- C – Keibert Ruiz – 17 yo
- 3.80/.869 combined – PAG/APPA – (AZL – 5.63/1.154; Rookie Ogden – 3.50/.816)
- 2016 stats combined: .374/.412/.527; .939 OPS; 22 doubles, 3 triples, 2 home runs
Anyone remotely familiar with roster structuring in fantasy sports knows the term “handcuff.” But for those who don’t know, let me fancy you and provide the definition. A fantasy handcuff is a backup, or high-level minor leaguer, that will likely take over for a team’s starter in the event of an injury, earned promotion or due to a trade helping clear the path for said player. I bring up this term because I take a rather mounted interest in the Los Angeles Dodgers catching situation. In the much discussed Pennsylvania Furnace League Jim and I compete in, I own Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, after obtaining him in a late February 2015 trade. At the time he was an up-and-comer and cheap (auction league). Despite Grandal’s nagging injury history, I believe he’s one of (if not THE) top power hitting catcher in majors today. Heading into the 2017 major league season, Austin Barnes is slated to be Grandal’s backup (a handcuff), and if long time UTR fans are wondering why that name sounds familiar it’s because Barnes was a 2012 “Breakout” selection (now known as “Ones to Watch”) for the Miami Marlins. Now, for those in extremely deep dynasty leagues looking to gain that edge over your competition, it’s no secret that the talent pool of minor league catchers in the National League is very shallow. So, if you’re a Grandal owner in a dynasty league looking for that (possible) minor league handcuff, absolutely look no further than now-18 year old Venezuelan Keibert Ruiz. The Dodgers signed the 6’0″- 165 lb. switch-hitter in May 2015 and assigned him to the Dominican Summer League where he batted an even .300, posted a .340 on-base percentage and finished 3rd on the roster in slugging (.387) and OPS (.726); as a 16-year-old. To begin 2016, L.A. brought him state side to the Arizona League. In his first eight games, Ruiz absolutely obliterated AZL pitching batting .485 with five extra-base hits and 15 RBi’s. The organization saw enough and quickly promoted Ruiz to Rookie Ogden of the Pioneer League. The young Venezuelan didn’t slow down. His .354 led all Raptors regulars, while his 95 total bases ranked fourth on the team. For what Ruiz is doing at such a young age, I love him. He’s a gap hitter with a contact-first approach, considered a gifted receiver with above average footwork, and has great hands. However, he does have his share of weaknesses. He offers very little power and does need to polish his fundamental approach at the plate. I hope with success in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Ruiz can head to LoA Great Lakes without slowing down his momentum. If he continues this run, he becomes an immediate add in all deep level dynasty formats that house minors. Especially in the National League.
- 1B – Ibandel Isabel – 21 yo
- 3.80/.869 combined – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Ogden – 4.00/.970; LoA Great Lakes – 3.92/.959)
- 2016 stats combined: .317/.396/.579; .975 OPS; 11 doubles, 12 home runs
Anytime my fantasy cohorts and I talk about our rosters, we always discuss hypothetical situations, mostly when it comes to multiple position eligibility. What if said player earns eligibility at another position and how it adds value to both the player himself and your roster especially in an auction league. This brings me to Dodgers top prospect Cody Bellinger. For long-time followers of the website, you’ll recall that Bellinger was our Dodgers inaugural UTR Organizational All-Star first baseman; and that off-season also came in at #20 in Baseball America’s 2015 edition of the Prospect Book. Not bad. Bellinger played first base exclusively in his 2014 debut, however the next two seasons he saw time in the outfield with 27 games in 2015 and 35 games in 2016. Every Dodger fan knows how speculative their outfield is. Joc Pederson underperformed last year and Yasiel Puig dealt with injuries and quite the attitude, but are both young and the only mainstays heading into 2017. The rest is resolving with Andrew Toles and Franklin Gutierrez in a left field platoon(?), and veteran Andre Ethier and Enrique Hernandez on the bench. Here’s where the hypothetical fantasy situation comes into play. What if the Dodgers shifted Bellinger to the outfield? He has experience and is one of the most polished power bats in the minors. L.A. would instantly have one of the youngest outfield trios in the majors. So, if this happened, who would be next in line on the Dodgers minor league first base vector? If 2016 stats had anything to do with it, the answer would be this year’s UTR OAS selection Idandel Isabel. L.A. signed the hulking 6’4″- 225 lb. Dominican during the 2012-13 signing period and assigned him to the DSL where he lead the squad in doubles (15), RBi’s (31), batting (.327), on-base percentage (.398), slugging (.500), OPS (.898) and total bases (98). The Dodgers like Isabel’s huge power potential, large frame and budding defense and it was evident in the DSL, however his lack of polish in his plate mechanics was exposed when the organization sent him to the AZL the following season. He batted .238, drew only 10 walks and struck out 48 times in 38 games. He repeated the AZL in 2015 and saw marked improvement, evident in his .295 batting average, but the K’s continued to pile up. This past season, it’s obvious the Yaguate, DR native turned a corner as he lead all first base prospects HiA down in home runs, batting, slugging percentage and OPS. Isabel has recorded some of the biggest exit velocity numbers in the organization and if things work out just right for Isabel, he could speed up prospect boards as well.
- 2B – Brandon Montgomery – 20 yo
- 4.43/.996 combined – PAG/APPA – (AZL – 3.65/.848; Rookie Ogden – 4.94/1.088)
- 2016 stats combined: .336/.385/.569; .954 OPS; 10 doubles, 10 triples, 8 home runs; 14 stolen bases
When researching the Dodgers second base landscape, not only did this year’s UTR OAS selection Brandon Montgomery stand out above all other second base performers, but I also agree with beyondtheboscore.com writer Austin Yamada in his January 2017 piece stating his lack of excitement surrounding the acquisition of Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Logan Forsythe. It’s a fantastic read that states the Dodgers may have been better off keeping new Philadelphia Phillie Howie Kendrick (.289 career batting average, .985 fielding percentage) instead of trading stud pitching prospect Jose DeLeon for the 30-year-old Forsythe, and his career .255 batting average and .980 fielding percentage. With L.A. on the contractual hook for all of 2017 and 2018 with Forsythe, this gives the organization time to sort out what to do with power prospect Willie Calhoun, who has as big a power bat in the system as anyone, but a defensive profile that doesn’t fit at second. Several prospect prognosticators say that now 19-year-old Cuban Omar Estevez is the future at the position. He posted a 2.61/.658 P/A score, but rapped out 32 doubles, 9 home runs and drove in 61 for LoA Great Lakes. Not a bad debut at all, but I’m not in love with him. This is UTR and we dig deeper, pay attention to more than just the age/level aspect of a kid. Brandon Montgomery slots perfectly into the UTR mold as a 26th round draft pick out of San Jacinto College (Houston, TX) this past season; the same school that produced Arizona Diamondbacks UTR OAS catcher Ryan January. Montgomery debuted in the AZL, batting .323 with only six extra base hits, 21 runs scored and nine RBi’s in 23 games. The 6’0″- 180 lb. righty received a late July promotion to Rookie Ogden. Not only did he maintain his stellar batting average, but the extra bases arrived. In only 46 percent of Ogden’s 76 games, Montgomery finished the season as the Raptors leader in triples, and ranked fourth in homers, third in slugging percentage and fifth with 98 total bases. The biggest question, like Calhoun, is where Montgomery will play. He has serious skills: a potent bat, speed to spare and can really, really hit. Moving forward, watch him closely, as he could see a promotion to LoA Great Lakes or even HiA Rancho Cucamonga this coming season. He has the tools to shoot up prospect boards.
- 3B – Edwin Rios – 22 yo
- 3.78/.985 combined – PAG/APPA – (LoA Great Lakes – 3.00/.773; HiA Rancho Cucamonga – 5.17/1.154; Double-A Tulsa – 2.79/.681)
- 2016 stats combined: .301/.341/.567; .908 OPS; 26 doubles, 27 home runs
A few times during this year’s UTR OAS series, I eluded to the fact that Jim and I field our share of fantasy baseball questions during the regular as well as the off-season. Especially this time of year with draft season now in full swing (no pun intended). One thing I personally and rarely am asked about is the MLB First Year Player draft. Or more notably, draft prospects. This tells me that I should become more keen on the June event as well as the early July international signing period. It’s not that I’m totally unaware, but our work here is designed more for the after-draft results. However, in breaking down 2016 Dodger third basemen, and being a Justin Turner owner in the much talked about Pennsylvania Furnace League (PFL), I believe paying attention to the draft more closely would be a great idea, because I think it would be beneficial for L.A. to draft a third baseman. Don’t get me wrong. This year’s UTR OAS choice Edwin Rios was a fine selection. He not only led all Dodger third basemen in home runs, but his 27 bombs tied top 2B prospect Willie Calhoun for the most overall home runs in the system. Rios also led all Dodger third basemen in runs scored (68), batting, slugging percentage, extra-base percentage and OPS. However, where I ease up on the gas with Rios is when I look at his level splits from this season. Of course you can’t ignore what he did with in the bookends of his season. For LoA Great Lakes and Double-A Tulsa he hit a combined .253 with 11 homers, 15 doubles, with 31 runs scored and 30 RBi’s However, it’s clearly obvious he benefitted from the high octane atmosphere of the California League where he batted .367, slugged 16 home runs, drove in 46 and scored 37 in a 42 game span. I expect Rios to play all year back in the Texas League, with a possible promotion to Oklahoma City before season’s end. However, with Justin Turner signed to a shiny new 4-year – $64M deal that takes him up to the 2020 season, Rios has nowhere to go. Despite logging time at first base, he won’t unseat Cody Bellinger or Adrian Gonzalez anytime soon. So, it’s best if the Dodgers draft a hot third base prospect, let him grow and develop just in time for Turner’s contract to run out.
- SS – Errol Robinson – 21 yo
- 3.42/.774 – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Ogden)
- 2016 stats: .282/.336/.395; .732 OPS; 17 doubles, 2 home runs; 18 stolen bases
“What’s the use?”, I said chuckling to myself looking over the Dodgers shortstop landscape knowing that uber-Dodger Corey Seager just completed his first full season in the majors. Now, just because the Dodgers have Seager, the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year winner, first time All-Star, first time Silver Slugger recipient and second runner up in National League MVP voting entrenched at short stop for possibly the next decade or so doesn’t mean the rest of the shortstops in the system cease (to exist). Seager isn’t up for his first Arb hearing until 2019, with Arb3 in 2021 and free agency in 2022, and we all know L.A. isn;t afraid to spend money so it’s difficult to gauge what will happen with Seager. But, you know the old adage, “This is UTR” and I’m here to talk about Dodgers UTR Organizational All-Star shortstop Errol Robinson. The Dodgers drafted the 6’0″ – 180 lb. righty in the 6th round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Mississippi. Robinson spent all season with the Rookie Odgen club and one thing that was apparent in his transition from collegiate ball to the pros was his consistency. In three years with the Rebels, Robinson posted a three-year slash line of .286/.356/.348/.704, averaged nearly 10 doubles a season, hit 4 triples and only 2 home runs. This equated to a 2.75 PAG, but as you can see above, Robinson exceeded his overall (collegiate) numbers in his debut. As much as I want to get all excited over Robinson, I have to slow the sprint down to a jog, because anyone even casually following baseball knows that Corey Seager is (part of) the new face of the L.A. Dodgers. My hope for Robinson is that he builds on his debut, creates a buzz about himself and becomes a nice piece of trade bait in case the organization requires a boost at a different position.
- LF – Cody Thomas – 21 yo
- 4.68/1.034 combined – PAG/APPA – (AZL – 6.14/1.536; Rookie Ogden – 4.48/.975)
- 2016 stats combined: .297/.382/.621; 1.003 OPS; 10 doubles, 19 home runs; 10 stolen bases
One of the many things I love about the UTR philosophy is pondering the endless “what ifs.” Not only about particular position player hierarchy, but also a player’s skill set. For example, if a pitcher has an above-average repertoire, but develops that fourth out pitch, he could separate him from the prospect pack and become elite. However, this is UTR so I’m not saying anyone Jim and I promote are elite, but if a player can add a polished tool to his arsenal, it could help skyrocket him up the prospect ranks. Case in point, this year’s Dodger UTR OAS left fielder Cody Thomas. The beauty surrounding a kid like Thomas is how he’s still relatively new to the game of baseball. That is when you compare him to the rest of the field of those dipping their toes into pro baseball. Thomas was a backup quarterback for the University of Oklahoma who just so happened to play baseball too; one season to be exact, where he batted .299, belted six home runs, scored 27 runs and drove in 28 in 40 games. However, the Dodgers were intrigued by his athleticism and size (6’5″- 215 lb.), selecting him in the 13th round of the 2016 draft. The lefty swinging Texan was assigned to the Arizona League and obliterated AZL pitching batting .500 with three home runs and 10 runs scored in only seven games. He received a quick promotion to the Pioneer League and not only led the Ogden squad in home runs, but those 16 bombs ranked second in the entire Pioneer League. This is where the speculative UTR juices flow a little bit. The numbers Thomas produced? I’ve seen much worse from life-long baseball rats. What if Thomas worked on his stiff swing mechanics this off-season learning to recognize off-speed stuff and suddenly becomes not just a power threat, but a threat to hit over .300 too? This would also help cut down his strikeouts. What if Thomas worked on his outfield routes helping make for a overall better defender? As a former quarterback, we all know he’s got great arm strength and accuracy. I like what Thomas brings to the table from a UTR perspective. Keep a real close eye on him because if all the “what ifs” can become “wow, look at that!!” then the Dodgers have another great UTR prospect on their hands.
- CF – Saige Jenco – 21 yo
- 3.50/.790 combined – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Ogden – 4.82/1.019; LoA Great Lakes – 3.18/.730)
- 2016 stats combined: .308/.395/.422; .817 OPS; 13 doubles, 1 home run; 22 stolen bases; 29:41 BB:K ratio
Over the years, when scanning through both off-season stats (for the OAS series) or surfing daily box scores for my UTR Hitters of the Day feature, it’s always incredibly exciting when I come across a kid who hails from Rochester, NY; where I call home. I’ve mentioned Arizona’s Grant Heyman, a 2012 draftee out of Sutherland HS (Pittsford), Chris Bostick, an Aquinas Institute draftee in 2011, Cito Culver, an Irondequoit HS grad with the Yankees and Jason Kanzler, an outfielder out of Penfield, NY, who last played in 2015 in the Twins organization. But for this season’s Dodgers UTR OAS center fielder choice, the hometown honor goes to my writing partner Jim. Saige Jenco, a graduate out of State College Area HS, calls the same town that writing partner Jim has called home for the last 25+ years. Jenco was what Jim called “a stud 3-sport athlete” for the Little Lions. Jenco, a 2012 graduate, was a three-year starter for State High batting .430 his senior year. He also made the Pennsylvania State Track championships as a long jumper and was a standout star on the football field. While in high school, the 5’8″- 190 lb. lefty signed a letter of intent to play for Virginia Tech, where he was a three year starter for the Hokies, batting a career .319 with four home runs, 42 stolen bases and an impressive 103 walks to 93 strikeouts. The Dodgers loved his high energy style of play and drafted him in the 24th round last June and assigned him to Rookie Ogden. In 11 games, he batted a whopping .390 with seven extra-base hits, five stolen bases and eight walks to seven strikeouts. L.A. quickly promoted Jenco to LoA Great Lakes; and despite an expected slow down in overall production, he turned up the speed. In only 45 games, Jenco ranked second among all Raptors in steals (17) and third in on-base percentage. Jenco is a pure under-the-radar talent who some scouts say he already can tap into his strengths as a player and doesn’t try to do too much aside from it. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Jenco start the new season back in LoA with another possible quick shuffle off to HiA Rancho Cucamonga of the Cal League.
- RF – D.J. Peters – 20 yo
- 4.73/1.033 – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Ogden)
- 2016 stats: .351/.437/.615; 1.052 OPS; 24 doubles, 13 home runs
One thing I noticed immediately upon analyzing the 2016 Dodger outfielders was the diversity of time players spent at each outfield spot. Of the 52 overall outfielders analyzed for the Dodgers UTR OAS, 39 played more than just one position, while aforementioned Cody Thomas, 18 year old Venezuelan Romer Cuadrado and 2015 – 2nd rounder out of Plano HS (TX) Mitch Hansen spent time in all three OF spots. And I haven’t even mentioned LoA Great Lakes Gage Green. The 2015 – 35th round draft choice from Oklahoma State filled the role of super utility for the Loons, racking up time in all three OF positions while also logging ample time at third base (21), behind the plate (12) and he sprinkled some time at first and second base as well. So, you get the idea that I had to get back to basics when choosing the UTR Dodger trio. And you know what, I’m doing my best Barry Horowitz (for all those old school WWE/WWF fans) because a good job was done, and I’d put Cody Thomas, Saige Jenco and this year’s L.A. Dodger OAS right fielder D.J. Peters up against any outfield trio I’ve put together this off-season. The 2016 – 4th rounder out of Western Nevada Community College (Carson City) came to the Dodgers because they loved his size (6’6″- 225 lb.), above average plate approach, plus arm, solid defense and power potential. And all of these attributes were on full display in his first taste of pro ball, as the righty swinging California native led the Raptors squad in hits (92), runs scored (63), doubles, ranked second in home runs and RBi (48), while ranking first among Raptor regulars in total bases (161), on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. In other words people, a total beast. I know I say it a lot when describing certain UTR kids, but with Peters, there is nothing not to like here. I don’t consider Peters a sexy prospect, he just does a lot of things very well; and I can’t imagine what this kid could do if he takes the path I feel he’ll take this coming season, which could start with LoA Great Lakes, then a possible quick shift to HiA Rancho Cucamonga, where he has the possibility to make his debut numbers look like a mere warm up. Place Peters on your deep level prospect watch list in short order. He could be a sleeping giant.