2018 Dodgers Prospects: Midseason Top 30 Update

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

It’s the All-Star break, which means it’s time for a midseason Top 30 prospects update. While there has only been one true graduation from the ranks, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of player movement — both up and down the rankings and in & out of the organization.

Before we get started, I must address some news that broke last week.

The Dodgers drafted Imani Abdullah in the 11th round of the 2015 MLB Draft. He was given a well over-slot deal after a personal phone call from Magic Johnson. He broke out a bit in 2016 with the Loons and looked to be ready for the next step in 2017. Injuries prevented that, but he did wind up on the Quakes’ opening day roster as their No. 5 starter.

I was at his first start for the Quakes. His velocity was way down from last season. He was struggling to sit at 90 MPH and his offspeed stuff didn’t look like what had been reported previously. During the outing, some scouts were talking about the diminished velocity and I overheard one person affiliated with the organization say there was more to the story with Abdullah other than “Is he hurt?” I didn’t get a chance to ask what it might be, but Abdullah made made five more appearances (one start) and ended his 2018 season with a 12.38 ERA and walked 13 hitters, struck out seven in just eight innings of work.

I ranked him at No. 19 coming into the season, and I was expecting big things from him. Obviously, something happened here. We may never know exactly what happened, here’s hoping he’s doing well and what’s best for him and his future.

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Eligibility

All players who have not reached 50 innings pitched, 130 at-bats in the Major Leagues and have less than 45 days of pre-Sept. 1 service time are eligible for this list.

Numbers in parenthesis was the player’s rank in my preseason Top 100.

Midseason Top 30

1. Alex Verdugo, OF (3, +2)

Started: Triple-A Oklahoma City
Current location: Oklahoma City
Verdugo finally claims the No. 1 spot on one of my prospect lists. After Walker Buehler graduated and Ruiz struggled a bit in the first half, it was Verdugo’s spot for the taking. He’s hitting .352/.396/.521 with OKCA this season, adding some previously unseen power to his offensive profile while limiting the swing-and-miss. He could very well be traded in a couple weeks, but for now, he’s the best prospect in the system. He was also selected to the Triple-A All-Star team.

2. OF Yusniel Diaz, OF (6, +4)

Started: Camelback Ranch
Current location: Double-A Tulsa
I predicted big things from Diaz this season and so far, he’s making me look good. Even though he began the season in extended spring training, Diaz is still hitting .314/.428/.477 as a 21-year-old in the Texas League. He has more walks than strikeouts and is running a sub-15 percent strikeout rate. He’s probably a right fielder, but he has played more center field this season so far. He was one of two Dodger prospects selected to participate in the Future’s Game and clobbered a 2-run home run to right-center field in an impressive piece of hitting. He followed it up with a home run to left-center field on a 95 MPH fastball up-and-in. For a guy whose power is a question mark, he showed plenty of it in this exhibition game.

3. Keibert Ruiz, C (2, -1)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Tulsa
The Dodgers have been aggressive with Ruiz, and even at age-19, he’s doing some good things in Double-A. He has struggled at times, but he has shown still shown glimpses of what makes him special. Ruiz is hitting .247/.313/.390 with Tulsa, and this has been the first time he has really struggled at the plate as a pro. Despite that, he already has a career-best 9 home runs and has struck out only 20 times in 275 plate appearances. While he has good plate discipline, he doesn’t take a ton of walks, but he’s a great bat-to-ball guy with developing power. He does struggle with breaking stuff at times, but those Victor Martinez comps might not be too far off.

4. Will Smith, C/3B (7, +3)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Tulsa
Smith, 23, has been on fire for the last few weeks that has helped his overall numbers. For Tulsa, he’s hitting .284/.377/.598 with a career-high 17 home runs. Unlike his teammate Ruiz, Smith is a powerful hitter who does have some swing-and-miss, which is almost the opposite of scouting report coming out of college. He even missed a month of action with an injury and is still putting up some impressive numbers. Defensively, he’s the best catcher in the system, but he has played almost an even split between catcher and third base because of Ruiz’s presence with the Drillers. Some wonder if he has the physical stature/durability to catch an entire season, but if we’ve seen anything with the current iteration of the Dodgers, having positional flexibility is a good thing.

5. Dennis Santana, RHP (9, +4)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: MLB 60-day DL
Santana got off to a good start with Tulsa, posting a couple double-digit strikeout games while pitching to a 2.56 ERA and a 31.7 percent strikeout rate. That earned the 22-year-old a promotion to Triple-A, where he made some noise with his first start (6 IP, 0 R, 11 K). He made one more start before getting promoted to the majors. He made one appearance with the Dodgers — in Colorado — and gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief work. He did strike out five hitters and showed a wipeout slider. Before his first career start in Pittsburgh, he felt something when throwing his slider in warmups and has been out since June 1 with what is being called a rotator cuff strain. That’s not good and he’ll likely be out until late-August, but when he was in there, he was impressive.

6. Caleb Ferguson, LHP (15, +9)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Los Angeles
Ferguson benefited from Santana’s injury, as he was promoted at age-21 and struggled in his first start in Pittsburgh. Since then, he has been much better and has actually been more effective out of the bullpen. He still lacks a consistent third pitch, but his fastball has looked really good in the pros so far. His curveball needs tightening up, but there’s still a chance he could stick in the rotation long-term. He made two appearances with OKC, but was mostly with Tulsa before his promotion. In the minors, he had a 1.53 ERA, 26.9 K% and an 8.8 BB%. In the majors, he has a 4.18 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 28 K% and 7 BB%. Not bad for a former 38th-round draft pick.

7. Dustin May, RHP (11, +4)

Started: Camelback Ranch
Current location: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
May is making good on the $1 million bonus the Dodgers gave him as a 3rd-round draft pick in 2016. He never pitched in Ogden — as many top Dodger pitching prospects don’t — and is having his best season to date. He has a 3.09 ERA, 25.9 K% and just a 4.4 BB% in the hitter friendly California League. Some of that success could be attributed to a 53.3 percent ground ball rate. In his most recent start, he struck out 12 hitters in 6 2/3 innings. He’s only 20, so there’s no need to rush him to Double-A, but he might get a taste of the Texas League before the season ends.

8. Mitchell White, RHP (4, -4)

Started: Camelback Ranch
Current location: Double-A Tulsa
White might have the highest ceiling of any prospect — not just pitcher — on this list. He began the season in extended spring training and his velocity seemed to return to normal after if dropped a bit in the instructional league. He’s had stretches of bad starts mixed with one or two decent-to-good ones, which has led to him posting an ugly 5.50 ERA in his first 55 2/3 innings. The strikeouts are down, which is concerning. Fortunately, the 23-year-old’s issues appear to be mechanical rather than injury-related, so hopefully he can figure things out in the second half of the season because he still has a premium arm.

9. Gavin Lux, SS (14, +5)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga
Perhaps the prospect who has helped his future ranking most is Lux, who is hitting extremely well in his first season with the Quakes. He’s hitting .325/.398/.520 with a career-high 10 home runs. He also has an almost 11 percent walk rate with a strikeout rate just north of 17 percent. He has played predominantly shortstop for Rancho, but he has also dabbled a bit at second base. Some scouts think he ends up there, some think he has a chance to stick at shortstop. He also missed a couple weeks with a strained hamstring because he’s a #TrueDodger. Part of his offensive renaissance has been fueled by the league, but there’s no doubt he’s becoming a better hitter at just age 20.

10. Yadier Alvarez, RHP (5, -5)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Tulsa
Alvarez had been vying for the No. 1 spot on this list for a long time, but his mediocre 2017 season and poor start to the 2018 season has him on the edge of being knocked out of the Top 10. He still has arm talent for days, but his command/control continues to betray him. He has a 6.75 ERA for Tulsa in 16 innings. He also has 23 walks against 17 strikeouts in that time. The reason he’s only thrown that many innings is because he missed almost six weeks with a groin injury. He had two rehab starts in the AZL before returning to Tulsa on Saturday. He walked three hitters in 2/3 of an inning, so things don’t appear to be trending the right direction. He’s still only 22 years old, but it’s looking more and more like he’s destined for the bullpen.

11. Edwin Rios, 1B/3B (10, -1)

Started: Camelback Ranch
Current location: Triple-A Oklahoma City
Another guy who started the season in extended spring training, Rios put on a bit of a show in spring training by launching two mammoth home runs late in March. A calf injury kept him in Camelback to start the season, but once he got to Oklahoma City, he has done what he does: hit. He’s hitting .310/.363/.469. Unfortunately, he has seen an uptick in his strikeout rate — 31.2 percent — which is up from 21.3 percent last season in 522 plate appearances. The power has also taken a little step back, but that could just be him working through things after a delayed start to the season. The 24-year-old should be prime trade bait for an American League team later this month.

12. DJ Peters, OF (12)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Tulsa
Peters is one of the more physically gifted players in the system, and his first test at Double-A has delivered mixed results. He’s hitting .248/.333/.472 with 18 home runs. That’s good! What isn’t as good is the fact he’s striking out 31.5 percent of the time while walking just 8.6 percent of the time. He’s still hitting for power, but if he doesn’t either reduce the swing-and-miss by a bit or draw more walks, he might get exposed in Triple-A and the majors. But he’s a premium athlete and everyone raves about the 22-year-old’s makeup.

13. Jeren Kendall, CF (8, -5)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga
Like Peters, Kendall is blessed with premium athleticism, but the former Vanderbilt standout hasn’t quite yet adjusted to hitting in the professional ranks. In his first full season, the 22-year-old is hitting .228/.319/.391 for Rancho Cucamonga. In the hitter-friendly Cal League, that isn’t very good. His swing might need to be completely revamped, again, this offseason. One problem I see is his hand position. They’re too low and it causes some unnecessary extra movement, causing his bat to lag through the zone despite having above-average bat speed. His defense and speed haven’t slumped, which still gives him a leg up on other outfielders in the system. But there’s so much raw talent and ability that has yet to be tapped.

14. Drew Jackson, SS/2B (27, +13)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Tulsa
The run on athletic position players continues with Jackson. The 24-year-old is hitting .269/.360/.488 with 11 home runs for the Drillers. He also has 16 stolen bases and has his strikeout rate is trending the right direction. He’s a double-plus athlete with a legitimate 70 arm and nearly 70 run. He uses his athleticism well in the middle infield and he even had a 3-game stint in center field earlier this season. He should see OKC before season’s end and is an intriguing prospect going forward.

15. Connor Wong, C (18, +3)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga
Wong, 22, surprised some folks in his pro debut with his power output (.216 ISO with Great Lakes last year). He began this season showing even more power, hitting eight home runs in his first 12 games (54 plate appearances). Since that time, he has been quite pedestrian and has hit just five balls over the fence. Overall, he’s hitting .241/.331/.436 with 13 home runs. His game does come with a lot of swing-and-miss, as he has struck out in 34.1 percent of his plate appearances this season. His 8.9 percent walk rate isn’t enough to offset that. Maybe he needs to sacrifice some of his power to reduce the strikeout rate. That could produce better overall results. Defensively, he has played mostly catcher, but he also has nine appearances at second base.

16. Michael Grove, RHP (NR)

Started: West Virginia University
Current location: Camelback Ranch
Grove was the Dodgers’ 2nd-round pick in June and when they popped him, I had no idea who he was. After reading up on him, he seems like the kind of pitcher who could have a higher ceiling that it would appear at first glance. The 21-year-old missed the entire 2018 season after having Tommy John surgery last summer. He probably won’t even throw competitively until the instructional league, but the Dodgers do like what they have in him. They gave Grove more than $300,000 over slot to sign because the Dodgers failed to sign their 1st-round pick J.T. Ginn.

17. Matt Beaty, 1B/3B (25, +8)

Started: Camelback Ranch
Current location: Triple-A Oklahoma City
Beaty is the last of the big four to begin the season at Camelback Ranch (Diaz, White, Rios). He was recovering from a minor injury suffered in spring and went straight to OKC for his Triple-A debut (coming off a Texas League MVP season in 2017). He seemed to be adapting well to Pacific Coast League pitching, hitting .300/.386/.450 in 71 plate appearances. But Beaty, 25, tore the UCL in his thumb sliding into home plate in mid-June. In his abbreviated season thus far, Beaty has played four positions (1B, 2B, 3B, LF), but he still profiles best at either corner infield spot.

18. Diego Cartaya, C (NR)

Started: Venezuela
Current location: Venezuela?
It isn’t often a 16-year-old ranks this highly on any prospect list, but Cartaya is a different kind of prospect. The Dodgers signed him on July 2 to a $2.5 million bonus. He has been praised for his catching ability and makeup, but he also has a chance to hit. He’s already quite physically mature, so as long as he doesn’t get too big to catch, he should be fine back there. His swing is more of a line drive approach but the power could come as he progresses through the minors. He could move quickly, ala Ruiz, but to expect him to get to Double-A by his age-19 season would be pretty optimistic.

19. Luke Raley, OF/1B (57, +38)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Tulsa
Raley was the Dodgers’ 7th-round in 2016 and has done nothing but hit since turning pro. The proving ground known as Double-A has been solid for Raley thus far. He’s hitting 272/.351/.467 14 home runs — tied for his career-best. While his strikeout rate has been about the same, his walk rate has fallen a bit. That’s not terribly unexpected for a player moving up from A-ball to Double-A. The 23-year-old plays in both corner outfield spots and has logged significant time at first base this season, too. He might end up being a Quad-A player, but for now, he’s holding his own in the Texas League.

20. Dean Kremer, RHP (50, +30)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Double-A Tulsa
The Dodgers’ 14th-round pick in 2016 began the season repeating High-A and carved his way through the Cal League. Kremer, 22, was leading the league in strikeouts before his promotion to Tulsa. All he did in his Double-A debut was strike out 11 hitters over seven innings. For the season, he has a 3.03 ERA, 38.9 K% and a 9.0 BB%. His stuff has taken a step forward since being drafted, and he now sits in the 91-94 MPH range. He also has a curve, slider and changeup that he uses effectively. While he might ultimately be a reliever, he’s thriving as a starter in the minors this season.

21. Rylan Bannon, 3B/2B (83, +62)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga
As an 8th-round pick last year, Bannon, 22, didn’t really get much acclaim. He was known as a glove-first guy and hit well for the Raptors in Ogden (as most college draftees do). He skipped Low-A and went straight to High-A. He has been, in a word, amazing for Rancho. He’s hitting .299/.405/.566 with 20 home runs. He also has an elite 14.6 percent walk rate. He pairs that with a 25.6 percent strikeout rate, so that’s a bit of a concern. But if he’s walking that much and hitting well, it’s an acceptable number (and I realize this is happening in A-ball, not the pros). He has played at third base about two-thirds of the time, with the other third coming at second base.

22. Tony Gonsolin, RHP (43, +21)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga
Gonsolin made a name for himself late last season, when he was touching nearly 100 MPH on the radar gun in the Cal League playoffs. Instead of moving to Tulsa to pitch out of the Drillers’ bullpen, the Dodgers held the 24-year-old back in Rancho to make him a starting pitcher. So far, that decision looks to be a good one. In 17 starts, Gonsolin has a 2.69 ERA, 30.5 K% and a 7.5 BB%. He has also allowed just five home runs in those starts. His stuff has held strong as a starter and there could be a future there. He should see Double-A before too long, much not unlike Kremer did just a week ago.

23. Ronny Brito, SS (23)

Started: DSL Dodgers (Robinson)
Current location: Rookie Ogden
After Brito’s 2017 season was abruptly ended by a dirty slide while turning a double play that resulted in a broken leg, he went to the Dominican Summer League for a brief refresher. After eight games, he was promoted to Ogden and has benefited from the friendly hitting environment. The middle infielder has an overall line of .348/.398/.573 with five home runs and a higher-than-desired 23.5 percent strikeout rate. He also has a 7.1 percent walk rate. He has long since been a favorite of mine and I’d like to see what he does in full-season ball, but the the 19-year-old has performed well so far this season.

24. Josh Sborz, RHP (28, +4)

Started: Double-A Tulsa
Current location: Triple-A Oklahoma City
After nearly three seasons of starting, the Dodgers finally moved Sborz to the bullpen — a place almost everyone thought he’d end up since the day he was drafted. The 24-year-old has bounced between Double- and Triple-A, but is currently back with Tulsa. Overall, he has a 3.77 ERA, 30.1 K% and a 9.7 BB%. The most impressive part about his move to the bullpen is the fact he has given up just one home run in 43 1/3 innings across two levels. He should be a fungible middle reliever-type as soon as next season.

25. Cristian Santana, 3B/1B (16, -9)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga
Santana is a hitter who hasn’t gotten the Cal League bump as of yet. He’s hitting just .241/.271/.384 for the Quakes. He has struck out 27.6 percent of the time and walk only 3.6 percent of the time. That wouldn’t really be too acceptable if he were slugging .600, but he isn’t even slugging .400 at this rate. He plays a competent third base but because of the glut of infielders in Rancho, Santana has played more first base than third base this season.

26. Ariel Hernandez, RHP (NR)

Started: Double-A Pensacola (Southern League)
Current location: Triple-A Oklahoma City
Hernandez was acquired from the Reds in April for Zach Neal (who was reacquired 12 days ago) and Ibandel Isabel. The hard-throwing Hernandez has spent time in both Double- and Triple-A since the trade. Overall, the 26-year-old has a 2.89 ERA, 23.1 K% and an ugly 13.2 BB%. That’s been his biggest flaw as a pro. His command/control is legitimately 30-grade, which is why the Reds traded him in the first place. But the Dodgers have had some success with these reclamation project pitchers and it was a low-risk move. He has a high-90s fastball and a mid-80s curveball that has slider-like tendencies. If player development can get the the command up to even 40-grade, then he should have a shot in the majors (again, since he debuted for Cincinnati last season).

27. Omar Estevez, 2B/SS (30, +3)

Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga
Estevez is in his second stint with the Quakes, and this one has been the best so far. He’s hitting .251/.302/.421 with a career-high 10 home runs and 23 doubles (after 24 last season). His walk rate is almost identical to last season (6.5 percent), but his strikeout rate has jumped about 7 percent from last season. That’s the most concerning part for Estevez. He’s still young (20) and there’s time for him to improve, but I don’t know if a third stint in the Cal League in 2019 will be all that beneficial. If he can show significant improvement in the second half, then perhaps his development can take the next step.

28. Starling Heredia, OF (13, -15)

Started: Low-A Great Lakes
Current location: Great Lakes
Heredia is another talented player who hasn’t performed particularly well so far in 2018. He’s hitting an ugly .182/.245/.325 for the Loons. He hasn’t played in Great Lakes since June 8, and understandably so. He’s not performing up to his capability and the Dodgers are trying to iron out the kinks. He still has a lot of talent, but the 19-year-old is overmatched right now.

29. Jordan Sheffield, RHP (17, -12)
Started: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Current location: Rancho Cucamonga (DL)
Despite being blessed with some of the best stuff in the system, Sheffield got to a slow start in 2018 in his second go-around with the Quakes (just 18 innings there last season). In 27 innings, he had a 7.33 ERA and gave up an eye-popping six home runs. He did have 32 strikeouts, good for a 24.4 K%. The 23-year-old has been on the Minor League disabled list since May 13 with a forearm strain. As a former Tommy John recipient, that’s not really great news.

30. Miguel Vargas, 3B/1B (51, +21)

Started: AZL Dodgers
Current location: Rookie Ogden
Vargas might be my newest crush in the system. The 18-year-old signed during the last July 2 signing period for $300,00 and has been incredibly impressive in his pro debut. He lasted just eight games in the AZL because he was far too mature a player for that level of competition. With Ogden, he has been downright insane at the plate. Overall, he’s hitting .480/.545/.714 in 88 plate appearances. He has been described as a 55-grade runner, which is surprising for a kid who’s a legitimate 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. Still, he has a great feel for hitting, even if his swing needs some work. We should pump the brakes on him being the next great thing, but there’s a lot of talent here with Vargas.

The Next 5 in alphabetical order (preseason ranking): RHP Melvin Jimenez (23), 2B/CF Tim Locastro (29), OF Cody Thomas (44), UTIL Breyvic Valera (NR), RHP Jesus Vargas (77)

Here are some guys ranked in the back-half of the Top 100 who would be Top 50 prospects in the system if the season ended today, aside from the “Next 5” listed above (preseason ranking):

Here are guys ranked in the Top 100 who are no longer in the system:

Dropped out of Top 30: Yaisel Sierra (21), Morgan Cooper (22), Jake Peter (26), Locastro (29)

Moved into Top 30: Cartaya (18), Hernandez (NR), Gonsolin (43), Kremer (50), M. Vargas (51), Raley (57)

Graduated: Buehler (1)

Biggest riser: Bannon (+62)

Biggest faller: Sierra

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.