Welcome to the 2017 version of the Dodgers Digest Minor League Players of the Year, as chosen by yours truly.
The Dodgers have already announced their official winners. Keibert Ruiz and Walker Buehler snagged the Branch Rickey Player and Pitcher of the Year honors last week. Well-deserved selections and they appear here, but I’m giving the nod to two other players — Edwin Rios and Wilmer Font.
Hitter of the Year
1B/3B Edwin Rios
Rios, 23, put himself on the prospect map after a strong 2016 season. I wasn’t fully convinced because he struggled outside of the hitter-friendly California League. So, he had something to prove in 2017. He began back with Tulsa and hit incredibly well, amassing a .317/.358/.533 triple slash with the Drillers. Because of the Dodgers’ depth at Triple-A, he probably stayed in the Texas League a bit longer than he should have. Once he got to Oklahoma City, Rios continued to hit. With the OKC Dodgers, he hit .295/.369/.536 and he walked more with them (18 walks, 9.6 BB%) than he did with Tulsa (17 walks, 5.1 BB%). Offensively, Rios’ ability to walk is the biggest question mark. He has a bit of a platoon split, but we’re not at Andre Ethier levels quite yet.
With a strong 2017, he has increased his prospect standing and chances of making it to the majors. He may not ever play with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he’ll be get a shot at the majors at some point. A comp I’ve heard that makes sense is Mark Trumbo, but that’s probably the best-case scenario.
Runners-up: Alex Verdugo, Ruiz
Pitcher of the Year
While his brief time with the Los Angeles Dodgers hasn’t been great, Font (27) had an incredible season in the minors. He was signed as a free agent and was the unquestioned ace of the OKC Dodgers and one of the best minor-league pitchers (stats-wise) in 2017.
In the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Font was able to post a sub-3 FIP and strike out almost a third of the hitters he faced. He led the PCL in strikeouts and was second in the minors to Cleveland prospect Triston McKenzie. One of his more impressive statistics was the fact he allowed just 7.6 hits per nine innings. Often times, a low H/9 is accompanied by a higher walk rate, but Font managed to limit his walks. He also gave up just 11 home runs in almost 140 innings. It was an incredible season for a guy in such an unfriendly league for pitchers.
Font throws a mid-90s fastball, a curve and a slider. He might not make it in the majors as a starter, but he could end up being a nice bullpen piece if he continues to have good command/control of his pitches.
Runners-up: Buehler, Caleb Ferguson
Next week, I’ll unveil my All-Prospect team. That should be a considerable fun.