Think Blue

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

Monday, March 19, 2007

Early Draft Preview

Sure the draft is 2 months away, but I've been thinking about it since last June. I was able to catch the AFLAC All American Game last August and saw some of the best high school talent available for this June's FYPD. Here, I'll mention some of the top overall prospects and some guys I think the Dodgers could/should draft.

The first draft prospect I was ever high on was David Price. How can you not love a 6'6 lefty with power stuff? Well, 3 years later, Price is positioning himself to be one of the first players taken this summer. After a disappointing end to the 2006 season, Price re-established himself as the top pitching prospect in the draft with a strong summer performance with the US National Team. Through 8 starts, he's posted a 2.88 ERA with 89 strikeouts and just 15 walks in59.1 innings. He's also only allowed 1 homerun. David's repetoire starts with a low to mid 90s fastball that he commands well with an easy delivery. His slider features good tilt but less than ideal break. He also throws a curveball and a changeup. My main concern with Price is how much mileage he's going to rack up on his arm this season. He's racked up lofty pitch counts, some in excess of 120 pitches. Still, with clean mechanics and a strong, durable frame, Price's health isnt a major issue and his name should be called very early in the first round.

When I was watching the AFLAC game, two players really caught my eye. The first was third baseman Josh Vitters. His first inning at bat against highly touted right-hander Michael Main lasted 10 pitches, with a couple LONG fouls balls before Vitters finally slammed a 94mph fastball off the left field wall. Vitters added 2 more doubles and a walk in the game. Possibly the best pure hitter in the draft, Vitters uses quick hands to generate good bat speed and has gap power already, which should turn into HR power once he matures physically. His pitch recognition is also a plus, as he can make last second adjustments and lay off breaking balls in the dirt. In the field, he has a plus arm and decent speed. He looks a little stiff at third, leading me to believe he'll end up in a corner OF spot. But with his bat, he'll be a valuable player in the future.

The other player who caught my eye was right-handed pitcher Matt Harvey. Harvey is lean and projectible at 6'4 195 lbs. He has a loose, easy arm action and generates mid 90s fastballs with little effort. He struck out the side in his inning of work, though the at bat that stuck out for me was against first baseman Freddie Freeman. With the count 3-2, Harvey threw a very impressive circle change that snuck over the inside part of the plate against the lefty and caught Freeman looking. He also threw a curveball, though he needs to find a consistent release point in order for the pitch to be reliable. His command was just okay, but should improve with refined mechanics. However, like Vitters, Harvey should be drafted in the first half of the first round.

Now, onto some players who should be available for LA at #20. The first guy I like is left-handed pitcher Josh Smoker. One of the most polished and experienced pitchers in the prep ranks, Smoker has a stockier build than I prefer at 6'2 (listed at) 190 lbs (but probably over 200). His handedness and frame remind me of Chuck Tiffany. His stuff is similar, but better. He comes at hitters with a low 90s fastball, generated from a loose arm with some deception. His plus curve and solid change allow him to mix pitches and keep hitters off balance. He also has good control. While he doesnt have the projection of a guy like Harvey, the polish is there and he should move quickly through the minors.

To keep with the southpaw theme, the next guy I like is Madison Bumgarner. Much bigger than Smoker at 6'5 220, Bumgarner has a little bit more on his fastball that has touched 95. His breaking ball has improved this spring, though it still needs work and he needs to develop a changeup. Where Smoker is a strong pitcher already, Bumgarner will need some work. But a lefty with mid 90s heat is always a hot commodity and Madison has a considerable amount of upside.

The third guy I like for the Dodgers at #20 is third baseman Matt Dominguez. While he's been overshadowed by a fellow SoCal prospect in Josh Vitters, Dominguez has a similarly exciting overall package starting with his offense. He has polish and power from the right side, which should allow him to hit in the middle of the order throughout his pro career. Defensively, unlike Vitters, Dominguez has a good glove with smooth actions and a strong arm. He's a better athlete than Vitters, though his offensive potential might not be as high. Still, the local product would be a nice addition to LA's system.

And there you have it. I'll be posting more draft tidbits next month when BA begins their coverage. With the minor leagues starting up in just two days, look for box scores and highlights, which will be updated daily.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rookie Ball Preview

I know it seems way too early to think about Rookie Ball and the draft, but I'm a prospect hound year round. As far as I know, the Dodgers' rookie league affiliates have not changed, meaning the GCL Dodgers will still be playing in Vero Beach. Now I'll look at a few 2006 draftees, one of which wont be playing this season.

With the 31st overall selection in the 2006 First Year Player Draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers select Preston Mattingly? Sure, I was surprised, as were most fans who follow the draft. Mattingly wasnt a highly touted prospect on sites like Baseball America or Perfect Game Crosschecker. But the Indiana high school product attracted plenty of scouts for his athleticism and bloodlines. The son of Don offers a different skillset than his father, starting with his speed. The 6'3 right-hander can fly for a guy his size. While he doesnt have the same natural hitting ability, Preston projects for more power and Dodger officials envision him as a middle of the order masher. Understandibly, Mattingly is raw in many facets of his game. He needs to improve his plate discipline and learn to harness his power. In the field, Preston lacks arm strength and the natural actions to stay in the middle infield. While I dont normally compare prospects to major leaguers, I see him becoming a centerfielder in the mold of Grady Sizemore or Johnny Damon. But whether or not he stays at shortstop, his bat should get him to the majors.

On the international front, Canadian first baseman/outfielder Kyle Orr was selected in the fourth round of the 2006 FYPD. The lank 6'5 Canuck draws comparisons to Justin Morneau for his power potential. Orr has a strong arm that would allow him to play right field. Like Mattingly, he'll need a good amount of seasoning in the minors and isnt expected to play full season ball until 2008. His raw power potential is prolific, but he must learn to hone his hitting ability. At his size, he's not a speedster. Kyle and Preston should give the Ogden Raptors a strong 1-2 punch in the middle of their lineup come June.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Bryan Morris is expected to miss the entire 2007 season, though there's a chance he could return in time for Instructional League. Prior to his operation, Morris was steadily clocked in the mid 90s and threw a devestating curveball. While his pure stuff wowed scouts during his pro debut, his production was less impressive. Bryan sported an ERA of over 5 and walked 40 batters in 60 innings. He'll need to work on his command once he returns. If he regains his fastball/curveball combination, Morris could fly through the minors and into the Dodgers rotation.

And finally, I'll conclude my preview with a look at the 2007 draft class.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Low A Preview

The bottom rung on the full season level, Great Lakes is a new destination for Dodger prospects. After being known as Catfish, rookie level graduates can now look forward to representing the Loons. Last year's Low A breakout was Ivan De Jesus Jr, so let's see if I cant peg 2007's star.

Called "(Matt) Kemp-lite" by some, Josh Bell offers an intimidating presence at the plate. Although he's built more like Cory Dunlap, Bell has the most power of any Dodger prospect in the low minors. He hits the ball hard from both sides of the plate. On D, his arm is his strength. He lacks quickness and must improve his footwork. Speed isnt a part of his game. After spending the past two seasons in rookie ball, it's time for Josh to show that he can handle a full season both at the plate and in the field. He should be hitting right in the middle of the Loons' lineup.

Another 2005 draftee to look for is Josh Wall. The 6'6 lanky right-hander hasnt lived up to the expectations of a second rounder, but given his youth there's still time for him to develop into a good prospect. While his fastball has dropped off from his prep days, he still sits in the upper 80s and offers plenty of room for added velocity. His low to mid 70s curveball can be a plus offering at times, though it still needs refinement. He really needs to get his head straight and focus on the task at hand. While his age allows the Dodgers to remain patient, it's time for some results. He should spend the whole year in Great Lakes, regardless of his performance.

Not to be mistaken for the musician, Carlos Santana saw limited time at High A last season but should start off the season as the Loons' catcher. Originally signed as a third baseman, Santana moved behind the plate during the offseason and the results have been positive. He shows solid-average skills across the board defensively, and his bat could carry him to the big leagues. A switch hitter with some pop and a good eye, Carlos walked 30 times compared to 19 strikeouts with rookie league Ogden in 2006. The results in High A Vero Beach werent quite as positive, though he's still a top 30 prospect and at 21, has a plenty of time to reach the big leagues.

And last, but certainly not least, there's Clayton Kershaw. One of the most impressive prospects from the 2006 draft, Kershaw established himself as one of the best lefties in the minors. His repetoire begins with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, can touch 96 and he can locate it anywhere in the zone. He supplements his heater with a big-breaking curve in the low 70s and a solid-average changeup. What was most impressive about Clayton's rookie campaign was the fact that he struck out 54 batters while issuing only 4 non-intentional walks. Kershaw will turn 19 in just over a week and already handles himself on the mound like a seasoned veteran. He should move quickly through the system and sit atop the Dodgers rotation one day.

Next I'll look at prospects who should start the year in the rookie leagues, followed by an early preview of the 2007 draft class.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

High A Preview

A new year brings a new High A affiliate for the Dodgers, who have moved from their facility in Vero Beach to San Bernardino, California and have become the Inland Empire 66ers. This year will be an opportunity for me to attend my second Dodgers' minor league game (My first was in Montana of all places). The main difference in the change of scenery is that the California League plays very favorably to hitters, whereas the Florida State League was always a pitcher's league. Let's take a look at how their roster may shape up.

Many Dodger fans were surprised to see Ivan De Jesus Jr taken in the second round of the 2005 draft, considering most experts had him going after round five. But it's seems to have paid off, after two successful seasons and a spot in Baseball America's Top Ten list for the Dodgers. Like his father, Ivan plays shortstop with ease. He shows smooth actions, good range and first step quickness. The only negative on him defensively is his arm; it isnt overly strong and his accuracy is erratic. At the plate, DeJesus shows a line drive stroke, though power is much more projection than a present tool. I was most surprised by his ability to draw a walk, as he collected an impressive 63 in under 500 at bats. He also used his speed well on the basepaths, swiping 16 bags in 21 attempts. Ivan presents an intriguing package of tools, and should have no problem putting up solid offensive numbers in the Cally League.

When James McDonald was drafted, no one really knew what position he would play. It's clear now that his future is on the mound after a successful Low A campaign. A draft and follow signed prior to the 2003 draft, J Mac spent his first summer of pro ball pitching. Then, in 2004, he spent the entire season as a position player, and did both in 2005. 2006 was his first year above the rookie leagues and he showed the Dodgers what he was capable of, striking out more than a batter an inning and finishing the season with an ERA of under 4. While he did well as a starter, James was very impressive in 8 relief appearances, striking out 23 in 15.1 innings while walking 6 and posting an ERA of 2.35. If McDonald's future is in the pen, he should move quickly through the system.

Russell Mitchell, not to be confused with Russell Martin, seemed like an unlikely candidate for promotion after hitting just .239 in Low A Columbus. But following a callup to Vero Beach, Mitchell clubbed 4 Doubles and 4 Homeruns in 22 games, raising his batting average nearly .040 points and slugging over .500. Mitchell is a third baseman with passable defensive skills and pop at the plate. Look for him to have an impressive showing in High A.

When Joel Hanrahan went down with an injury last season, Steven Johnson probably thought he was at the bottom of the list of pitchers to replace the Double A starter. But he did so with aplomb, posting 4.2 scoreless innings as an 18 year old. He returned to extended spring training before moving into rookie league Ogden's rotation. Johnson pitches well beyond his years, and admittedly, his stuff. His fastball peaks in the low 90s, but he shows great ability to locate it to both sides of the plate. He also mixes in a big, slow curve, a slider, a changeup and the occasional cutter. While he could move quickly through the minors, his ceiling is that of a back-of-the-rotation innings eater.

Next comes Low A.