With Spring Training about halfway done, it’s about time for the Dodgers Digest Top Prospects list for 2023. Since Josh and I have teamed up to do this post the last couple years, we’ve changed the format a bit to make it more reader-friendly and, hopefully, less cluttered than last year’s rendition.
Josh and I ranked our 30 in the system, individually. After we averaged it out and factored in the fact he had some names I didn’t and I had some names he didn’t, we landed on a Top 33 prospect list. It’d be nice to do it in tiers like some publications, but I’m not ready to commit to that just yet.
All players who have not reached 50 innings pitched or 130 at-bats in the MLB, and have fewer than 45 days of pre-Sept. 1 service time in the MLB are eligible for this list. Ages are the league-age season for the player, i.e. “his age-23 season.”
For the Top 10, we’ve included Future Value (FV) grades and risks for the Top 50 prospects. For example, if a guy gets a “50 low,” he has a really good chance to be an average player at his position. If a guy gets a “55/High,” there’s a good chance he won’t reach that ceiling, but the potential is there. The grades are 20-80 (50 is average) and will have present/future grades (e.g., 50/55), and the risks are as follows:
- Low: Players who are usually older, have debuted, are relievers and/or have higher floors than ceilings
- Medium: Players who are a mix of younger and older, usually have higher floors
- High: Players who are usually younger with potential, but also question marks
- Extreme: Players who are generally younger with star potential, but a ton of question marks
This is to show what value a player might provide at the MLB level. The higher the risk, the less likely a player will reach that ceiling.
Dodgers Digest Top 33 Prospects
1. C Diego Cartaya (6-foot-3, 219 pounds, 21 years old)
The Dodgers have been quite successful scouting in Venezuela — catchers, specifically. Keibert Ruiz came before Cartaya, while a kid ranked toward the end of this list is on the way to becoming another strong catching prospect from the Land of Grace. But Cartaya is, clearly, the best of the lot. A common comparison for him is fellow Venezuelan Salvador Perez, but Cartaya is a bit more athletic than that. He’s already a top performer when it comes to exit velocities, and his light tower power is the thing of legend. He’s quiet at the plate pre-pitch with a slightly open stance. His leg kick is subtle and he uses his quick hands to clear his hips and generate plus-plus bat speed.His contact lags a bit behind the power, but he should be at least average when it comes to making contact. He’s also adept at working the count and taking walks. Combine all that with his plus-power and you have a potential franchise cornerstone behind the plate — one who could, conceivably, displace Will Smith in the future.
While the bat is the carrying tool, he’s not exactly a slouch behind the dish. He has improved in every facet since turning pro. His receiving skills still need some work, but he has a plus-arm behind that should help mitigate the opposing team’s running game. Now, he’s not going to be confused for the best defensive catchers in the game, but his bat should make it easy to keep him in the squat.
2. RHP Bobby Miller (6-foot-5, 220 pounds, 24 years old)
Bobby Miller’s sophomore campaign was a tremendous developmental success, with the fireballing righty finding consistency with his 4-seam fastball shape as the season progressed, helping the pitch pick up a bit of bat-missing carry. Though his heater currently isn’t eye-popping metrically (2295 RPM, -4.8° vertical approach angle, both of which are basically MLB average), when you’re working in 98-100 MPH range, that’ll do the job.
He also showed the ability to hold velo deep into games, pumping 98 as late as the eighth inning, and averaging 98.6 MPH with the pitch overall in his late-season cameo with Oklahoma City. In that limited sample, all three secondaries missed bats at a decent clip (curve, 29%, slider, 37%, changeup, 64%, which may be some SSS stupidity, but it’s definitely effective), and while command of them could stand to be tightened up, with his velo and consistent arm speed, it’s just a guessing game for hitters. Of the three secondaries, the curve might have the highest ceiling, as it’s a low-80s hammer when it’s right, twirling in at 2900 RPM (93rd percentile at the MLB level). Exercising their trademark caution, the Dodgers limited the former Louisville Cardinal’s pitch count to an average of 56 in his 2021 introduction to pro ball. In 2022, they loosened the reins to the tune of 90-plus pitches in nine of Miller’s last 14 starts, reaching as many as 103 on Aug. 14. With a bit more polish, he has a chance to anchor the rotation for years.
Bobby Miller struck out a career high 14, including 8 consecutive Ks to close out his outing, enjoy the show 🍿🍿🍿 pic.twitter.com/AqDqiAhTA9— Josh Thomas (@jokeylocomotive) September 2, 2022
3. 3B/2B Miguel Vargas (6-foot-3, 205 pounds, 23 years old)
Vargas got his first taste of the majors in 2022, and while the numbers won’t blow you away, the talent is apparent. He’s coming off his best season in the minors in which he was a 3/4/5 guy (.304/.404/.511) thanks to a hitting approach mature beyond his years. He has a right-center field approach not dissimilar to Matt Kemp‘s approach from years ago. Vargas doesn’t have the power potential Kemp had, but he’s spray line drives all over the yard, and really uses the middle of the field well. He has plus-bat control, and advanced feel for the strike zone and pitch recognition and enough pop to stick at a corner position. However, his physical transformation has been quite impressive. He’s not the quick-twitch athlete that Trea Turner is, but he has improved his speed to be a viable runner on the base paths and, if he eventually ends up in left field, he should have enough speed to handle that. But the Dodgers plan to keep him on the dirt — most likely at second base for now. He has worked over the winter to get more familiar with the position after having logged 229 career innings there in the minors, and he’ll have every chance to man the keystone in 2023 for LA.
4. RHP Gavin Stone (6-foot-1, 175 pounds, 24 years old)
Gavin Stone was named the Dodgers’ minor league pitcher of the year for 2022, and with good reason, as the righty dominated across three different levels (High-A through Triple-A), posting a microscopic ERA of 1.48, which led all state-side, qualified minor league pitchers (all 311 of them). That figure wasn’t just smoke and mirrors – none of the aforementioned qualified pitchers allowed fewer homers than Stone’s three, and his K-BB ratio of 25% ranked 13th.
As funny as it is to say about someone who averages 95.3 MPH with their fastball, it’s mostly a complement — what sets Stone apart are his secondaries. His changeup, which was recently named by Baseball America recently as best such offering out of anyone in their Top 100, is an absolute weapon that he will throw at any time, to both righties and lefties, and he showed no hesitation to double and triple up on the pitch. For the season, it generated whiffs at an eyebrow-raising 52% clip.
Stone also features a short, sharp slider that he also effectively deploys to righties and lefties, which he would use in concert with the changeup to attack hitters early, using the fastball to put hitters away upstairs. He mixed in a curve at times that flashed big league average, but it was rather inconsistent.
The big question about Stone is his size, as he’s a tad smaller than the prototypical, workhorse starting pitcher. And indeed, his velo would flag at times later in outings, dropping to the 93-95 MPH range as he got into the sixth inning and beyond. This might be the only thing that could limit his upside to the No. 3/4 starter range, though his big time athleticism may aid him in overcoming that obstacle. Either way, he’s a high floor, big league-ready rotation piece.
Gavin Stone's 70 changeup picking up a ridiculous sword 😂 pic.twitter.com/4QbgAuI9wF— Josh Thomas (@jokeylocomotive) July 13, 2022
5. 2B Michael Busch (6-foot-1, 210 pounds, 25 years old)
Busch answered some questions in 2022, though another big one stubbornly remains. The former UNC Tarheel tore through the Double-A Texas League, posting a wRC+ of 176 in 31 games before being promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where his performance was uneven, though he finished with a flourish. His wRC+ in the Pacific Coast League, by month:
- May: 102
- June: 96
- July: 118
- August: 81
- September: 127
On the surface, it looks like he took a bit to adjust to the new difficulty level, though he did eventually. The league adjusted back, and he did the same, again. The ability to make adjustments, along with his exceptional plate discipline, are both excellent indicators for future big-league success. It’s a good thing that these are in place, because it’ll have to be the bat to carry him – defensively, it’s rough.
Currently, the best-case scenario for Busch at second base is playable — below-average, convert the balls you get to, don’t kill the ballclub. He can play first base as well, and he had a bit of run out in left field that was uninspiring (especially with the arm), but not damning. He is also, for the moment, pretty well blocked at all three spots, as well as at DH. In short, the Max Muncy clone is squarely the odd man out.
A benefit of this is a return to OKC, where Busch can continue to polish his game at second base, to be ready should Vargas falter. With no apparent opportunity for regular ABs with the big club, and taking into consideration that the former 2019 1st-round pick is already 25, it is entirely possible that, for 2023 at least, Busch is best-utilized in supplementing the big club via a trade.
6. RHP Nick Nastrini (6-foot-3, 215 pounds, 23 years old)
Oft-injured at UCLA, the Dodgers saw enough in Nastrini to make him a 4th-rounder in the 2021 draft, and it’s beginning to look like a massive steal. In 130 2/3 professional innings, he has pitched to a 3.72 ERA and a stellar 25.7 K-BB%. The durability and stamina are still in question — especially after logging just 66 2/3 innings with the Bruins — but the talent is undeniable. The biggest knock on Nastrini is his command/control, despite a relatively clean delivery. His stuff screams mid-rotation starter. He has a mid-90s fastball that touches 98 MPH, two potentially-plus breaking pitches — a mid-80s sweeping slider and low-80s power curveball — and an already plus-changeup that sits in the mid-80s and features good sink and fade to left-handed hitters. It isn’t as good as Stone’s, but it’s definitely a weapon for him.
If he can even have average command at the next level, Nastrini profiles as a high-end No. 3 starter, with a chance to be a low-end No. 2. If the command doesn’t come, he could be a dynamic reliever in the multi-inning role or late-inning role. The arm talent is there, it’s the nuances of pitching at the professional level — and health — that will determine his ultimate role in the majors.
7. OF Andy Pages (6-foot-1, 212 pounds, 22 years old)
After Andy Pages’ monster 2021 campaign with High-A Great Lakes, during which he posted a wRC+ of 152 as a 20-year-old, all eyes were on the ascendant Cuban outfielder. The Texas League proved to be more of a challenge, as his 102 wRC+ in 2022 will attest, though all is not lost – Pages was 3.2 years younger than average for the circuit, and he was one of just 15 qualified hitters 21 or younger at the Double-A level, so holding his own is a positive in and of itself.
So, what got in the way? Adjustments. In 2021, Andy Pages had a massive leg kick, and that came with massive reverse platoon splits, as he posted a .969 OPS vs righties, and just .772 vs lefties. In an effort to close up this gap, Pages worked to stabilize his posture, in part by going with a much more conservative leg kick. Unfortunately, this worked in reverse to the extreme, as he posted a 1.147 OPS vs lefties, and just .696 vs righties, though things seemed to click in the Arizona Fall League, where his OPS was .904.
Defensively, Pages took a step back. He is slow to get under way, as he is a bit stiff and unathletic-looking out of the blocks, though, to be fair, that seems in part due to youthful sloth during the routine plays, as he gets on his horse if there is an opportunity to show off his cannon of an arm. He reportedly dropped 25 lbs over the Winter, so despite poor reports on his 2022 showing, it is possible he has more of a long-term footing in right field after all. For 2023, the goal should be adopting and gaining comfort with a balanced setup that works against lefties and righties, which could be the key for him to regain his ascendant status from 2021.
8. C Dalton Rushing (6-foot-1, 220 pounds, 22 years old)
The Dodgers had the first pick of the second round of the 2022 draft and, well, they may have gotten another one. Rushing was struck behind 2021 No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis at the University of Louisville, but he got a chance to play more consistently in 2022 and posted ridiculous numbers in his final collegiate season — .310/.470/.686. In a little less than half the time as a pro, he actually bested those numbers — .404/.522/.740. Those are not typos. Granted, Rushing did it in mostly in Low-A,, but it’s a great start to a pro career for the backstop. The Muncy comps are unavoidable, as they have similar body types and similar offensive profiles. Rushing has good strike zone judgment and plate discipline, as well as potentially plus-power. Contact could end up being a bit of a concern for him, but he should make up for it with plenty of walks and the aforementioned power. But when he does make contact, he hits the ball very hard. He struggled a bit against velocity in college, but his compact swing and solid bat speed has helped him catch up to fastballs at the pro level. Like a lot of left-handed hitters, he has a hole up-and-in that he’ll need to either rectify or lay off if he’s to reach his full offensive potential.
The biggest question about his game is will he stick behind the plate? He’s athletic enough to catch at the pro level, but his receiving skills need some work. That isn’t uncommon for young catchers. His arm is average-to-above-average, so perhaps more experience will help him show better, defensively. If he has to move to first base, he should have more than enough bat for the position. He’s not a bad runner underway, but that will likely decrease as he logs more innings behind the plate.
9. RHP Ryan Pepiot (6-foot-3, 215 pounds, 25 years old)
One of the more polarizing Dodger prospects, the former 3rd-rounder made his MLB debut in 2022, which returned mixed results. At his best, Pepiot is a fastball-changeup pitcher, with the latter being his best pitch. It used to be the best pitch in the system, but it backed up a bit in ’22, and that was apparent in his 36 1/3 innings of work. It used to rate as double-plus, it’s merely a plus-pitch at the moment, as he had trouble commanding it consistently. His fastball is average or a tick above-average, but like all his offerings, it plays down a bit due to inconsistent command. He has been working on a slider/cutter offering that was less than impressive and doesn’t look like a pitch that will miss many bats in its current iteration.
Still, Pepiot has talent and was/is regarded as Top 100 prospect. If he can see his command/control take a step forward, that will help going forward. If he has to move to the bullpen, his 2-pitch mix could play up there. He’ll bounce between Triple-A OKC and the majors this season.
10. RHP River Ryan (6-foot-2, 195 pounds, 24 years old)
Acquired in a swap with the Padres for Matt Beaty, Ryan burst onto the scene in 2022 with one of the loudest stuff profiles in the system. It was the former UNC Pembroke infielder’s first season as a fulltime pitcher, and his repertoire took a leap across the board, with a fastball that jumped from 91-94 MPH to 95-97 MPH, and topped out at 99. That also came with 18.5 inches of induced vertical break (84th percentile), a hard slider/cutter that finished the year in the low-90s. He also has a solid changeup in the mid-to-upper 80s and a low-to-mid 80s curve that flashed big-league average.
Ryan is a tremendous athlete with a simple, repeatable delivery, a clean arm action, and he even has a little deception to him, with the ball remaining largely hidden to batters until just prior to external rotation. Though there were some walks, Ryan showed the ability to make mechanical adjustments mid-inning without a mound visit. He picked up on his cues and dialed it back in on the fly, which is a strong indicator for a jump in command/control going forward. Not that pitchers aren’t athletes, but seeing a Division 1 college shortstop on the hill does put the athletic disparity in perspective.
For 2023, look for Ryan to return to High-A Great Lakes to ramp up his workload to start the season, as holding his velo into the 80-plus pitch range will cement whether his future is in the rotation, or as a high octane denizen of the armbarn. Though he’s already 24 years old, because he was a 2021 draftee, Ryan doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2024 season, so time is on the Dodgers’ side with development. The athleticism and repertoire might just force their hand a good bit sooner.
11. RHP Nick Frasso (6-foot-5, 200 pounds, 24 years old)
Frasso, who hails from nearby Torrance, Calif., was acquired by the Dodgers for Mitch White in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, who drafted the righty out of Loyola Marymount University in 2020. Just five innings into his pro career, a nagging elbow discomfort reared its ugly head, and Frasso underwent a non-traditional Tommy John procedure called an “internal brace,” which repairs and reattaches the offending ligament, rather than replacing it.
Flashforward to 2022, and Frasso’s fastball averaged 96 MPH, and even reached triple digits, though there’s more than velo to get excited about here. Via Tieran Alexander of Prospects Live, Frasso’s fastball comes out of a release point that’s 40.3 inches to the right of the center of the rubber, and 72.4 inches off the ground – the only other pitcher working out of this release point is Dylan Floro. What sets Frasso apart from Floro is what the young righty’s velo, extension, and spin afford him out of this slot: 16.3 inches of induced vertical break, and 12.8 inches of horizontal break. There are pitchers who have one or the other, but absolutely no one has both. What further sets Frasso’s fastball apart is the fact that out of this rare arm slot, the pitch has different shapes based off the side of the plate he’s attacking. It’s two different pitches, essentially. Yeah, good luck.
Frasso also has an excellent changeup, and a slider that flashes-plus, both of which can tunnel off the fastball, though his delivery can show some differences in tempo when tossing offspeed vs. heaters, and command of both offerings could stand to improve. Development on these two fronts will help determine whether Frasso sticks as a starter or ends up in the pen, but it’s an electric arm either way.
12. CF James Outman (6-foot-3, 215 pounds, 26 years old)
Outman has a long way to go to top Rhys Hoskins, but the former Hornet has a chance to end up being one of the best players to come out of the baseball factory known as Sacramento State. The 25-year-old had a fantastic 2022 campaign that saw him hit .294/.393/.586 with 31 home runs between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. He even got a cup of coffee at the MLB level (1.409 OPS in 16 plate appearances). The former 7th-rounder has established himself as a legitimate prospect in the system and, with Cody Bellinger‘s departure, has a chance to earn significant MLB time in 2023. The power might be a little inflated due to the Pacific Coast League and the fact he was almost a year older than the competition in Double-A, but he should settle in to average-to-above-average power at the MLB level. The biggest question mark in his offensive game is contact. He doesn’t profile to have much more than a fringy hit tool, but he helps that a bit with his ability to draw walks. Outman’s swing can get a bit long at times, leading to more whiffs.
Outman is a plus-runner with plus-defense in center field that would tick up in a corner spot. He has a plus-arm for right field, so it’s even better in center field. Depending what happens in Spring Training, he could break camp with the team or spend some time with OKC. Either way, he should have an increased role at the MLB level for 2023 and beyond. At worst, he’s the left-handed side of a platoon with borderline Gold Glove defense.
13. SS Rayne Doncon (6-foot-2, 176 pounds, 19 years old)
The Dodgers invested nearly half a million bucks in Doncon, and if he continues down his developmental path, he’s going pay off big time. The numbers aren’t going to jump off the page (.255/.306/.481), but Doncon is one of the toolsiest prospects in the system and has drawn a comparison (from Josh) to Alfonso Soriano — at least, physically. The wiry strong shortstop made his stateside debut in 2022 and made it to Low-A Rancho Cucamonga for an 11-game stint. The thing that jumps out about Doncon is his natural talent and athleticism. He generates premium bat speed that produces loud contact. He has pull-side power, and that’s having not grown fully into his frame yet. He’s not a particularly patient hitter, as he swings. A lot. That’s not going to lend itself to many walks, but when he’s able to make quality contact on a somewhat consistent basis, the lack of walks doesn’t matter much. That shouldn’t be confused for bad plate discipline. He was able to limit his strikeouts (16.7%), but that’s expected to increase as he faces advanced competition. Still, if he can hover around 20% with the strikeout rate, combined with his hard contact and power potential, and you might have a poor man’s Soriano (minus the 40-steal ability).
He’s projected to be a better defender than Soriano ended up being on the dirt, but there’s a chance he’ll have to move to second base or the outfield down the road. But he’s just 19, so it’s a bit early to make too big a determination on his final position.
Rayne Doncon, recently promoted from the Arizona Complex League, hit his first homer for the Quakes, and sheesh that's a quick bat 👀 pic.twitter.com/JYHPy8lJMz— Josh Thomas (@jokeylocomotive) August 28, 2022
14. LHP Ronan Kopp (6-foot-7, 250 pounds, 20 years old)
Kopp is a large man with an equally large fastball. While the towering lefty was in high school he garnered some buzz as a potential 2020 1st-round pick, as southpaws living in the mid-90s are wont to do. Leading up to that draft, Kopp’s command lapsed, and he chose to attend South Mountain Junior College, in Phoenix, AZ, where his command tightened up enough for the Dodgers to pop him in the 12th round in the subsequent 2021 draft, and he has looked every bit the potential first round talent since.
He made a splash with Rancho Cucamonga in 2022, generating huge whiff numbers, striking nearly 40% of the Cal League hitters he faced, whom he was was able to bully with a heater up to 100 MPH, as well as his 60-grade mid-80s slider. He also mixed in a changeup that flashed average with some fade, and a mid to upper 70s curve with some tilt that will get into the 2900 RPM range when it’s right, showing some good bite and depth as it approached 80 MPH.
“Throw hard in case it’s a strike.” – Ian Walsh, Dodgers’ pitching development assistant
While Kopp is not quite at that extreme, there are definitely some walks. Kopp issued free passes 15.3% of the time, which was the eighth-highest in the system (minimum 50 innings). For now, it isn’t a huge concern – he is hardly the first teenager to operate in the neighborhood of the strike zone at times, but his long arm action could be a contributor, and could stand to be shortened up a bit. There’s ample reliever risk here, but the ceiling is off the charts. Indeed, this is the kind of situation the Dodgers salivate over – huge tools, raw enough to fall into their laps, and then let the best dev guys in baseball cook.
15. RHP Emmet Sheehan (6-foot-5, 220 pounds, 23 years old)
It was a tale of two seasons for Sheehan, who went on the IL for nearly six weeks following his first outing of the season for Great Lakes, and he struggled mightily upon his return. After his first five outings, he was sporting a pretty rough stat line: ERA of 12.00, FIP of 5.37, K-BB% of 8.5%, issuing a walk an inning. After another skipped outing, the former Boston College Golden Eagle returned on June 15, and was an absolute beast the rest of the way: ERA of 1.53, FIP of 2.01, K-BB% of 30.6%. This dominant run earned him a late-season bump to Double-A Tulsa, and a ticket to the Arizona Fall League, where he performed well enough to be named one of MLB Pipeline’s AFL top 30 prospects, coming in at No. 24.
Sheehan features a fastball that typically sits in the 94-97 MPH range, but reaches 99 at times, though the velo can vary pitch to pitch based on how well timed up he is in his delivery. The fastball also has some of the very best vertical approach angle in the system, grading at 70, helping to make it a legit swing and miss offering. His best secondary is his changeup, which is a 60 or a 70, depending on the evaluator. He has largely shelved his slow curve, but he added a hard cutter/slider midseason that shows promise amid some inconsistent shape.
For 2023, the 23-year old Sheehan will have to show improvement with repeating his delivery to boost his command, as well as with his third pitch, in order to stay on a starter’s path. Absent that, his future is as a two-pitch power reliever who will be able to face both righties and lefties.
Emmet Sheehan's dominant run with Great Lakes continued tonight, as he allowed one run on two hits over 5.0 IP, with no walks and 11 Ks⬇️— Josh Thomas (@jokeylocomotive) August 21, 2022
For over two months now, going back to June 15th, he has been absolute fire:
16. LHP Maddux Bruns (6-foot-2, 205 pounds, 21 years old)
Selecting Bruns in the first round of the 2021 draft was just the second time Billy Gasparino had taken a prep lefty with his first pick. He has, perhaps, the best pure stuff in the system, but there’s a reason he’s ranked 16th and not in the Top 5, let alone the Top 10. In 44 1/3 innings with Rancho last season, he walked 45 batters — a 20.8 BB%. That’s not going to get it done at any level of baseball, let alone the pros. He did strikeout 67 hitters (31%), so that’s something to dream on. He’s armed with a mid-90s fastball that touches 98 MPH. It features strong arm-side movement and life. He doesn’t command it well enough presently, but when he throws it where he wants, it’s has flashed plus. He pairs it with a mid-to-high-70s power curveball that might be his best pitch. Some have a future 70 grade on it. It’s a 12-6 downer that generates strikes, but also needs refinement to be a true swing-and-miss pitch. He also has a potentially plus-sweeper slider in the mid-80s that could jump ahead of his curveball. He’s working on a low-80s changeup that is far from a finished product, but it has flashed average. The Dodgers now have him throwing from a high three-quarters arm slot, but it hasn’t improved his command/control just yet.
With three potential plus-offerings, it’s easy to see a No. 2 starter. But his command/control will determine his ultimate future. If he can even have average command, he’s a mid-No. 2 starter. If he can’t, he’s either a back-end starter, long reliever or short-inning reliever. He’d need to have at least 45-grade command to be a late-inning option.
17. OF Josue De Paula (6-foot-3, 185 pounds, 18 years old)
De Paula might have the highest offensive ceiling in the entire system. The 17-year-old (he turns 18 in May) Brooklyn native-turned Dominican international free agent, whom the Dodgers signed in January of 2022, had a monster campaign in the DSL, slashing .350/.448/.522, with more walks than strikeouts (32/31), while showing plus bat to ball and feel for barrel in what scant video was available. Stats out of that league should be taken with a grain of salt, as the level of competition is often incredibly uneven, so you try to temper your expectations a bit, and wait to see how guys do when they at least make it to instructs. De Paula made it to instructs. He was not fazed.
Indeed, his overall at-bat quality is part of what led Fangraphs to rank him 7th overall in an absolutely stacked Dodger farm system. Please pardon Dustin and I if we’re just a tad more conservative at the moment, but the hype is absolutely justified. Possessing some incredible athletic bloodlines, as he is the cousin of former NBA point guards Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, De Paula is a good deal more filled out than the average 17-year-old, and he doesn’t appear to be done growing. As such, he might just outgrow that defense thing, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. The strike zone judgment, pitch recognition, bat to ball, and light-tower power potential all point to a guy whose bat will carry him through the system with a quickness.
The Dodgers have been conservative with their top-performing 18-year-olds, with the best of them earning a late-season cameo with Rancho Cucamonga. Of all the IFAs to join the system in recent years, De Paula is the best-equipped to handle a more rapid ascent, and a continuation of his recent performance will cement him as a top 100 prospect with superstar potential in short order.
18. OF Jose Ramos (6-foot-1, 200 pounds, 22 years old)
Jose Ramos came out of nowhere to have a very strong 2021 campaign, posting a wRC+ of 138 after a mid-season promotion to Rancho Cucamonga, catapulting him all the way up to a composite ranking of 11th in the system prior to the 2022 season.
First, the good – Ramos is tooled up. The 22-year-old has added 50 pounds of muscle since joining the organization back in 2018, and that has translated into at least 60-grade raw power, which he is able to get to in games, including driving balls over the fence to the opposite field. The bulk has moved him off centerfield, but he is still a plus runner when underway, and he has an absolute cannon of an arm, a 70 or 80 hose depending on the evaluator.
And now, the lesser good — the Panamanian outfielder’s 2022 performance brought more questions than answers, as breaking ball recognition was a problem all season long, as his 32.7% strikeout rate at Great Lakes will attest, and the more advanced Midwest League pitchers exposed an overall lack of plan at the dish.
He was sent to the Arizona Fall League to work on this, and while he continued to look overmatched by quality sliders, in the limited sample, his strikeout rate dropped to a much more palatable 22.5%. Unfortunately, this appeared to be due to trying to just put the bat on the ball more than from improvements in AB quality. Ramos was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, and with such a rudimentary approach, it is unsurprising that no one pulled the trigger. For 2023, a return to High-A to work on pitch recognition and controlling ABs is likely on the docket, and if that actually clicks, look out.
19. C/2B Yeiner Fernandez (5-foot-9, 185 pounds, 20 years old)
Anytime you see a guy who plays catcher and second base, the first thought it Craig Biggio. Fernandez probably doesn’t reach the Hall of Fame like Biggio did, but in this age of versatility and emphasis on up-the-middle players, he could carve out a nice career at the MLB level. He signed for more than $700,000 out of Venezuela and has done nothing but hit since turning pro. He owns a career .312/.393/.449 batting line. In his first extended foray into full-season ball, he hit .292/.383/.430 in Rancho and nearly walked as much (46) as he struck out (55). From the right side, he has an excellent eye at the dish, as he’s able to recognize pitches early and uses a short, compact swing to spray line drives from gap to gap. The Dodgers like to get hitters to elevate the ball, but sometimes, that doesn’t work for everyone. He might run into 10-15 home runs at the next level, but he’s very unlikely to be a 20-plus homer guy at any point. With his bat control and plate discipline, he might not have to be — especially as a catcher or a second baseman.
He has fantastic pop times behind the plate, thanks to good footwork, a quick release and average arm strength. At second base, he’s able to use his athleticism to be plenty serviceable at the pivot, while his arm strength is above-average for the position. He’s probably not a 130-game per season catcher, but he could have an equitable time share between catcher and second, perhaps, eventually, settling more into second base (the opposite of Austin Barnes, who isn’t a bad comp for him). He should see Great Lakes this season, where he’ll look to improve on the nuances of catching.
Yeiner Fernandez, pop times 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/1kLLnEFjxC— Josh Thomas (@jokeylocomotive) December 13, 2022
20. SS/2B/OF Eddys Leonard (5-foot-11, 195 pounds, 22 years old)
Eddys Leonard was a bit of a victim of circumstance in 2022. After an excellent age-20 season that saw him post a combined wRC+ of 145 at Rancho and Great Lakes, the Dodgers added the Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, native to the 40-man roster. And then the lockout happened.
Leonard wasn’t able to work with the club for four months, and he lost some of the strength that helped aid his breakout, as his HR/FB at High A dropped from 21.6% to just 10.1%. In the midst of a strong offseason, there’s room here for a modest power resurgence, as the hit tool remained intact.
Defensively, however, is where things get muddy. In 2021, Leonard looked like a guy who would stick on the left side of the infield, or as a centerfielder. 2022 wasn’t nearly as rosy, and while he played extensively at shortstop, it was more out of necessity than anything, what with the organization being so shallow at the position. In 105 games at short, Leonard’s Davenport Runs total was an ugly -13, and that figure definitely matched the eye test. He had poor range going both left and right, and the arm strength and accuracy just wasn’t there. Based off 2022’s looks, he’s a second baseman at best, and not necessarily a plus one.
Leonard should start 2022 at relatively balmy Double-A Tulsa, where April temperatures are 15 degrees higher on average than in Midland, Michigan, home of the Great Lakes Loons. Still just 22, if he indeed regained strength, and with some warmer temps, there’s a chance for him to get off to a good start and get a little shine back in 2023.
21. SS Joendry Vargas (6-foot-4, 175 pounds, 17 years old)
Vargas was the Dodgers’ top international amateur free agent of the most recent period, signing for nearly $2.1 million out of the shortstop hotbed known as the Dominican Republic. It’s always risky ranking 17-year-old international amateur free agents so high — Wilman Diaz anyone? — but Vargas seems to have all the makings of a big leaguer. He was MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 IFA prospect and, like many high school-aged kids, will need lots of developmental time in the minors. He used to be a switch-hitter, but has dropped hitting from the left side. Combine that with the power potential, physical frame and defense, and it’s easy to see a Carlos Correa comp when it comes to Vargas. Of course, it remains to be seen how he fills out, but he should be able to handle shortstop. If he has to move off, he has plenty of arm for third base. However, his carrying tool will be the bat, as he projects to be an above-average offensive player.
22. 2B Jorbit Vivas (5-foot-10, 171 pounds, 22 years old)
Just like Leonard, Vivas had a very strong 2021 campaign that was followed up by slightly more tepid results in 2022, a season he, too, spent entirely at High-A Great Lakes. The Venezuelan second baseman posted a wRC+ of 120, down from 136 the year prior, and he followed that up with a strong, if brief, performance in the Arizona Fall League, slashing .333/.471/.406 in weeks’ worth of games.
Vivas possesses one of the best hit tools in the system, and he was the only qualified Dodger prospect with a full season affiliate to walk more than he struck out (11.0% vs 10.2%). He has a quick bat, and he has been at his best when he is putting on a laser show to all fields. That said, Vivas isn’t exactly statuesque, and a batted ball profile change may have limited his success last season. His ground ball/fly ball ratio dropped from 1.44 to 1.09, as the Dodgers had him try to generate some pull side pop. League ballparks proved to be a bit too big for his modest power, and he saw a number of flyballs die at the warning track.
Defensively, he is a second baseman only, though he is competent there. He has spent roughly a third of his time at the hot corner, but there just isn’t enough arm strength to play there in anything more than an emergency role at the big league level.
For 2023, Vivas will head to Double-A Tulsa, and the Drillers’ friendly home confines should help him see an increase in homers, as it’s just 307 feet down the right field line, with the wall height for the most part being just four feet. Look for an offensive uptick, but take it with at least one grain of salt.
23. RHP Landon Knack (6-foot-2, 220 pounds, 25 years old)
The 2022 season was another frustrating one for Knack, who missed significant time with soft tissue injuries yet again. When healthy, the former East Tennessee State Buccaneer lives in the mid-to-high-90s, topping out in games at 99 MPH, with reports of 100 MPH in his bullpens. He pairs that with a plus-slider and curve, a solid changeup, and a cutter in the low-90s.
Unfortunately, “when healthy” has been a bit too infrequent, and after his July IL stint, he made just one appearance before being moved to the team’s developmental list for about a month, after which his velo dipped to the 89-91 MPH range. Knack will be in big league camp to start Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. The thought of him making it as a starting pitcher are probably out the window now, but if his stuff bounces back, it’s entirely possible that he becomes a really quick mover as a power relief arm.
24. OF Jonny DeLuca (6-foot, 200 pounds, 24 years old)
A mostly overlooked 25th-rounder in 2019, DeLuca has been pretty consistent in his first two full professional seasons. Between A-ball and Double-A, he has hit .263/.347/.513 with 47 home runs and 37 stolen bases (doesn’t count the one homer and nine stolen bases in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019). He’s one of the best power-speed prospects in the system and evokes memories of a pre-Dodger AJ Pollock. Righty all the way, DeLuca has impressive power for a guy with a somewhat unassuming frame. He generates solid bat speed and has some power going the other way. Most of that power is to the pull side, but he’ll pop one the other way every so often. He has also managed to keep his strikeout rate well below 20% at 16.4%. That figures to tick up as he moves up the MiLB ladder and, eventually, the MLB level. His first taste of Double-A produced 14.3 K%. His walk rate is right around 10% overall, and if he’s able to sustain that, he should be a solid bat. He has plus-speed that has helped him go 46-for-50 in stolen base attempts as a pro. That Chase Utley success rate might not translate to the majors, but he could be a 15-20 HR/20-25 SB guy at his peak.
Defensively, he’s best suited for a corner, but he could play center in a pinch. He was added to the 40-man roster over the winter, so there’s a non-zero chance he reaches LA this season, but an MLB debut is more likely next year. He doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling, but his floor is higher than most.
25. RHP Michael Grove (6-foot-3, 200 pounds, 26 years old)
Prospect fatigue is starting to set in for the 2018 2nd-rounder from West Virginia, but he showed well enough after the 2021 season to get added to the 40-man roster and made his MLB debut in 2022. He logged 29 1/3 innings and pitched better than his 4.60 ERA and 5.16 FIP would indicate. But that’s kinda been his deal as a pro. The stuff always looks better than the numbers. His fastball is a solid 93-96 MPH offering that gets swinging strikes, but like most of his pitches, he has trouble commanding it consistently. It’s not a high-spin offering, but it plays well up in the strike zone. He backs it up with a mid-80s slider that’s easily his best pitch. It tunnels well with his fastball and should help produce strikeouts. He also has a high-70s curveball that showed well in his MLB debut (46.9 Whiff%) and has good depth. His changeup is an afterthought at this point. He’ll oscillate between OKC and LA and could either be a solid back-end starter, a multi-inning reliever or a back-end bullpen option. A lot of it will depend on his command/control taking a step forward.
26. SS Alex Freeland (6-foot-2, 200 pounds, 21 years old)
The Dodgers took Freeland in the third round of the 2022 draft, and it looks like he has a real chance to stick at shortstop. The switch-hitter is adept from both sides, with his best trait at the plate being his discipline. He’s reminiscent of Royals’ prospect Nick Loftin, though, his ceiling may not be as high. He has gap pop with a chance to add a little over-the-fence power as he progresses through the system. He projects to have an above-average glove and plenty of arm in the off chance has to slide over to the hot corner. He’s not much more of an average runner who makes up for his lack of pure speed with strong instincts on the base paths and in the field. He was a draft-eligible sophomore, so he has a little bit more room for growth than most collegiate draftees taken in the third round. He’ll probably head to Rancho Cucamonga to start the season with a midseason promotion to Great Lakes more than likely.
27. RHP Carlos Duran (6-foot-7, 240 pounds, 21 years old)
When it’s all working, Duran will show you a bowling ball of a sinker up to 99 MPH, a mid-80s slider that might be the best in the entire system, along with an average curve and changeup. He’ll even elevate a hard four seamer now and then. He’ll vary his timing to the plate, too, mixing in long pauses with his lead leg, quick pitching, and messing around with arm angles.
If that sounds like a fun package, well, it certainly can be, when he is able to get on the bump. The hulking righty missed nearly a month of action in 2021 and two and a half months in 2022 before ultimately requiring Tommy John surgery that will cost him the 2023 season. That means he’ll likely begin building up strength again too late to come out of the gate with a starter’s workload in 2024. Though he will be just 22, the timing of the procedure and typical rehab length may mean he ends up a reliever upon his return, but with a fastball and slider that are both 60-plus, he could very well shine in that role.
28. SS Oswaldo Osorio (6-foot-1, 171 pounds, 18 years old)
Osorio possesses an interesting collection of tools, especially considering he is almost assured of sticking on the dirt. A native of San Felipe, Venezuela, in 2022 Osorio had a Max Muncy-esque performance, hitting .239/.428/.471 in the Dominican Summer League, with a walk rate of 20.9%, an ISO of .232, and he even swiped 11 bags.
Along with the advanced approach and some pull-side pop, Osorio is drawing praise for his defensive chops. He was signed as a shortstop, and indeed, he has the skill level to remain there. The only question is whether he will have enough range as he fills out. Should Osorio outgrow shortstop, third base is an easy fallback, as the footwork and arm strength are well up to the challenge.
Osorio was the second-youngest prospect on the Dodgers’ Fall Instructs roster, and as was the case with De Paula, sending an IFA over at the age of 17 is incredibly high praise from the club. Look for Osorio to follow the recent trend of staying in and around Camelback unless/until he forces the issue and earns a promotion to Rancho Cucamonga.
29. 1B/LF Samuel Munoz (6-foot-3, 190 pounds, 18 years old)
Munoz, signed for almost $760,000 out of the Dominican in 2022, had a solid professional debut in the Dominican Summer League — .347/.429/.491. There is always caution when looking at DSL numbers, but it’s hard not to like the batting average and on-base percentage (which, obviously, won’t hold through his MiLB career). There is power potential because the teenager is still maturing physically, so don’t be surprised if he has 50-grade when it’s all said and done. But he has a good feel for hitting from the left side and should be an above-average hitter, if everything clicks. It’s a James Loney/John Olerud profile at first base, though, he won’t be as good defensively there as they were. There’s also a chance he ends up in a corner outfield spot — likely left field. He isn’t much when it comes to speed, but he shouldn’t be a base-clogger.
30. RHP Edgardo Henriquez (6-foot-4, 200 pounds, 21 years old)
Henriquez has first round bonafides all over the place. The Venezuelan righty boasts a fastball that routinely reaches 100 MPH and sits in the mid-to-high-90s. His plus athleticism also came into play, as he separated a slurve into two distinct breakers in a handful of months; a 50-grade curve and a 60-grade slider. He also mixed in a fringy changeup, but it’s well behind his other offerings.
Unfortunately, what should have been a meteoric ascent was put on hold, as Henriquez required Tommy John surgery after injuring his elbow in August. Due to the injury occurring late in the 2022 season, it is likely that Henriquez will not pitch in 2023, the season that happens to precede his 40-man roster decision.
The talent is exceptional, but it’s hard to really know what they have at this point. Henriquez has tossed 60 or more pitches just three times, so even with incredible flashes of potential, we never got to fully glimpse what was in the tank. In 2024, he will be the age of a college junior in their first full pro season, which makes that an evaluation year that will be both important and challenging; pitting the caution the Dodgers exercise up against the need to know what’s there, as well as the willingness of other clubs to snap up a talent that’s exceptional if left unprotected, even if his path ahead is yet to be undetermined.
31. C Jesus Galiz (6-foot, 183 pounds, 19 years old)
The Dodger catcher factory keeps on churning ‘em out. Galiz had a solid state-side debut, showcasing the boom that led to FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline ranking him as the top catcher in the 2020-21 IFA class, along with just a bit of the bust that accompanies all high school-aged backstops.
The Venezuelan receptor put up a respectable wRC+ of 121 in the Arizona Complex League, buoyed by a strong walk rate of 11.1%, though there was some swing and miss from his at times high effort swing, as evidenced by a borderline-high strikeout rate of 25.3%. The bat speed is there, so if anything, cutting down when he picks his spots to trying to hit the ball to Mars instead of Pluto may serve him well. Defensively, Galiz has drawn praise for his work behind the dish. He was an infielder as an amateur, so he possesses plus mobility, along with the ability to fire off lasers from his knees, both of which are more valuable these days than in recent years, what with the rules changes going into effect.
Most farm systems have one or two legit, major league catching prospects in them at a time; they’re just plain hard to find, and yet, every minor league club needs multiple catchers just to get the games in. In the case of the Dodgers, there are anywhere from five to seven real, MLB backstop prospects, all of whom need playing time. Time will tell how this shakes out, but expect Galiz to be part of a time share at Camelback and/or Rancho in what will be his age-19 season.
32. C Thayron Liranzo (6-foot-3, 195 pounds, 19 years old)
Yet another solid catching prospect in the Dodgers’ system, Liranzo has been in complex ball for the first two seasons of his pro career, with an eye on Rancho Cucamonga in 2023. The Dominican switch-hitter evokes memories of Keibert Ruiz, but Liranzo is a more physically imposing catcher. He has good power potential from both sides and does a good job squaring up the ball. Contact will an issue for him, as the 24.3 K% in his first 255 plate appearances is a slight cause for concern, but that’ll happen with power-hitting prospects. And like many power hitters, his swing can get long sometimes and he’ll hunt for homers, but when contact is made, it’s pretty loud.
While he’s listed as a catcher, he’s probably not as advanced defensively as the others on this list. Because of that and some defensive nuances that need to be addressed/cleaned up, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him move to first base down the road. He projects to have enough bat for the move, but he’s also 19 and there’s always high variance when it comes to teenaged-prospects.
33. OF Juan Alonso (6-foot, 180 pounds, 19 years old)
There aren’t many true center fielders in the farm system who could eventually reach the majors, but Alonso is one of them. Signed out of Panama in 2021, Alonso has just 40 plate appearances above complex ball, but he makes loud contact and has a good eye at the plate. There is power to come, as it’s usually the last tool to develop for hitting prospects. He may not be a 20 homer guy, but with his eye and athleticism, he might not need to be. His approach needs work, which shouldn’t be surprising for a teenager heading into his first full-season stint of A-ball, but the tools are there to be a solid offensive contributor. Defensively, some think he’s more of a corner guy, while others think he can stick in center field. If he can, that’ll boost his value and status as a prospect. If he has to move to a corner, the bat (and power) will really have to develop. He’s a solid runner who should be able to maintain his speed as he adds a little weight. He should spend most, if not all, of 2023 with the Quakes. He’s a guy to watch going forward.
Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order)
Dustin: LHP Ben Harris, RHP Joel Ibarra, RHP Accimias Morales, 3B Logan Wagner, LHP Justin Wrobleski
Josh: RHP Peter Heubeck, RHP Kyle Hurt, RHP Maximo Martinez, 3B Marioshendrick Martinus, LHP Luis Valdez
That’ll be it for this round of prospect rankings. Stay tuned for more prospect goodness — mostly from Josh in the form of his daily/weekly updates, as well as our midseason rankings (and draft stuff!).