Minor League Baseball is back! Here’s who to watch in the Dodgers’ system

Andy Pages. Photo by: Cody Bashore

Minor League Baseball is back! After a 16-month, pandemic-aided hiatus, Minor League Baseball returned. Before we go over some of the prospects to watch at each level, let’s talk about the levels themselves.

Triple-A and Double-A remain unchanged, with Oklahoma City and Tulsa hosting the Dodgers and Drillers, respectively. The only change comes at the A-ball level. High-A Rancho Cucamonga is no longer High-A. It has swapped levels with Great Lakes. So now it’s High-A Great Lakes in the Midwest League and Low-A Rancho Cucamonga in the California League. I’m not 100% sure why the change was made — nor do I understand it — but I offer you this explanation.

“Why move the Cal League to Low A from High A? Purely to make the numbers across all of Minor League Baseball. There’s only room for six teams when all the other High-A slots are filled, so the decision was made to shift the Northwest League—which will be filled by affiliates of West Coast MLB teams—to High A. This is also the rationale for moving the Midwest League to High A and the Florida State League to Low A.”

Sure, why not.

Now, let’s get to some of the guys to watch at each level (Top 50 ranking in parenthesis).

Oklahoma City Dodgers; Triple-A West League, East Division (formerly the Pacific Coast League)

Omar Estevez (26)
Josiah Gray (1)
DJ Peters (41)
Cristian Santana (40)
Luke Raley (28)
Zach Reks (33)
Sleeper: Phil Bickford (NR)

This will be Estevez’s first taste of Triple-A He’s still just 23 years old. Gray had a great debut last night (5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 10 K) and it’s only a matter of time before the Dodgers’ top prospect makes it to Los Angeles. Peters made his MLB debut this season already. Same goes for Raley. Santana is a premium defender with power, but he’s aggressive. Bickford was just picked up earlier this week. He has a big arm, but still needs some work.

Tulsa Drillers; Double-A Central League, North Division (formerly the Texas League)

Jacob Amaya (15)
Michael Busch (2)
Gerardo Carrillo (20)
Hunter Feduccia (43)
Michael Grove (22)
Kody Hoese (8)
Andre Jackson (11)
Devin Mann (34)
Ryan Pepiot (9)
Nick Robertson (32)
Gus Varland (42)
Guillermo Zuniga (50)
Sleeper: Yadier Alvarez (NR)

Amaya is off to a solid start. Busch has homered in back-to-back games. Carrillo struck out five in his first start, but also allowed five hits in three innings. Feduccia is 3-for-8 so far. Grove got roughed up in his start last night (2 1/3 IP, 5 R). Hoese is off to a bit of a slow start (3-for-13, all singles). Jackson went four innings in his Double-A debut. Mann is just 1-for-8 with five strikeouts. Pepiot should debut tomorrow. Robertson has just one appearance so far. Varland starts tonight (acquired with Sheldon Neuse for Adam Kolarek and Cody Thomas). Zuniga has struck out four of the first 10 batters he has faced. And then there’s our old friend Alvarez, who was designated for assignment in February 2020. He’s apparently back and not on any restricted list. The Dodgers didn’t give him $16 million because of his good looks, so there’s a minuscule chance there’s still something there.

Great Lakes Loons; High-A Central League, East Division (formerly the Midwest League)

Clayton Beeter (7)
Bobby Miller (5)
Landon Knack (16)
Robinson Ortiz (25)
James Outman (29)
Andy Pages (10)
Carson Taylor (46)
Leonel Valera (37)
Miguel Vargas (3)
Sleeper: Jeff Belge (NR)

Lots of recent draftees here. Beeter and Knack haven’t debuted yet. Miller had a great professional debut (3 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 5 K). Ortiz is very familiar with Midland, and while he struck out five in 2 1/3 in his season debut, he also walked five (sporting a 3.85 WHIP at present). Outman is 0-for-7, but has a 4:3 BB:K ratio. Pages, a big-time breakout pick for many, is just 1-for-10 with four strikeouts. Taylor is 0-for-6 with two walks. Valera is also struggling to start (1-for-11, 1 HR). Vargas hit an opposite-field homer in Game 1, but that’s his only hit so far. He does have three walks against three strikeouts. Belge, 23, was an 18th-rounder in 2019. His true talent was better than that, and in his first 2021 appearance, he struck out five of the seven hitters he faced. He could move quickly.

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes; Low-A West League, South Division (formerly the California League)

Hyun-il Choi (38)
Alex De Jesus (14)
Carlos Duran (44)
Brandon Lewis (35)
Jimmy Lewis (24)
Julian Smith (NR)
Gavin Stone (NR)
Jorbit Vivas (47)
Jake Vogel (21)
Kendall Williams (18)
Sleeper: Braydon Fisher (NR)

Choi got touched up a bit in his first start (3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 K), but has talent. De Jesus, all of 19 years old, is 1-for-10 with a walk and six strikeouts so far. Duran has yet to debut. Brandon Lewis hit a grand slam, but has also struck out seven times in 14 plate appearances. Jimmy Lewis, making his pro debut, got hit around a bit (2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 2 K). Smith was Dodgers’ 15th-rounder in ’18 and has loads of talent. It showed in his debut (4 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K). He’s also 24 years old, so he should get a bump soon. Stone was their 2020 5th-rounder, and he looked good in his debut (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K). Vivas is 2-for-11, but has somehow scored five runs. Vogel is off to a rough start (1-for-14, 8 K), but he’s also one of the youngest players on the team. Williams should make his debut this weekend. Fisher, the 2018 4th-rounder, is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He has loads of talent and it’ll be interesting to watch his progress this season.

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That’s just a quick rundown of what it looks like on the farm. I’m very excited to have Minor League Baseball back.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.