were league-related, but he has some of the best power ability in the system. Calhoun showed a ton of pop in his debut. It remains to be seen if he can maintain it as he progresses. If he does, watch out. Chigbogu probably has the best raw power, but he’ll never make enough contact to make it worthwhile. Jones is the largest human on this list (6’7, 250) and could see a power spike as he learns to use his power in game situations. Medina has big-time power potential, but he hasn’t proven it in full-season ball yet. Seager has 20-plus home run ability in the majors, which translates to plus-power.

It’d be easy to give this one to Seager, too, but Bellinger’s power potential is slightly better than Seager’s. He’s a better bet to hit 25-plus homers in the majors over anyone listed above. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all these guys (save maybe Chigbogu) hit 20-plus homers in the big leagues at some point.

Best Hitter for Power: Bellinger

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

Devan Ahart (25 BB/28 K, .368 OBP)
Austin Barnes (35 BB/36 K, .389 OBP)
Matt Beaty (23 BB/31 K, .368 OBP)
Willie Calhoun (35 BB/38 K, .390 OBP)
Gage Green (26 BB/43 K, .412 OBP)
Brandon Trinkwon (65 BB/77 K, .367 OBP)

Strike zone discipline is a tough thing to master. Ahart has shown an ability to control the strike zone, but he will chase at times. Barnes’ has walked three more times than he has struck out in his minor-league career. Beaty had a strong first showing, as did his draft brethren Calhoun and Green. Trinkwon showed excellent discipline a level higher than any player listed above other than Barnes. Speaking of Barnes, this is his category. He might not be a 1-to-1 guy in the majors, but that ratio won’t be too lopsided. He has the best eye in the system.

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

Edwin Drexler (12 SB/3 CS)
Micah Johnson (28 SB/7 CS)
Daniel Padilla (12 SB/2 CS)
Ariel Sandoval (10 SB/4 CS)
Trayce Thompson (11 SB/5 CS)

Drexler was drafted specifically to be a designated runner. Johnson came over from the White Sox with high grades o his speed. Padilla has some of the better speed of prospect in the lower minors. Sandoval has enough speed to legitimately remain in center field. Thompson’s speed is really strong, considering his Matt Kemp-like frame. But this one is easy, as Drexler is an 80-grade runner. He just doesn’t have any other tools to go along with it.

Best Speed: Drexler

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

Edwin Drexler (0 3B, 12 SB)
Daniel Padilla (2 3B/12 SB)
Trayce Thompson (4 3B, 11 SB)
Kam Uter (Pitcher)
Alex Verdugo (3 3B/11 SB)

Drexler and Padilla are speedsters, but there’s more to athleticism than speed. Thompson is the most physical player listed above. Uter, despite being a pitcher, was a Wake Forest commit as a wide receiver, so the athleticism is absolutely present. Verdugo is one of the more well-rounded athletes in the system. But Thompson’s resemblance to younger Kemp is too much to overlook in this category.

Best Athlete: Thompson

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)

Yadier Alvarez (92-95 MPH; 98 MPH)
Angel German (91-95 MPH ; 97 MPH)
Grant Holmes (92-95 MPH; 98 MPH)
Karch Kowalczyk (94-96 MPH; 97 MPH)
Frankie Montas (93-96 MPH; 100 MPH)
Josh Ravin (96-98 MPH, 100 MPH)
Jacob Rhame (92-95 MPH; 98 MPH)
Yaisel Sierra (91-95 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.

Alvarez might ultimately have the best fastball of anyone listed here, but there’s so little data on him that it’s tough to make that claim right now.  German’s velo jumped this season and he could end up being another true mid-90s reliever. Holmes’ fastball velo is sustainable in the rotation, and it could easily settle in as a 93-96 MPH pitch, but he’ll need to command it. Kowalczyk was a surprise high-velocity guy for me, as he sat in the mid-90s easily. Montas has sat in the mid-90s as a starter and that could tick up if he has to move to the bullpen. Ravin’s velocity is elite out of the bullpen, but his command is erratic. Rhame has a heavy fastball that has good boring action on righties. Sierra is like Alvarez in that there ins’t a ton of data on him, but his fastball has a lot movement and explosiveness. Ultimately, it’s hard to overlook a mid-to-high-90s fastball out of the rotation, which is what Montas has above all the others.

Best Fastball: Montas

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)
Grant Holmes (79-82 MPH, 11-5 break)
Ross Stripling (73-76 MPH, 12-6 break)
Julio Urias (75-79 MPH, 2-8 break)

Barlow’s curveball is his best secondary offering, but it hasn’t quite fully developed as expected. Holmes’ breaker is a true hammer that could even take a step forward as he refines it a bit. Stripling has a slower curve than Holmes, and it was once as effective — and it still could be. Urias’ curveball kind of slides between a curve and slider at times, but when he snaps it off right, it’s a plus-offering. However, Holmes’ curveball — the movement, the velocity, the swing-and-miss ability — is the best of the bunch.

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

Yadier Alvarez (84-86 MPH, 11-5 break)
Kenta Maeda (79-82 MPH, 10-4 break)
Frankie Montas (83-85 MPH, 11-5 break)
Josh Sborz (82-85 MPH, 11-5 break)
Yaisel Sierra (83-86 MPH, 11-5 break)

Like with his fastball, the limited number of views on Alvarez’s fastball hold s him back from winning this category (but he could soon top this list). Maeda has already shown a plus-slider in spring training and he lived off the pitch in Japan. Montas’ slider might have the most swing-and-miss potential of any other in the system. Sborz has a slider that plays well in either the rotation or bullpen, but it should be a plus-offering out of the bullpen. And again with Sierra, there isn’t much of a book on his slider. Everything points to it being a plus-offering. But Maeda’s ability to succeed with it in Japan and the fact that he is able to throw it in any count gives him the edge.

Best Slider: Maeda

Best Changeup

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

Candidates

Jharel Cotton (79-81 MPH)
Jose De Leon (80-83 MPH)
Julio Urias (80-83 MPH)

This is probably the toughest category to pick a winner. Any of the three have a claim to this pitch. Cotton’s changeup is what is making him more than a future middle reliever in the future. De Leon’s is what separates him from being a No. 5 starter and a No. 3 starter. Urias’ changeup got the highest grade and it does do so much when he throws it correctly. I could name any of them the winner and no one would argue, but I’m going with Urias because it could be a near-elite pitch when he refines it.

Best Changeup: Urias

Best Sinker

Never will these guys be mistaken for Derek Lowe, prime-Brandon Webb or Zach Britton, but they all throw good sinkers.

Candidates

Tommy Bergjans (88-90 MPH, 1.51 GO/AO)
Rob Rogers (91-93 MPH, 2.16 GO/AO)
Trevor Oaks (88-90 MPH, 2.24 GO/AO)

Bergjans and Rogers have solid sinkers, but neither compare to Oaks’ sinker. Rogers has the highest-velocity sinker, but he doesn’t command it particularly well. Oaks is able to command it without having plus-velocity, and he’s still extremely successful with it.

Best Sinker: Oaks

Best Command/Control

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

Candidates

Jharel Cotton (8.5 BB%)
Zach Lee (4.2 BB%)
Kenta Maeda (5.3 BB%)

Cotton has good feel for his fastball and changeup, but he struggles to locate his breaking ball at times. Lee’s command has improved to the point it’s among the best in the minor leagues (overall). Maeda had eight seasons of plus-command in Japan. Maeda gets the nod over Lee because he locates his better stuff better than Lee’s pedestrian stuff.

Best Command/Control: Maeda

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
Kyle Farmer
Spencer Navin

Barnes is already an excellent framer and is one of the most athletic catchers in all of baseball. Farmer is a converted shortstop and has taken to catching quite well. Navin’s arm is easily the best of the trio, but he hasn’t made it beyond A-ball just yet. Barnes’ framing ability and success at the high minors gives him the nod here.

Best Defensive Catcher: Barnes

Best Defensive Infielder

Cesar Izturis, Wes Parker, James Loney — just some of the best defensive infielders in Dodger history.

Candidates

Erisbel Arruebarrena
Cody Bellinger
Ronny Brito
Erick Mejia
Moises Perez

Arruebarrena is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in all of the minors. Based purely on that, he should top this list. But he doesn’t. Bellinger has not just an MLB-ready glove at first base, but an elite glove right now (he’s 20 years old). Brito got a $2 million bonus based primarily on his ability to field shortstop at a high level. Mejia came over from the Mariners and has a good enough glove to be a quality utility defender in the majors. Perez’s glove is strong, but he has yet to make it out of rookie ball. Bellinger’s elite potential at first base is hard to overlook, even for Arruebarrena’s glove at shortstop.

Best Defensive Infielder: Bellinger

Best Infield Arm

Adrian Beltre had the best arm of any Dodger infielder I’ve witnessed.

Candidates

Erisbel Arruebarrena
Ronny Brito
Moises Perez
Corey Seager

Arruebarrena has a strong arm, but it’s a notch behind his glove. Brito’s arm projects to be just as strong as EA’s, as does Perez’s. But Seager’s arm is the best of the bunch. It’s a plus-tool at either shortstop or third base. He has a cannon.

Best Infield Arm: Seager

Best Defensive Outfielder

This isn’t reserved for just center fielders … even though all five guys have played a lot of center field.

Candidates

Yusniel Diaz
Johan Mieses
Ariel Sandoval
Trayce Thompson
Alex Verdugo

Diaz has potential to be a plus-defender in center field, but he needs to prove it in the minors first. Mieses has the potential to stay in center field, but he fits better in right field long-term. I comped Sandoval to a lesser version of Franklin Gutierrez, and that was mostly based on center field defense. I was probably light on Thompson’s defensive grade, as he has the potential to be a plus-plus defender out there. Verdugo, like Mieses, fits better in right field long-term. This one is all Thompson, as he has natural actions and instincts in center field.

Best Defensive Outfielder: Thompson

Best Outfield Arm

Yasiel Puig‘s arm is still second-to-none in the entire system, but the three players below are closer than some may think.

Candidates

Joey Curletta
Johan Mieses
Alex Verdugo

Curletta was clocked in the mid-90s as a pitcher in high school. Mieses has a strong and accurate arm from both right- and center field. Verdugo’s arm is the best of the bunch, though, seeing as most teams liked him in the 2014 draft as a pitcher. It’s strong and very accurate.

Best Outfield Arm: Verdugo

Best 5-Tool Prospect

The Dodgers graduated a 5-tool prospect last year in Joc Pederson, and they’ve had a few of those guys in the history of the franchise.

Candidates

Johan Mieses
Trayce Thompson
Alex Verdugo

Mieses has a chance for five average tools, which is the definition of a 5-tool player. Thompson also has that potential. In fact, his potential is even higher than Mieses. Verdugo’s fifth tool (power) is lacking a bit, and his speed might not hold up as average (or better) as he fills out. This one is for Thompson, who has athleticsm running through his family (brother Klay and father Mychal are/were basketball players).

Best 5-Tool Prospect: Thompson

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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.