Top Lineup – C – Connor Wong – It’s ironic that we segue from the Colorado Rockies right into the Dodgers. In yesterday’s Colorado Rockies post, we mentioned how organizations have a difficult time developing catchers. Colorado being one of them. However, one system fans and baseball people have been able to count on to churn out great catching prospect after great catching prospect is the Los Angeles Dodgers, and what they have in the hopper now is no different. The Dodgers currently have two catchers sitting within MLB Pipeline’s 2019 Top 30 prospect list, Keibert Ruiz (#2) and Will Smith (#6), while Baseball America lists Ruiz as the L.A.’s #1 prospect with Smith coming in at number five. Both Smith and Ruiz are just about ready to crack the major league seal, so for us here, we take a look at the 2018 season to see who’s raising the floor, and Connor Wong fits nicely. The Dodgers drafted Wong in the 3rd round back in 2017 out of the University of Houston. What they got was a great athlete with solid skills across the board: a good hit tool; good glove; above-average arm and above-average speed. After a late start, he put it all on display in his pro debut. He spent one game in the Arizona League before being shipped straight to LoA Great Lakes where he did pretty much what his scouting report said. Batted. 278 with five home runs, 18 RBi, 19 runs scored and logged a .981 fielding percentage. This past season, the 6’1”- 180 lb. righty spent all season with HiA Rancho Cucamonga and as much as you’d expect from the Cal League, Wong put on a power display, blasting 19 home runs along with 20 doubles, scored 64 runs, drove in 60, stole six bases and posted a .986 fielding percentage. Yet this is an all-star list and we understand that with the upper minors stacked with top tier catchers, probably the biggest asset going for Wong is his position versatility. As a freshman at Houston, Wong was the Cougars starting shortstop having started 62 of 63 games. Then in his sophomore year, he saw action at third base, outfield and catcher. So, Wong is no stranger to moving around the diamond, and that might be his ultimate ticket to possible success in the majors. 1B – Dillon Paulson – This opinion might not be too popular, but am I one of the few people who are just waiting for Dodgers slugger Max Muncy to become Max Muncy again? He’s L.A.’s listed starter at first base heading into the 2019 season and truth be told, in comparison to previous seasons (he didn’t even play in 2017), he had as big a coming out party last year as any slugger I’ve seen in quite a long time. His 2018 is almost bordering on “too good to be true” territory. In fantasy, if you gave Muncy a shot, god bless you. You rode him for everything he gave last season, however it’d be foolish to expect him to do the exact same this season. Call me fatalistic, but Muncy could be in for a huge regression, but you know what, if he goes out there and mashes again, I’ll be the first in line to applaud him. So, what this does is adds another first baseman into the Dodgers mix that includes 2017 Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger, which helps take the pressure off finding that next up-and-comer at the position. The Dodgers may have found another in 2018 – 13th rounder Dillon Paulson. Drafted out of Southern Cal, Paulson brought big power upside, a polished approach at the plate with a quick bat, and showed off all of those skills in his pro debut with Rookie Ogden. The 6’3”- 200 lb. lefty led the Raptors in runs scored (64), doubles (20), RBi (61), total bases (117) and ranked within the team’s top five in hits (61), home runs (10). Paulson also posted an incredible 42:51 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Defensively, he logged a. 984 fielding percentage, committing eight errors in 54 games started at first. With not much competition in the low minors, Paulson could move rather quickly, and despite being on top of the the age/level curve, Paulson could get ahead of it quickly if he mashes out of the gate next season for LoA Great Lakes or even HiA Rancho Cucamonga. Keep an eye on him. 2B – Jeremy Arocho – With Corey Seager now healthy and ready to assault National League pitching once again from the shortstop position, this shifts the focus to what the Dodgers are going to do with their all of their middle infield prospects, at least until Seager becomes a free agent in 2022. MLB Pipeline houses five middle infield prospects inside their 2019 Dodgers top 30, while Baseball America lists three shortstops, with Gavin Lux leading the way. Chris Taylor is pencilled in as the the opening day starter, with super utility man Kiki Hernandez as the primary backup. Quite the conundrum I’d say. However, when situations like this arise, Jim and I sit back and our primary hope is that a prospect will hit us out of nowhere and add himself to the fray. Maybe that’ll be Jeremy Arocho. Drafted out of Old Mill HS (MD) in the 27th round back in 2017, the 5’10’- 165 lb. switch-hitter tied for second on the Rookie Ogden roster in hits (65), tied for first with 12 steals and posted a .978 fielding percentage. Now after reading that you might say to yourself, “Ok, so?” And that’s exactly the reaction that I’d expect because that was pretty much the state of the low level second basemen in the organization in 2018. Which is why the Dodgers will most likely (and rightfully) shift their top middle infielder Lux from short to second base, where with his potent offense, he could become one of the better power hitters at the keystone in a big hurry. Jim and I will take a wait-and-see approach with Dodger second base prospects again in 2019. Maybe Arocho steps up his game, maybe not. Either way, L.A. has second covered for awhile. 3B – Rylan Bannon – As a Justin Turner owner in my N.L.-only fantasy league, I’ve taken a vested interest in the third base hierarchy in the Dodgers system. Obviously, being in a league that allows minors, I’ve bookmarked several because you always look for that handcuff, that potential replacement for that solid fantasy contributor, and it’s actually crucial in league-specific leagues. Well, I thought I had my prime suspect, that perfect under the radar prospect that I could sneak onto my roster in the last round of my draft for a $1 dollar. Sadly, this year’s Dodgers UTR OAS third baseman Rylan Bannon will be a one-and-done, the one that got away, as Bannon was part of the five-player package L.A. sent to Baltimore in the Manny Machado mega-trade back in July 2918. Prior to being dealt, Bannon, 2017 – 8th rounder out of Xavier University (OH), was lighting the HiA Cal League on fire to the tune of a .296 batting average, 17 doubles, 20 homers, 58 runs scored and 61 RBi in 89 games before the trade. So, it was no surprise that once he became a member of the American League East, he was sent straight to Double-A Bowie, where he slowed down considerably, which was expected. New organization, new level, new teammates, etc. Despite the trade of Bannon, L.A. still has a few intriguing bats at the position like Christian Santana, Edwin Rios to name a couple. But for UTR it’s back to the drawing board. SS – Jacob Amaya – I’m not one to make bold predictions. As if readers don’t already know, Jim and I are a lot more “whatever the stats say is what is” type evaluators if you will. However, after the season Jacob Amaya had with Rookie Ogden and LoA Great Lakes, coupled with his overall player profile, I’m making the bold prediction that next year Amaya could very well find himself seated within several Dodgers top 5 prospect lists. There is nothing not to like here. The Dodgers stole the 6’0”- 180 lb. righty from a Cal State Fullerton commitment and assigned him to the AZL after being drafted out of South Hills HS (CA) in the 11th round in 2017. Amaya didn’t bring with him any overly loud tools. He carried an above-average hit with solid power and great defensive with an above-average arm and those skills were well on display last season with Rookie Ogden where he registered a .346/.465/.535/.1.000 slashline along with nine doubles, three home runs, 11 stolen bases and 27 walks to 29 strikeouts. This was enough to warrant a promotion to LoA where his bat died down a bit, but getting on base remained a strength, as he walked 20 more times and got on base at a .390 clip in his last 27 games. Over two levels, Amaya finished the season batting .311 with 17 extra-base hits, 54 runs scored, 29 RBi and perfect 47:47 BB:K ratio. My definite favorite Dodger prospect follow heading into 2019. LF – Dan Robinson – If you’re a Dodger fan, you have to be pretty excited about what the organization has assembled in their major league outfield. The Dodgers traded veteran Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to the Reds, making room for Joc Pederson to gain everyday at-bats, young superstar Cody Bellinger and recent trade acquisition A.J. Pollock. Oh, and I haven’t yet mentioned top outfield prospect phenom Alex Verdugo. So, as far as the Dodgers go, outfield is pretty well set for the near future. And honestly, that’s a great thing because other than Verdugo and Double-A slugger D.J. Peters, L.A.’s outfield ranks leave a lot to be desired, even in the UTR sense. Therefore, we are taking a grain-of-salt approach with this year’s Dodgers OAS outfielders starting with Daniel Robinson. Los Angeles selected the 6’2”- 215 lb. lefty out of Central Michigan this past year, sending him to Rookie Ogden to start his pro career. The 29th rounder was one of the Raptors team leaders in walks (32), posted a .423 on-base percentage and ranked fifth on the team with 95 total bases. Again, there’s nothing eye-popping about what transpired statistically, but someone who bats .332 and walks eight more times than he struck out deserves an asterisk by his name heading into the following season. CF – Brayan Morales – In his third year in the organization, the 23-year old Morales recorded his most productive pro season to date. He hit a career high .273 with 15 doubles, three home runs and 47 runs scored for LoA Great Lakes. However, what stood out most was Morales’ organization-leading 46 stolen bases. In fact, his 46 steals ranked him eleventh in all the minors. Defensively, the 6’1”- 170 lb. Puerto Rico native committed only five errors in 77 center field starts. With a possible, but more likely promotion to HiA Rancho Cucamonga in 2019, I’ll be anxious to see how many more steals Morales can add to his resume. RF – Cody Thomas – As I said in the Robinson bio above, power-hitting stud prospect D.J. Peters is the heir apparent to the right field job in L.A. I like Joc Pederson, but let’s face it, Peters carries the quintessential right fielder profile: huge power (with some rating it an 80 on the 20-80 scale), plus arm strength and great athleticism. But for this year’s OAS, we’re visiting an old friend in Cody Thomas, a 2016 – 13th round draft choice out of Oklahoma University. We use the term “old friend” not because we know him personally, because not only was Thomas an 11-time Hitter of the Day choice in 2018, but a 2016 Organizational All-Star selection after batting a combined .297 with 10 home runs and 50 RBi in his debut season wit the AZL and Rookie Ogden. He saw a big dip in batting the following season with LoA Great Lakes (.222), but still clubbed 18 doubles and 20 home runs (5th in the Midwest League). This past season, Thomas took his power to the Cal League, raised his batting average 63 points, and led all everyday Cal League right fielders in extra-base percentage (.430) by bashing 35 doubles, seven triples and 19 home runs. In quite the under-the-radar fashion, the 6’4”- 210 lb. former Sooner quarterback has assembled quite a nice resume. However, he’s poised to see Double-A Tulas in 2019 and we’ll see then if the bat truly is for real. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Edwin Uceta – (14) / HiA Rancho Cucamonga
**Uceta went from 56 innings in his 2017 U.S. debut season (Odgen – Pioneer League) to 120.1 innings across two levels in 2018, reaching HiA Rancho Cucamonga as a 20 year old. He handled the batters in the LoA Midwest League with a 3.83 K/BB ratio and 1.18 WHIP in 99.2 innings. At times, he was overmatched in the California League but still posted a very respectable 12.2 K9 rate. The 6′ 0″ 155 lb Dominican righty already shows good pitchablity for his age, but his smallish frame lends doubt he can stay in the starting role. At this point, his changeup surpasses his fastball (90-95), as his best pitch, and his continued work on the curveball will develop into a plus offering.
2. RHP Alfredo Tavarez – (13) / LoA Great Lakes**This shouldn’t be Tavarez’ first mentioned as a OAS. The 21 year old Dominican took the reins as the ace at Great Lakes, when Uceta was promoted to Rancho Cucamonga. The big framed (6’5″ 190 lb) right-hander remains raw, but already shows the tools of having excellent command and control. Equipped with a strong arm, Tavarez has strikeout potential with his repeatable delivery, but work remains on his mechanics.
3. RHP Tony Gonsolin – (11.5)/ Double-A Tulsa “Take a Flyer”
**I would say Gonsolin is sneaky good. I mulled over a considered amount of time around this time last season, to place the 9th round pick (2016) as my Dodgers “One to Watch” in 2018. And honestly, the fact of him turning 24 this past season lead me away to choose Leo Crawford instead. Gonsolin went out to have a breakout season and garnering the Dodgers Pitcher of the Year. The 6′ 3″ 204 lb went out posted 155 strikeouts in 129 innings and a 1.14 WHIP over two advanced levels. With a mid-90’s fastball that’s capable to touching 100 mph, look for Gonsolin to find his way to Los Angeles in 2019.
4. RHP Dustin May – (11) / Double-A Tulsa “Legit UTR” / “Solid Stash”
** May will be the first to get the call to wear Dodger Blue this season, when the injuries begin to befall the LA rotation. It can all be summed-up by: Nasty stuff, advanced fastball command (elite), that all produces a high K and groundball rates.
5. LHP Leonardo Crawford – (9) / Triple-A Oklahoma City “Legit UTR”
**Crawford was my choice over Gonsolin as my Dodgers 2018 “One to Watch” and he didn’t disappoint. With a command of a 3-pitch mix, the 6′ 0″ 180 lb left-hander displayed solid production over two levels. It was at HiA Rancho Cucamonga that capture attention for the 22 year-old. Crawford went 8-0 with a 2.77 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 68.1 innings and only 19 walks, on his way to a 1.14 WHIP. Let’s not discuss his one outing at Triple-A…..the stat line say it all.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Marshall Kasowski – (17) / Double-A Tulsa
2. RHP Nolan Long – (8)/ Double-A Tulsa “Legit UTR”
3. RHP Andre Scrubb – (7)/ Double-A Tulsa