Think Blue

Obsessing over the Dodgers' minor league system so you don't have to.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Double A Preview

A year after winning the Southern League championship with one of the best collections of prospects in Minor League Baseball history, the Dodgers' Double A affiliate cooled off so to speak and the talent level thinned out. Still, players such as Scott Elbert, Matt Kemp and Andy La Roche spent part of '06 with the team and helped contribute to an exciting season. Now I'll look at who fans should expect to see this upcoming year for the Jacksonville Suns.

2004 first rounder Blake DeWitt was promoted from Vero Beach late last year, and struggled with the bat, mustering just a .183 batting average in 26 games with Jacksonville. Still, scouts love his ability and Blake is looking to turn it around in 2007. He came on strong in June and July for Vero, slugging 15 HR combined in those two months. He slumped in Winter ball, hitting just .216 for his North Shore club of the Hawaiian League. But DeWitt has that classic lefty stroke that evokes confidence in his ability to produce, and he'll have his chance to shine against premier competition in the Southern League come April.

Another 2004 draftee, Cory Dunlap spent most of last season in Vero before a brief stint in Triple A with Las Vegas. Dunlap has intriguing offensive tools, beginning with his ability to get on base. He walked 88 times last year in High A, compared to 69 strikeouts, allowing him to reach base at a .435 clip despite batting .261. He has some power, collecting 15 Doubles and 14 HR with Vero, though he could do a better job of turning on inside fastballs. As for his defense, Cory is a work in progress. His weight hinders his agility and he doesnt have great range at 1B. Speed is not part of his game. Dunlap has enough natural hitting ability to make it to the bigs, though it may be in the AL as a DH.

After spending two seasons in Vero Beach, Xavier Paul seems ready for the leap to Double A. A 2003 draft pick, Paul had an impressive showing in Rookie ball but has never really produced like his tools would indicate. However, it appears he's found his niche as a leadoff hitter. Over the past two years, he's enjoyed a great deal of success in the #1 spot, hitting .303/.358/.509 there last season. In RF, he has plenty of speed and the best throwing arm in the system. It's all a matter of consistency with Professor X, and hopefully he'll find his groove as Jacksonville's table setter in 2007.

Without many noteworthy pitchers, Mike Megrew will most likely headline the staff for the Suns. The 6'6 lefty underwent Tommy John surgery and was taken by the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft a couple years back, only to be returned to the Dodgers after not sticking with Florida's big league club. Megrew made 18 appearances in Vero last year, posting a 3.52 ERA and striking out over a batter an inning, but his control has wavered since his operation as he walked 44 batters in 53.2 IP. Still just 23, Megrew was invited to big league camp and will hopefully make a good impression.

Next I'll take a look at the Dodgers' new High A affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Fresh Start

I'm looking forward to a new season and hopefully a new beginning for this page. I'm going to do my best to keep this thing updated as often as possible, so if you're reading, be sure to drop me a line and add any questions or comments.

With exhibition games on the way, I thought I'd share a few thoughts before the season starts to take shape.

The Minors

While rosters havent been released yet, it's a safe bet that Las Vegas will field a strong team this upcoming season. A surprise note came from the official site, stating that Scott Elbert will forego a return to Jacksonville and start the year in Triple A, despite a less than stellar showing during the '06 season. While his ERA was 3.61 and he struck out 76 batters in 62.1 IP, he also walked 44 batters (a staggering 6.35 per 9 innings) and surrendered 1 HR per start. What does this mean? Well, Scott needs to do a much better job of keeping the ball down in the zone and establishing his fastball early in counts. He has the natural velocity to miss bats at any level, so getting him to locate his heater will be a key to future success.

Also expected to see plenty of time in Sin City is Matt Kemp, whose exciting tools are only curbed by his inexperience. The Juan Pierre signing is pretty much a guarantee that Kemp's future lies in RF, where his arm is more than adequate. However, his offensive ceiling takes a hit given how much production is expected from a corner outfielder. I admire his work ethic, playing in the Dominican Winter League in order to further his plate discipline, but I think his problem is more simple. He needs to think better. When he came up to the majors, he was looking dead fastball early in counts. After pitchers gave him a steady diet of offspeed pitches, he did a 180 and became far too passive, often falling behind and flailing at breaking pitches out of the zone with 2 strikes. He needs to think more about the at bat and realize when he's getting junk and when he can expect a fastball. Drawing a few more walks wouldnt hurt either.

Of course, there's the double play tandem of Chin Lung Hu and Tony Abreu, who are sure to wow crowds with their awesome defensive prowess. Hu really took a step backwards developmentally last year. Although he participated in the Futures Games, he really struggled with the bat, hitting just .254 with little power. In the Arizona Fall League, Hu couldnt even manage to break the Mendoza line. Hopefully the friendly confines of Cashman Field will allow him to regain some hitting ability. Abreu was another story. After winning the FSL hitting title, Tony put up a very respectable .287 average while playing his home games in the pitcher friendly Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. He followed that up with a very impressive showing in the Dominican Winter League, batting .365 over a 15 game period. His speed and defense are also above average. Consider Abreu a darkhorse to take over for Jeff Kent in 2008.

And let us not forget Andy La Roche. A strong offensive season in 2006 was marred with injuries to both shoulders, though Andy says he's fully recovered and almost totally pain free entering spring training. While Grady Little has given Wilson Betemit his vote of confidence, La Roche still has a chance to win the starting 3B job outright this March. He could be the power source the Dodgers need.

I'll share my thoughts about the rest of the Dodgers' minor league teams over the next few days.