Think Blue

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

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Midseason Review

While it may seem early, the minor league season is about half way over. So I thought I'd check at each level to see how the prospects are doing.

Triple A - Las Vegas

It's heating up in Nevada and OF Xavier Paul is maintaining a solid season. X Man has gotten better each month, hitting .281 in April, .293 in May and .327 through 14 games in June. His OPS is hovering around .800, which isn't all that high given the PCL's tendency to favor hitters, but remember that he's still only 23 years old.

3B Andy LaRoche has moved on to the bigs, but he undoubtedly left his mark in the minors. The 24 year old posted a mediocre .277 batting average, but walked 37 times compared to 14 strikeouts and clubbed 5 HR in 38 games for the 51's, leading to an .865 OPS. He played his first career game at 2B today and could see more time there if Jeff Kent suffers an injury.

As is expected, the pitching has been less than inspiring. RHP Justin Orenduff finally got a taste of Triple A and he'd probably just as soon be demoted, as he's produced a 5.25 ERA in 14 games. Converted reliever RHP Jon Meloan has fared much better in his new role, sporting a 4.13 ERA, though he's struggled with his command (42 walks in 65.1 IP). Speaking of command issues, LHP Greg Miller still can't consistently find the strike zone. His 31 walks in 32.2 innings overcome his still impressive fastball/slider combo.

Double A - Jacksonville

The Suns' best prospect thus far has arguably been SS Ivan De Jesus Jr. At just 21 years old, the Puerto Rico native has posted a line of .296/.415/.369 while playing impressive defense. His knack for getting on base and making great plays with the glove make Ivan a very attractive option to replace oft-injured Rafael Furcal as the Dodgers' shortstop and leadoff man.

A year after smashing 25 HR in High A, C Lucas May has had an up and down season. After OPSing 1.033 in April, an injury caused him to miss some time and OPS just .725 in May and he's only been able to manage a .462 mark this June. Surprisingly, he's hitting much better at his pitcher friendly home field and he's also struggling against lefties. Hopefully, a healthy second half will allow him to regain his early season stride and regain his impressive offensive numbers.

On the pitching side, RHP James McDonald hasn't had as easy a time in Double A as the first go-round. J Mac's flyball tendencies have come back to bite him, as he's allowed 9 HR in 14 starts. But his 75 strikeouts, compared to 25 walks, in 72.1 innings is reason for optimism. A pleasant surprise has been RHP Jesus Castillo, who was promoted to Jacksonville this past offseason despite a rough 2007 in High A. The 24 year old Mexican has posted a 3.30 ERA in 14 starts and could be a candidate for a September callup. Remember LHP Scott Elbert? The 2004 first round pick missed more than an entire season due to a shoulder injury, but he's finally back. While he's being eased back into his starting role, the southpaw's results aren't as important as the simple fact that he's pitching. I wish the same could be said for RHP Zach Hammes, whose season hasn't been worth watching until recently. After moving into the rotation last year, he's now back in the bullpen. Unfortunately, his command escaped him and his ERA soared. But so far, in 6 June appearances, he's allowed just 1 run in 9 innings while walking 1 and striking out 5. If he can continue to pound the strike zone, he could make an appearance in Vegas or LA this season.

High A - Inland Empire

The surprise prospect of the half-year has to be C Carlos Santana. A season after converting to catcher and batting .223 in Low A, he found himself promoted to High A to face even more advanced competition. But he's responded better than anyone could have expected, putting up a line of .298/.409/.533, and his .942 OPS is good for 4th in the league. As his defense continues to improve, the Dodgers could have yet another impressive converted catching prospect on their hands.

It looked as though 3B Josh Bell was on his way to a successful season before a knee injury took him out of the lineup. Prior to the boo-boo, Bell was hitting .273 with 6 HR and 12 doubles. His .827 OPS was a vast improvement over what he put up in his cup of coffee last season (.509), but what's important now is that he gets back to playing ball.

Among the prospects prematurely promoted to High A was 2005 10th round pick OF Trayvon Robinson, who hit just .253/.314/.311 with Great Lakes last season. And while his current .704 OPS won't turn many heads, a deeper look at his numbers shows that he's actually doing better than you'd think. First, while Tray's switch-hitting experiment hasn't produced many positive results, he's hitting .305/.354/.525 against lefties. Second, the 66ers home park isn't great for hitters, which could explain his .342/.374/.581 line on the road. And last, he's picked it up of late, batting .344/.379/.590 in June. He still needs to work on utilizing his speed, as he's been caught stealing 8 times in 21 attempts. But it'll be interesting to see how long he can ride this hot streak.

A pair of 2007 draftees have headlined the rotation, with LHP James Adkins being the highest draft pick out of that class to be in full season ball. Adkins has struggled, though, posting a 5.17 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts). He hasn't pitched as poorly as his ERA, as his strikeout and HR rates are actually pretty good. But he's struggled with command, walking 29 batters in 62.2 innings. With his stuff, James needs to be precise in order to exceed. RHP Tim Sexton also made the jump to High A and has struggled as well. He's also pitched better than his 5.52 ERA would suggest, but his problem has been homeruns. He's allowed 9 in 73.1 innings, while walking 23 and striking out 50. Neither Sexton nor Adkins profile to be front-of-the-rotation starters, but both could be back-end guys at the big league level.

Another pair, who've been in the system longer, also made their High A debuts this year. RHP Josh Wall seemed to turn the corner last year with a 4.18 ERA in Great Lakes. But the perils of the California League have engulfed him and he's been unable to consistently succeed. 40 walks and 8 HR in 61 innings have led to a 5.61 ERA, though he's been better in June. RHP Javy Guerra has gone from being a wild starter to a wild reliever, and the results have been mixed at best. A horrendous 1 inning, 7 ER outing skews his numbers a bit, but he's still walking too many. In total, he's walked 22 and struck out 29 in 30.1 innings. He has the stuff to make the majors as a reliever, but he'll need to do a much better job of harnessing it.

Low A - Great Lakes

I had high hopes and great expectations for OF Andrew Lambo coming into the season, and while he hasn't lived up to them, he's started to show signs of life. He started off OPSing .860 in April, but it dropped down to .710 in May before rising again to .939 in June. His most interesting split is his righty-lefty split; he actually hits lefties much better than righties (.344/.402/.559 vs .253/.310/.411). He's on pace to hit about 15 HR and 50 doubles, which bodes well for his future power projection.

On the surface, 2B Preston Mattingly's numbers look like he's making no progress. But a closer look reveals the fact that he's suffered not from a bad season, but a bad month. Preston started off dismally, batting .189/.198/.300 in April. But since then, he's OPS'd .865 in May and .700 in June. He's also hitting well against lefties (.303/.333/.485). But his walk rate is nearly non-existant, having been issued just 6 free passes in 56 games. If Mattingly can manage to avoid another month like April, he should be ready to move on to High A.

One of the bigger disappointments of the season has been 3B Pedro Baez. The Dodgers' biggest international signing of 2007 teased scouts with his plus defense and plus power potential in the Gulf Coast League last year, but has been unable to make contact in his first taste of full season ball. The 20 year old is batting just .178/.244/.259 through 59 games and his only homer came 2 months into the season. His OPS vs lefties is about .200 points higher than vs righties, but it's still only .627. He could be a candidate for a demotion to the Ogden Raptors once the rookie leagues start up.

The much anitipated return of RHP Bryan Morris was interrupted when he was shut down for almost a month. But he's returned to his return and he's shown the same stuff that caused him to be drafted in the first round in 2006. He hasn't had the same results, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. Bryan's strikeout total hasn't been as impressive, but he's gotten his walks down to almost 2.5/9 and his G/F is 1.84. Hopefully whatever caused him to miss time is behind him and he can finish out the season healthy.

The team's ace has been RHP Justin Miller, a 6th round selection in the 2007 draft. Miller, who wasn't scouted by many teams, had a successful debut in rookie ball and has done well in Low A. He was dominant in April, posting a 1.11 ERA in 5 starts before coming down with walk-itis in May and June. He's allowed as many walks as strikeouts (35) in 67 innings, though his ERA is still a nifty 2.69. Justin's sinker is his bread and butter, leading to a 2.83 G/F ratio and only 3 HR allowed. He could be promoted to Inland Empire before his 21st birthday in early August.

A new face and a grizzled veteran have had vastly different seasons. LHP Geison Aguasviva starred for the Dodgers' Dominican Summer League last year and finally got a taste of American ball. But it was bittersweet, as he was hit hard and hasn't pitched in a month. Geison's peripherals actually aren't bad, as he's struck out 20, walked 6 and allowed just 1 HR in 19.1 innings. But giving up 34 hits really hurt him and I expect him to surface in rookie ball later this month. And then there's RHP Steven Johnson, who is repeating the level after struggling with the Loons last year. Not this time, though, as Johnson sports a 2.60 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 23 walks in 65.2 innings. Even though this is his fourth year in the system, he won't turn 21 until August 31st. A few more good starts could land him in the Inland Empire.

That's all for now.


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