Now the prospects are getting more recognizable and legitimate. There will be some familiar names here, but there will also be some who aren’t and some who have higher ceilings than their ranking might indicate. There are a couple of really interesting guys in this group of 10. Of the eight who haven’t yet debuted in the majors, I could see half of them getting the call at some point — maybe not this season and maybe not with the Dodgers.
Previous entries in the series:
Editor’s Note: I am not a scout (#notascout). I am an amateur when it comes to evaluating players. I don’t claim to be a pro, I just want to pass along the information I observe/obtain to the people. Notes and comments are based on personal observation, talking to sources, reading scouting reports and watching video. All ratings in the charts below are on the standard 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is roughly average, 80 is elite and nearly unattainable, and 20 is unacceptably poor. Enjoy.
40. RHP Chris Mathewson (6’0, 217 pounds, 22 years old)
Mathewson was an unheralded 19th-round draft pick in 2016 out of Cal State Long Beach. The Dodgers gave him an above-slot $202,000 signing bonus. After a rough debut later that season (8.25 ERA in 12 innings), he had a solid 2017 season for Great Lakes. He posted a 3.11 ERA, 23.7 strikeout percentage, 9.2 walk percentage and gave up just seven home runs in 101 1/3 innings. He had roughly equal splits as a reliever as he did a starter, but his final eight appearances of the season — all as a starter — established him as a starter in at least the short term: 2.70 ERA, 24.1 K%, 6.8 BB%, .616 OPS against.
A pitchability guy, Mathewson doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and his walk numbers would indicate he doesn’t have precise command of all his offerings. But he throws enough strikes and misses a surprising amount of bats. He operates with a fastball that has fringe-velocity — 88-92 MPH. He uses primarily the sinker version of the pitch that sits around 90 MPH. He gets a decent amount of ground balls and when he really gets on top of it, it bores down-and-in to right-handed hitters. His best secondary offering is a 11-5 slider that sits in the high-70s-to-low-80s. It has cutter-like tendencies, which means he could add a true cutter sometime down the road. Mathewson also has a 12-6 curveball in the low-70s. He doesn’t use it a lot, but he’ll steal a strike with it early in the count. It keeps opposing hitters honest.
Mathewson works quickly with a compact delivery. He begins with his hands at belt-level on the first base side of the rubber. He’s quick to make the turn and deliver the pitch. He doesn’t have a quick arm whip, which means the ball takes a little longer to get to its release point. That causes his mechanics to get out of sync sometimes, leading to some command/control issues. When he’s synced up, his pitches work much better.
After spending most of the 2017 season with Great Lakes, Mathewson should be in the Rancho Cucamonga rotation. If he pitches well enough, he could get a look at Tulsa, but that’s more likely for 2019. He has back-of-the-rotation upside. If not, he could be a swingman or middle reliever with the ability get some strikeouts and ground balls.
2017 ranking: NR
2018 location: High-A Rancho Cucamonga
39. RHP Shea Spitzbarth (6’0, 197 pounds, 23 years old)
The Dodgers signed Spitzbarth as an undrafted free agent in 2015 out of Molloy College in New York. He has done nothing but produce since signing, posting a 2.58 ERA, 30.7 K%, 9.1 BB% and has given up just seven home runs in 129 minor-league innings. In 2017, he began the season with Rancho Cucamonga and had a 0.57 ERA and struck out 27 of the 60 hitters he faced. It earned him a promotion to Tulsa where he wasn’t as dominant (3.00 ERA, 21.6 K%), but he still served as a solid reliever for the Drillers.
He operates with three pitches. Spitzbarth’s fastball sits in the 90-92 MPH range and has touched the 94-95 MPH range in the past. It doesn’t feature a lot of movement, but he pitches up in the strike zone with it, which we know the Dodgers value in their pitchers — especially relievers. He backs it up with a mid-70s curveball with 12-6 break. It features a good amount vertical movement and he gets a surprising number of swinging strikes on it. He also has a low-80s changeup that has splitter-like fade to it. Sometimes he holds onto it a little too long and it ends up a ball out of his hand. He’ll need to be more consistent with the release point for it to be a viable pitch going forward. But when he pulls the string, it’s a nice weapon against left-handed hitters.
Spitzbarth comes set at chest-level with no bend in his legs and on the first base side of the rubber. He has a high leg kick and delivers the pitch from a traditional over-the-top arm slot. Being a shorter pitcher, he doesn’t get much plane on his fastball, which is partially why he works better with it up in the strike zone. He’s athletic on the hill and does a reasonably good job repeating his delivery. While his stuff isn’t premium, he’s a complete pitcher who keeps the ball in the yard.
After spending most of 2017 at Double-A, a promotion to Triple-A should happen. While he isn’t on the 40-man roster, it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing to see him reach the majors this season. His ceiling is limited because he’s a middle reliever without a true out pitch. All his pitches have flashed average, with his offspeed stuff inconsistently flashing above-average. He profiles as a 6th/7th inning reliever at he next level.
2017 rank: NR
2018 location: Triple-A Oklahoma City
38. 3B Michael Ahmed (6’1, 187 pounds, 26 years old)
Older brother of Diamondbacks’ infielder Nick Ahmed, Michael was a 20th-round draft pick in 2013 by the Dodgers out of Holy Cross. After being known more as a glove-first prospect in his first three seasons, his 2016 offensive breakout in Rancho Cucamonga (.872 OPS) improved his overall prospect standing. His 2017 was cut short by injury — he didn’t play after July 15 — but he performed well in 120 Double-A plate appearances (.876 OPS) before getting hurt. After hitting just four home runs in his first three seasons, Ahmed has 25 home runs between High-A and Double-A the last two seasons. Some of that is environment-aided (Cal League), but some of that is also his maturation as a hitter.
Ahmed has an open stance with his hands held at ear-level. He has a big leg kick as he closes his stance and his front half starts moving toward the plate. His foot lands sometimes more toward third base than first base, making him a bit susceptible to pitches on the outer half of the plate. He has average bat speed and a relatively level swing path. He gets in trouble sometimes when he chases pitches, but he has also shown decent plate discipline in his career. He doesn’t have any plus-tools, but he does a lot of things well enough that he could be a viable MLBer. If you’re looking for the next Chris Taylor whose name isn’t Drew Jackson, Ahmed might be your guy.
He plays all around the infield. He was drafted as a shortstop, settled into third base nicely and has experience at first- and second base. He plays them all well enough to be a true utility infielder. He has plenty of arm for the left side of the diamond and good instincts at all four spots. The only thing that holds him back a bit is pure quickness/range, but having as much versatility as he has is a good thing. On the bases, he runs well enough to be at least an average runner. He won’t swipe a lot of bases, but he’ll take the extra base when given the opportunity.
Because he missed a lot of the 2017 season, a return assignment to Tulsa is probable. But he’s also 26 and it’d be nice to see how he fares against the highest level of the minor leagues. At best, he’s a solid utility infielder who is good enough to play all four spots and hit a ball over the fence every once in awhile.
2017 rank: 54
2018 location: Double-A Tulsa/Triple-A Oklahoma City
37. RHP Riley Ottesen (6’1, 183 pounds, 23 years old)
The Dodgers drafted Ottesen in the 5th round of the 2017 draft out of the University of Utah. He signed for $197,500 — almost $102,000 under slot value. He logged 30 2/3 in his first professional season split almost evenly between the Arizona Rookie League and Great Lakes. Overall, he had a 3.23 ERA, 26.4 K%, 11.2 BB% and gave up just two home runs. At age-22, it may not be overly impressive, but he showed some ability in his short stints as a starter. And here’s a fun fact: He’s fluent in Japanese.
Since turning pro, Ottesen’s fastball has taken a step forward into the mid-90s. Previously as a starter, he operated in the low-90s. Now, it should be noted that he was used for short outings, thus giving his fastball a little more life than it probably normally would. It’s reminiscent of when Ross Stripling debuted. He added a couple ticks to his fastball in his first pro season that he has been able to maintain all the way to the majors. If Ottesen can sustain that velocity, his fastball could be more than just an average offering. If he has to move to the bullpen (which seems more likely than not), it’d be awfully surprising if his velo didn’t tick up and sustain. He pairs his fastball with hybrid slider/cutter that has touched as high as 90 MPH. It has a sharp 10-4 break, but it doesn’t miss as many bats as is preferred. However, it’s a pitch he uses to induce weak contact. If his fastball can become a swing-and-miss pitch, then his slider/cutter wouldn’t need to be that pitch. He has an 11-5 curveball in the mid-to-high-70s that has flashed above-average potential. He also sports a fringy changeup in the low-80s that is more of a “show me” pitch at this stage. He fared a little better against lefties than righties in his debut, but we’ll see if that continues going forward.
The athletic Ottesen has a similar setup to Mathewson from the windup, but the deliveries are different. Ottesen is more deliberate in his motion, as he brings his arms up and over his head before he makes the turn. He’s still deliberate until his front foot lands, then his plus-arm speed makes up for it, giving his pitches a bit more life. From the stretch, he comes set at the belt and has a similar release point — high-three-quarters. He gets a little out of sync sometimes, which leads to fringy command. But he’s athletic and has a better chance than some to overcome those issues.
Because of his size and command/control issues, Ottesen profiles as a reliever at the next level. But if his fastball can sustain mid-90s velocity and his curveball develops into a true swing-and-miss pitch — combined with his barrel-missing slider/cutter — then there’s a potentially solid MLB reliever here. He’ll go to Rancho Cucamonga for the 2018 season with a chance to reach Tulsa if he shows well enough in the Cal League.
2017 rank: NR
2018 location: High-A Rancho Cucamonga/Double-A Tulsa
36. RHP Andrew Sopko (6’2, 202 pounds, 23 years old)
Sopko was the Dodgers’ 7th-round selection in 2015 out of Gonzaga University. He signed for $147,500 — about $31,000 under the slot-recommended amount. After throwing 31 innings with Tulsa in 2016, a half-season’s worth of action there would likely prepare him for a promotion to Triple-A, but he missed time twice with an injury that cost him a chance of that promotion. In 104 2/3 innings with the Drillers, Sopko posted a 4.13 ERA and saw his strikeout rate dip to just a little less than 16 percent. He also saw his walk rate increase by more than 3 points. It wasn’t a great season, statistically, but the scouting still gives hope for his future.
He has the frame of a starting pitcher, even if he’s struggled a bit to stay on the mound. Sopko runs a fastball in the 90-93 MPH range and tops out at 95. It doesn’t feature a lot of movement, but it gets the job done. He also has a mid-70s curveball that has 12-6 break to it. His slider sits in the low-80s and gets more swinging strikes than his curveball. His mid-80s changeup is fringy and doesn’t really do a whole lot. It should probably just be scrapped at this point, especially since lefties still hit him better than righties.
Sopko has clean mechanics that help him produce a repeatable release point. However, he lost the release point much more in 2017 for unknown reasons. The only issue is a bit of a crossfire delivery. His arm is in good position after he makes the turn on the rubber and his front foot hits the ground. He has average arm speed to help make up for a deliberate delivery.
Sopko should head back to Tulsa for a third stint before finally getting the call to Triple-A. A lot of things would have to happen ahead of him to reach Los Angeles this season, so don’t expect that. The biggest thing for him is to stay healthy and improve his workload. He profiles as a back-end starter or swingman.
2017 rank: 42
2018 location: Double-A Tulsa/Triple-A Oklahoma City
35. RHP Wilmer Font (6’4, 265 pounds, 28 years old)
Font was signed out of Venezuela way back in 2006. The Dodgers signed him as a minor-league free agent in December 2016. If there’s such a thing as getting a great return on a minor-league signee, this would be it. Font was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year and was our Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Font was downright dominant for Oklahoma City: 3.42 ERA, 32.1 K%, 6.3 BB% and a gave up just 11 home runs in 134 1/3 innings. He got a cup of coffee with the Dodgers in September. He was … not great: 17.18 ERA, 11.1 K%, 14.8 BB% and gave up two home runs in just 3 2/3 relief innings.
A starter for about half his minor-league career, Font has the repertoire of a starting pitcher, beginning with a fastball that sits in the 90-94 MPH range and has touched 95-96 MPH. It’s pretty straight, but he works up in the strike zone with it, which is something the Dodgers value. He had an identical spin rate to Carlos Carrasco, a pitcher the Dodgers have targeted in trade talks in recent years, but it’s far from elite. His best offspeed pitch is a low-80s slider that has better depth than tilt. It looks like a cutter, but isn’t thrown as hard. He also has a mid-70s curveball and a low-80s split-finger fastball. Neither of those are true out pitches and are in his arsenal to give a different look off his primary pitches. If he sticks in a rotation, those two pitches will become more important. If he moves to the bullpen, he could probably scrap them, focus on his slider and potentially develop a cutter — something a lot of pitchers do when coming to the Dodgers’ organization.
Font looks the part of a starter on the mound. He works exclusively from the stretch, even with no runners on base. He comes set at the belt and has a long, deliberate delivery that includes a high leg kick, a long stride toward the plate and his hands break and arms extend fully as he brings his arm into the throwing zone. He releases from an almost over-the-top arm slot and gets some good downward plane on his pitches. He has a little arm drag because of the many moving parts, but he exhibited some improved command/control of his offerings with the Dodgers organization.
After spending most of 2017 with OKC, the natural progression would be to the majors. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear path with the amount of pitching the Dodgers have ahead of him on the depth chart. He is out of options, so unless the Dodgers want to expose him to the waiver wire, he might very well break camp with the big league club. He profiles best as a multi-inning reliever at the next level, but he could be a back-end starting pitcher for a second-division team at his peak.
2017 rank: NR
2018 location: Triple-A Oklahoma City/Los Angeles
ETA: Debuted 2012 (2017 with LA)
34. SS/2B Errol Robinson (5’9, 179 pounds, 23 years old)
The Dodgers drafted Robinson out of Ole Miss in the sixth round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He signed for just a few thousand bucks over slot ($250,000) and might end up being quite the investment for the Dodgers. After spending his debut season with Ogden in 2016, he logged just 162 A-ball plate appearances before getting to Double-A Tulsa. His batting line wasn’t overly impressive — .273/.357/.352 — but he’s never going to light up the stat sheet. He’s a high-IQ player who is adept defensively at both middle infield positions, which means he doesn’t have to hit a ton to make it to the show. His overall line in 2017 was solid: .270/.340/.404. He also stole 22 bases.
The right-handed hitter has the look of a legitimate hitter. He sets up with his hands held high with a slight wiggle and a quiet lower half. As the pitcher delivers the pitch, Robinson employs a big leg kick, but he almost “steps in the bucket” instead of putting his front foot down in the same spot (or toward the pitcher a bit). He displays average bat speed and a swing path that varies between level and swinging down on the ball. He has note embraced hitting the ball in the air just yet. He might not benefit from something like that. He pulls the ball in the infield and has more of an opposite field approach when his batted balls go to the outfield. He has good bat-to-ball skills that should help him produce above-average contact numbers. There’s some swing-and-miss to his game, but he can also draw a walk.
Defensively is where Robinson stands out. He’s a natural shortstop who has the instincts, soft hands and arm strength to stick at the position. He’s also rangy at both middle infield spots. He even got a few reps at third base and center field last season, meaning he could be a true super utility player at the next level. If he can add center field to his defensive profile, he’s rosterable almost no matter how well he hits. He’s an above-average runner, but it’s more while he’s underway rather than stealing bases. Still, he should be able to swipe 10-plus bags in a season.
Robinson logged 258 plate appearances with Tulsa, meaning he’s probably ready for Oklahoma City. If there’s room for him up there, he’ll go. It wouldn’t be surprising if he began with Tulsa, if for no other reason than there isn’t room with OKC. But he’ll get to Triple-A at some point and should be knocking on the door of the majors sometime in 2019 or ’20. He has the ceiling of a second-division starting shortstop or true super utility player.
2017 rank: 53
2018 location: Double-A Tulsa/Triple-A Oklahoma City
33. LHP Devin Smeltzer (6’1, 189 pounds, 22 years old)
When the Dodgers drafted Smeltzer in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, most thought he’d be a cheap signing as his profile didn’t really scream “over slot.” Not only did he sign an over-slot deal, it was more that $160,000 above slot. He split time between Great Lakes and Rancho Cucamonga in 2017, and posted some solid numbers overall: 4.17 ERA, 26.4 K%, 5.0 BB% and gave up 16 home runs in a system-leading 142 1/3 innings. On the surface, Smeltzer looks like a true LOOGY, but he started 25 of 26 games last season, so the Dodgers are going to keep him in the rotation as long as possible.
Smeltzer works with a in the 89-92 MPH range. He can sink it and cut it. The 4-seamer is a bit straight and tops out at 93, but the 2-seamer has much more movement, adding to his overall deception. His primary breaking ball is a fringe-average mid-80s cutter. He uses it more against right-handed hitters, but he’ll throw it to lefties every so often. He also has a fringy low-80s slider that he’ll use against lefites, but not terribly frequently. It’s different enough (depth, tilt) from the cutter that they won’t be confused for one another, but he lacks confident in the pitch. Smetlzer’s best pitch is low-80s changeup that he’ll throw to both-handed hitters. Against righties, it’s more of a swinging strike pitch with plus-sink and fade, while he gets soft contact off it when he throws it to lefties. He’s the rare left-handed pitcher who isn’t afraid to throw his changeup to left-handed hitters. It’s a bit of an odd arsenal, but it has worked for Smeltzer thus far.
He works from the first base side of the rubber. He comes set at the belt before beginning his windup. Everything looks normal as he has a big leg kick and turns on the rubber. He has a bit of a crossfire delivery from the left side. When his front foot lands, his arm is a bit behind everything else. He rotates his hips and delivers his pitches from a three-quarters arm slot. He’s good at delivering his fastball and changeup from the same arm slot. His delivery is a bit funky, but he does a good job repeating it.
Despite the unusual profile and lack of pure stuff, Smeltzer is going to continue starting. After logging 90 innings with Rancho, a trip to Tulsa is probably in order. He still fits best as a left-handed reliever, but not your typical LOOGY because he lacks a consistent, usable breaking pitch. He could be a solid middle reliever capable of going more than one inning, as long as he remains healthy. If he makes it as a starter, he’d be a back-end guy.
2017 rank: 58
2018 location: Double-A Tulsa
32. C/3B Kyle Farmer (6’0, 214 pounds, 27 years old)
Farmer was the Dodgers’ 8th-rounder in 2013 out of the University of Georgia. He signed for $40,000. A college shortstop, Farmer was immediately converted to catcher. He had his best season in the minors in 2017, as he hit .317/.375/.476 between Double- and Triple-A. He even made it to the majors for 20 plate appearances. His first one came in an extra innings game on July 30. He hit a walk-off 2-run double against the Giants. It was quite the first impression. He ended up hitting .300/.300/.350 in LA.
At the plate, Farmer makes a lot of contact with a level swing path, good pitch recognition and plate discipline. He sets up with a traditional batting stance and his hands at at ear-level and away from his body a bit. There’s a minor bat waggle that stops when the pitcher begins his motion. He has a small leg kick and a compact swing. Sometimes he gets a little over-anxious, leading to some chasing, but on the whole, he has competitive at-bats. Despite being solidly built, Farmer doesn’t have a ton of power or power potential.
Defensively, he had almost an even split between catcher and third base in the minors. He’s still learning behind the plate, but everything has improved since turning pro. He has a good arm, soft hands and plays the natural role of leader behind the plate. His framing isn’t up to par yet, but he’s improving in that area. He has plenty of arm for third base and can even slide over to first base in an emergency. He’s a decent athlete for a catcher, but he won’t be much of a factor on the base paths.
Farmer is one of the many Dodger riches at catcher. With Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal entrenched as the catching duo in LA, Farmer should go back to the minors. Farmer is third on the depth chart. He’ll go back to Triple-A to work on his framing, blocking and overall receiving. He profiles as a solid MLB backup catcher.
2017 rank: 32
2018 location: Triple-A Oklahoma City/Los Angeles
ETA: Debuted 2017
31. OF/1B Romer Cuadrado (6’3, 219 pounds, 20 years old)
Cuadrado was the Dodgers’ big international signing in 2014-15, as he got a $750,000 signing bonus as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. After spending his first two seasons in complex ball — and not performing terribly well — Cuadrado broke out a bit in Ogden. He hit .335/.413/.523 with nine home runs, a 10 percent walk rate and 24.6 strikeout rate in 301 plate appearances. Now, we’ve all seen this movie before — a young player hits incredible well only to be chewed up and spit out in Great Lakes. But the Dodgers gave Cuadrado a big bonus and this was his first chance outside of the low-low minors, so perhaps there’s something there.
He sets up with a wide base and his hands at ear-level away from his body. He flattens the bat as he waggles it pre-pitch. Cuadrado has a toe-tap timing mechanism that leads into a big leg kick and stride. There’s a lot going on before the pitcher even delivers the pitch. He has pretty decent plate coverage, but still misses a bunch of pitches because he’s a bit too aggressive at times. That’ll be a concern as he progresses. He flashes above-average bat speed that helps him generate plus-raw power. It hasn’t fully translated to the game yet. He needs to learn to get more loft on his swing, as he hits far too many balls on the ground for a man his size.
While Cuadrado has only played the outfield in his career, some believe he could wind up at first base. For now, though, he’ll stick in the corner spots. He has some center field experience, but he doesn’t have the range, quickness or instincts to stick out there. He’s a fringe-average runner at best and won’t be much of a threat on the base paths. But he has enough range for the corner outfield spots. He also has enough arm for right field. It’ll be a question if he hits enough for the position.
This year could effectively make or break Cuadrado as a legitimate prospect. If he handles the pitching (and cold weather) in Low-A well enough, he could jump up this list significantly. He has flaws, but he also has tools that make scouts drool. If he reaches his ceiling, he could be an everyday outfielder. The middle ground is the right-handed portion of a platoon. Worst-case is he stalls out in A-ball. He’ll be an interesting prospect to watch closely this season.
2017 rank: 55
2018 location: Low-A Great Lakes
Next Up: Prospects 30-21