Think Blue

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

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Year in Review - Inland Empire

High A - Inland Empire (Overall record 72-67)

A new year brought a new High Class A affiliate for the Dodgers. After 6 years in Vero Beach, the Dodgers finally brought a club back to California. The 66ers made the playoffs, though were bounced in the first round. Moving from the pitcher friendly Florida State League to the hitter friendly California League wasnt too drastic a change given the 66ers' home park plays almost neutral. And now, onto the prospects.

Breakout - James McDonald, RHP

James McDonald has one of the more fascinating backgrounds of any Dodgers' farmhand. Originally drafted out of Poly (Long Beach) HS in the 11th round in 2002, McDonald elected not to sign right away and attend junior college. The Dodgers signed him in 2003 as a draft and follow and he went to GCL where he pitched 48.2 innings while posting a 3.33 ERA. However, in 2004 he accumulated 125 at bats in the GCL while playing the outfield and DHing. And in 2005, after moving up to Ogden, he did both. But the Dodgers realized his future was on the mound and made him a full-time pitcher in 2006, as he posted a 3.97 ERA for the Low A Columbus Catfish.

This season, given the difficult task of pitching in the California League, McDonald responded by establishing himself as one of the elite arms in the minors. He led the Cal League in strikeouts before his promotion to Jacksonville, where he posted a 1.71 ERA. While McDonald doesnt have overpowering stuff, his ability to locate his high 80s to low 90s fastball, as well as his secondary offerings, keeps batters off balance. James throws both a changeup and a curveball, both garnering praise from the scouting community. He gets good deception from a high 3/4 delivery, generating a downhill plane on his pitches. And given his ultra-thin 6'5 190 lbs frame, there could still be some more velocity to come.

My only real beef with "J Mac" is his flyball tendency. It didnt lead to a high HR total this year (13 in 134.2 innings) but could leave him vulnerable to allowing homers in the future. James posted impressive K/9 (11.23) and BB/9 (2.47) rates this year. He's the best right-hander the Dodgers have in their minor league system and could see time in the majors as soon as next year. However, he'll likely return to Jacksonville's rotation and headline the staff along with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Scott Elbert.

Breakdown - Javy Guerra, RHP

Drafted out of a Texas HS in the 4th round in 2004, Guerra needed immediate work once he signed. Guerra's main flaw was a crow-hop move in his delivery that was illegal in pro ball. Dodger coaches fixed the problem and Guerra retained his low to mid 90s fastball. His secondary pitches lag behind the fastball but power arms are always a commodity.

However, Guerra hit a major bump in the road during the 2005 season. After experiencing discomfort in his elbow, it was determined that Guerra required Tommy John surgery. He didnt pitch again until 2006, when he logged 28 innings for rookie level Ogden. Skipped to High A this season, Guerra struggled mightily with his control. His 80 walks led the California League and his 6.27 ERA was worst among regular 66ers' starters.

It's been 4 years since he became a pro and he's made little progress. Given his strikeout rate (Just over 9) it seems his fastball velocity is still there. But unless he can develop his curveball and changeup, he's a career minor leaguer.

Others of Note

Lucas May, C -
The former SS who was converted to an OF was converted to catcher last year in instructional league. His premium athleticism allowed him to move behind the plate, but he still has a lot of work to do defensively. While he committed just 4 errors, May allowed 31 passed balls. The bright spot of his season was his 25 HR, which was tied for second in the Cally League. He's still young enough to develop, but he's likely a super utility guy in the bigs.

Jamie Hoffman, OF - Originally an undrafted free agent, Hoffman had a nice debut when he hit .310/.375/.459 for the GCL Dodgers in 2004. After struggling in both his prior stints in High A, Hoffman was the team's most consistent hitter with a .309/.378/.455 line. Despite his large frame (6'3, 205 lbs), Hoffman projects more as a table-setter in the pros. He should begin next year patrolling CF for the Jacksonville Suns.

Blake DeWitt, 3B - A mediocre season in High A and an unsuccessful late season promotion to Double A sent DeWitt back to A ball to begin the season. DeWitt struggled in the beginning of the season, hitting just .210 in April, before raising his average to .290 in May and .390 in June. In July, he was hitting .323 with the 66ers before a promotion to Jacksonville. He was blazing hot when he joined the Suns and hit .359 with them through July. But he regressed, hitting .245 in August and .167 in 12 at bats in September. Being stuck behind Andy LaRoche on the organizational depth chart doesnt help DeWitt, and neither does his inability to stick at 2B. I see next year being his make or break season.

Up Next - Great Lakes


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