Think Blue

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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Year in Review - Great Lakes

Low A - Great Lakes (Overall record 57-82)

The other new Class A affiliate for the Dodgers' didn't fare as well as the Inland Empire club. The Loons finished second-to-last in the first half and dead last in the second half. While the offense put up average numbers for the league, the pitching staff accumulated the worst ERA and the team allowed 5.38 runs per game. And while the team as a whole floundered, a few players broke out and established themselves as potential stars.

Breakout - Clayton Kershaw, LHP

Following a dismal 2005 campaign, the Dodgers found themselves picking in the Top 10 (7th) for the first time since 1993. Kershaw, who came into the year as a relatively unheralded prospect, established himself as the premier player in the high school class. I became a fan of his immediately, but just as quickly had my hopes dashed when it became apparent that the Tigers, who were picking 6th, had their sights set on him. So come draft day, I was listening to the broadcast on my computer and prepared myself for missing out on such a rare pitcher. Oddly enough, the Royals seemingly changed course at the last minute and chose former Dodger draftee turned a-hole Luke Hochevar. Four more picks were recorded and Andrew Miller, who many believed was the best player in the draft going into the year, was still avaialble. And up came the Tigers' pick. I began mouthing the words along with the announcer..."with the 6th pick in the MLB draft, the Tigers select...Andrew Miller???" I was shocked. Mouth agape, I thought to myself "Kershaw's still available..." And once the Dodgers delayed their pick, I knew taking Clayton was a serious possibility. So once the voice came back over the radio and announced that he was the pick, I threw my hands in the air and yelled "YES!!!" That was a great day.

Kershaw had one of the more impressive debuts in recent memory, striking out 54 batters while walking just 5 in 37 innings. This year he came down to earth a bit, but still established himself as one of the best prospects in the minors. He was among Midwest League leaders in strikeouts, with 134 in 97.1 innings, on the way to becoming the best prospect in the league according to Feeling bold, Dodgers' brass decided to send the teenage phenom to Double A, skipping a stop in California. He held his own against much older competition, though struggled with his control while posting a 3.65 ERA. He even made an appearance in the All Star Futures Game, though he allowed a HR and a walk while striking out a batter in two-thirds of an inning. Kershaw uses a 93-95mph fastball that has late, cutting action and a sharp mid 70s curveball to dominate his competition. He's still refining his changeup, which should end up being an average pitch for him.

After starting the season in Low A, it seemed as though the Dodgers would bring Kershaw along slowly. But with his promotion to Double A, it looks like he's going to reach the majors much earlier than expected. He should begin next season back in Jacksonville, with the possibility of a callup as soon as midseason. Kershaw is a rare lefty with a power arsenal and outstanding makeup. All he needs right now is to throw strikes consistently. If he cuts down on the strikeouts, he'll be unstoppable.

Breakdown - Preston Mattingly, 2B

I wasn't the only person who was shocked to hear his name called in the 2006 draft, much less in the supplemental first round. You can recognize his name instantly, as he is the son of former All Star and MVP Don Mattingly. Preston was a three sport star in High School, who also averaged 20 points per game in Basketball and starred at wide receiver in Football. Unlike his father, Preston has a big frame (6'3 200 lbs) and lots of speed. However, his approach at the plate and defense need lots of work. And while he seemed to hold his own in rookie ball, Preston looked lost in his first full season.

Drafted as a shortstop, Mattingly was never projected to stay there and forced his way off the position by committing 15 errors in 18 games. A move to second base yielded 15 errors in 71 games, an improvement but nothing to write home about. Given his below average arm strength, some scouts have said he'll eventually wind up in LF. But I would let him use his speed in CF. And then there's the bat. After hitting .290 in his debut, Preston hit just .210 with the Loons while posting a .548 OPS - nearly .150 points below the league average. His BABIP was low for the level, but a 10% line drive percentage is well below average. And his sub .200 average on groundballs, which accounted for more than half of his batted balls in play, didn't help either. Nor did his 119 strikeouts, tied for the team lead with Trayvon Robinson. Nor did his 22 walks in 437 plate appearances.

It looks like Mattingly was completely lost playing full season ball when he probably should have been held back in extended spring training and gotten his feet wet in the Pioneer League. He has some raw skills, including his power/speed combination. But given his production, it seems he's far away from realizing his potential. P Mat could repeat the level, as I seriously doubt he'd be able to handle High A pitching. He's probably wishing he played in some summer leagues during high school right about now.

Others of Note

Josh Bell, 3B -
Bell ranked 9th in's Midwest League Top 20 mostly due to his immense power. He ranked 12th in the league in SLG with a .470 mark and tied for 10th with 15 HR. And despite his 35 errors in 90 games, scouts believe he'll be able to stick at 3B. Bell struggled after a promotion to High A Inland Empire, hitting just .173/.203/.307 with a pair of homers in 20 games. He'll almost definitely return there next season and bat in the heart of the lineup.

Josh Wall, RHP - Another 2005 draftee, Wall made the 2007 Top 30 list at #29 though his stuff isn't what it was when he was drafted. A projectible right-hander who used to touch the low 90s with a plus curve, Wall now resides in the upper 80s with an average breaking ball. But Josh had a surprisingly successful season in 2007. He posted a modest 4.18 ERA with 103 strikeouts and 48 walks in 129.1 innings. He'll join Bell in the Inland Empire next year.

Steven Johnson, RHP - Last year, Johnson became the first 18 year old to pitch for the Suns since Greg Miller back in 2003, though it was only 2 games. Johnson then went to Ogden and posted solid peripherals despite his relatively average stuff. This year, Johnson seemed to lose his control of the strike zone and issued 40 walks in just over 80 innings. However, he did strike out over 7 batters per 9 innings and allowed just 2 HR. He debuted in the Hawaii Winter League tonight with 4 shutout innings and 5 strikeouts.

Up Next - Rookie Leagues


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