Best tools of the Dodgers’ farm system

Joc Pederson is really, really good. (Dustin Nosler)
Joc Pederson is really, really good. (Dustin Nosler)

Tools are what scouts look for when evaluating a player. I tend to fall on the side of “The higher the upside, the better.” But there’s nothing wrong with a “safe” prospect.

There aren’t many safe prospects who possess the best tools in the Dodgers’ farm system.

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.

Joey Curletta (.326 AVG/.402 OBP)
Joc Pederson (.278 AVG/.381 OBP)
Jacob Scavuzzo (.307 AVG/.350 OBP)
Corey Seager (.269 AVG/.351 OBP)

This category is really between Pederson and Seager. Pederson has shown the ability to hit/get on base at the most telling level of the minors, while Seager finished his first full professional season flashing a plus-hit tool more often than not.

Curletta and Scavuzzo showed a good ability to put the barrel on the ball, as well as walk, but they did it in rookie ball. If they do it in the Midwest League in 2014, then they could be in play for this distinction next year.

Winner: Seager

Best Hitter for Power

Tools Player
Best Hitter for Average Corey Seager
Best Power Hitter Joc Pederson
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Pratt Maynard
Fastest Baserunner James Baldwin
Best Athlete James Baldwin
Best Fastball Jose Dominguez
Best Curveball Ross Stripling
Best Slider Zach Lee
Best Changeup Victor Gonzalez
Best Sinker Chris Reed
Best Control Lindsey Caughel
Best Defensive Catcher Spencer Navin
Best Defensive Infielder Miguel Rojas
Best Infield Arm Alex Guerrero
Best Defensive Outfielder Noel Cuevas
Best Outfield Arm Joey Curletta
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.

Justin Chigbogu (14 HR/.515 SLG)
Joey Curletta (5 HR/.461 SLG)
Michael Medina (10 HR/.411 SLG)
Joc Pederson (22 HR/.497 SLG)
Corey Seager (16 HR/.473 SLG)
Scott Schebler (27 HR/.581 SLG)

The fact there are three teenagers on this list is impressive. Chigbogu and Medina probably have the most raw power. Medina hit 10 home runs in his first taste of professional ball. Curletta didn’t show as much power potential as the other two, but he is one of the strongest guys in the system. Schebler showed some solid-averge power potential, but he’ll have to do it outside the California League to show it wasn’t a fluke.

Again, this comes down to Pederson and Seager. While Seager could hit 25-30 HR a season at his peak, Pederson is more likely to sustain that. When he needs to, Pederson can drop his back shoulder and get some loft on his hard contact. Once a sure bet for 15 HR per season, now it’d be surprising if he didn’t top 20 HR annually for many years.

Winner: 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.

Malcolm Holland (45 BB/67 K/.328 OBP)
Pratt Maynard (41 BB/41 K/.360 OBP)
Tyler Ogle (96 BB/76 K/.401 OBP)
Joc Pederson (70 BB/114 K/.381 OBP)
Corey Seager (46 BB/89 K/.351 OBP)
Jesmuel Valentin (49 BB/62 K/.364 OBP)

Pederson and Seager will probably make the most of their plus-plate discipline, but they won’t win this category. Ogle showed an ability to take walks, which would look better if he were behind the plate instead of first base.

This one comes down to Maynard and Valentin. Maynard had a 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 2013, while Valentin has struck out just two more times than he’s walked in his first two seasons. This one is tough, but Maynard’s ability to display plus-plate discipline at a higher level (despite being five years Valentin’s senior) gives him the edge.

Winner: Maynard

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).

James Baldwin (42 SB/11 CS)
Noel Cuevas (38 SB/15 CS)
Malcolm Holland (27 SB, 16 CS)
Joc Pederson (31 SB/8 CS)
Darnell Sweeney (48 SB/20 CS)

Pederson dramatically improved his base-stealing in 2013. Sweeney has plus-speed, but he doesn’t always show it in game action. Holland stole 44 bases in Ogden in 2012, but only 27 in 2013.

Naturally, two center fielders are contending for this distinction. Cuevas has sneaky speed, not just quickness. But Baldwin is one of the best athletes in the system, and easily the fastest base runner.

Winner: 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.

James Baldwin (6 3B, 42 SB)
Noel Cuevas (10 3B, 38 SB)
Malcolm Holland (1 3B, 27 SB)
Jacob Scavuzzo (3 3B/3 SB)
Scott Schebler (13 3B, 16 SB)
Darnell Sweeney (16 3B, 48 SB)

Cuevas, Schebler and Sweeney (all of whom played with the Quakes last year) have above-average athleticism for their respective positions. Holland was a defensive back in high school and had a scholarship to Boise State. But, the Dodgers have two prospects who are more athletic.

It’d be easy to just give this to Baldwin because he’s the fastest, but being the best athlete isn’t all about speed. Scavuzzo has the ability to play center field, but is better suited for a corner. This is the closest matchup thus far.

Winner: Baldwin (barely)

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.

Chris Anderson (92-94 MPH; 97 MPH)
Jose Dominguez (95-98 MPH; 102 MPH)
Onelki Garcia (90-93 MPH; 94 MPH)
Jarret Martin (92-94 MPH; 96 MPH)
Ross Stripling (90-94 MPH; 95 MPH)
Julio Urias, (88-92 MPH; 97 MPH)

Garcia’s fastball could tick up once he moves to the bullpen full-time. Martin already has a fastball that consistently touches the mid-90s. Stripling has the second-best fastball of any starting pitching prospect in the system. Urias could take that distinction as he ages, though.

Anderson’s fastball could be a plus-plus pitch down the road, though, an above-average grade is more realistic. Dominguez regularly touches the high-90s and even hits triple digits.

Winner: Dominguez

Best Curveball

The curveball has taken a back seat to the slider as the primary off-speed offering for many pitchers these day. However, Vin Scully didn’t dub Clayton Kershaw‘s curve “Public Enemy No. 1” for nothing.

Onelki Garcia (77-81 MPH, 1-7 break)
Garrett Gould (75-78 MPH, 12-6 break)
Ross Stripling (74-77 MPH, 12-6 break)
Julio Urias (73-75 MPH, 1-7 break)

Gould has topped this category the last two years, but as he moved up the minor-league ladder, the curveball has lost its effectiveness a bit. Garcia has a slider-esque curve that flashes plus-potential.

But the top two curves reside in the arms of Stripling and Urias. Stripling’s curve is a true 12-6 offering that features sharp downward break. It’s his best swing-and-miss pitch. Urias’ is more of an 1-7 offering that could be a great pitch one day.

Winner: Stripling

Best Slider

Kershaw didn’t have a slider coming up through the minors, yet he’s added the pitch and it’s become one of the best in the game.

Yimi Garcia (79-82 MPH, 10-4 break)
Zach Lee (80-83 MPH, 10-4 break)
Matt Magill (81-83 MPH, 11-5 break)
Jarret Martin (82-84 MPH, 2-8 break)
Chris Reed (82-84 MPH, 2-8 break)
Tom Windle (81-83 MPH, 2-8 break)

Garcia’s slider is inconsistent, but his best off-speed pitch. Magill’s slider could tick up if he moves to the bullpen down the road. Martin’s slider is a true swing-and-miss pitch at times. Windle’s is good and could top this category as early as next year.

This comes down to two former first-rounders in Lee and Reed. Lee’s slider has come a long way since his debut. It’s his best breaking pitch. Reed’s slider is a killer on lefties. It flashes plus-potential and works better out of the bullpen. But Lee’s wins out because he can throw it against lefties and righties.

Winner: Lee

Best Changeup

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

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

Baseball America rated Lee’s changeup the best, and it’s pretty good. However, changeups from the two lefties have better potential. Urias’ showed signs of being a plus-pitch, while Gonzalez’s changeup is easily his best off-speed pitch.

Winner: Gonzalez

Best Sinker

There are no Derek Lowe‘s here, but the Dodgers have some guys who can get some ground balls.

Onelki Garcia (90-92 MPH)
Brandon Martinez (88-90 MPH)
Jacob Rhame (88-90 MPH)
Chris Reed (88-91 MPH)

Martinez and Rhame make their first (and only) appearance in this series. They throw some solid 2-seamers, but they don’t come close to the other two.

Garcia’s sinker is heavy, and he gets arm-side movement on it. Reed, however, reinvented himself this season by inducing a lot of grounders. He’s gone from a power pitcher to a ground ball pitcher.

Winner: Reed

Best Control

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

Lindsey Caughel (1.6 BB/9)
Jonathan Martinez (1.8 BB/9)
Julio Urias (2.7 BB/9)
Duke von Schamann (2.6 BB/9)

Urias showed a propensity to locate his pitches well in his first season, while von Schamann lives off his ability to locate his pitches.

Martinez and Caughel are the best in this bunch. Martinez did it at a lower level, while Caughel displayed plus-control in High-A.

Winner: Caughel

Best Defensive Catcher

Remember when the Dodgers had Charles Johnson? That was fun.

Kyle Farmer (39% CS)
Pratt Maynard (27% CS)
Spencer Navin (40% CS, 4-of-10)

Farmer was a shortstop in college, but made the transition behind the plate surprisingly well. Maynard has good athleticism and a solid arm. But Navin made my Top 50 almost solely based on his defense.

Winner: Navin

Best Defensive Infielder

Cesar Izturis is one of my favorite Dodger players of all-time, and I can’t quite explain why. I’m sure it has something to do with his glove.

Cody Bellinger
Cristian Gomez
Miguel Rojas
Jesumel Valentin

Gomez could end up being the best of this quartet (and best of the middle infielders), but he’s still young. Valentin is praised in the organization for his glove, even if it profiles better at second base.

Bellinger is already a Major League-average defender at first base and should only improve. However, Ned Colletti has talked up Rojas and his glove for the last six weeks. A guy who hit an empty .234 in Double-A shouldn’t be getting this much run.

Winner: Rojas

Best Infield Arm

Gone are the days of Rafael Furcal, but there are some guys who can sling the ball across the diamond.

Alex Guerrero
Miguel Rojas
Alex Santana
Corey Seager

Rojas has a strong arm and is the only true shortstop here. Santana has a strong arm — strong enough for the outfield.

Seager has a potential plus-arm at third base and it’s plenty good for short. Guerrero has a strong enough arm for short that should play up at second. This is the second-toughest decision on this list.

Winner: Guerrero (barely)

Best Defensive Outfielder

Each of these guys are better than any of the four Dodger outfielders, but it’s likely only one sees the majors in an extended capacity.

James Baldwin
Chili Buss
Noel Cuevas
Joc Pederson

Pederson has made marked improvements since 2011. Buss got to the majors last season and has enough glove to play center field.

Cuevas and Baldwin are the two best, with Baldwin having the edge in range. However, Cuevas’ arm and instincts give him the overall edge.

Winner: Cuevas

Best Outfield Arm

Remember this? Yeah, no one has that kind of arm, even if there’s a former pitcher and guy who was draft-eligible as a pitcher.

Noel Cuevas
Joey Curletta
Jon Garcia
Aaron Miller

I saw Cuevas make a few good throws in person this past season. Garcia has always had a right fielder’s arm.

But this comes down to Curletta, whose arm could be plus-plus at its peak. Miller is a former pitcher who touched 95 MPH on the radar gun.

Winner: Curletta

Best 5-Tool Prospect

Matt Kemp, Raul Mondesi, Puig… all are 5-tool prospects the Dodgers developed.

Joc Pederson
Jacob Scavuzzo
Scott Schebler

Scavuzzo could end up being the best 5-tool prospect in the system, but he’ll have to prove his 2013 wasn’t a fluke in full-season ball. Schebler doesn’t have as much speed or arm as most 5-tool guys, but he has solid power and bat tools.

Pederson’s ability has improved every season, and he’s the best of the best in the system.

Winner: Pederson

About Dustin Nosler

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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.