Think Blue

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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Minor League Review

The minor league season is a little more than a third over, so it seems like a good time to take a look and see how some noteworthy prospects are doing.

Triple A - Albuquerque

The Dodgers are holding their own in their new Triple A affiliate, playing .500 ball and surprisingly finding themselves in first place. The club is 5th in the circuit in runs scored, but in the bottom half in runs allowed despite having the oldest staff in the PCL. As for the prospects, the pitching staff is barren, so the hitters are the only ones who provide some potential value.

Xavier Paul, OF - The 24 year old hit .408 in April, struggled through 5 games in May before making his major league debut on the 7th to replace suspended OF Manny Ramirez. After playing in 7 games, Paul contracted a staph infection that landed him in the hospital and on the DL.

Jamie Hoffman, OF
- Paul's illness prompted the recently promoted Hoffman to replace him on the major league roster. Jamie did very well in Double A Chattanooga, batting .307 and drawing more walks (22) than strikeouts (18). After his promoted to Triple A, he continued getting on base and even slugged a pair of home runs. He profiles as a 4th outfielder type, though he's done well in limited starts at the big league level.

Chin Lung Hu, SS - After struggling in the majors last year, Hu goes back to Triple A to start 2009. His hitting woes continue, as he's batting just .227 through the first 44 games of the season. Going just 4 for 35 against southpaws certainly doesn't help matters, nor does his .234 BABIP. Chin is getting really unlucky right now, so his numbers should improve going forward. With Furcal locked in through 2011, Hu seems like a prime candidate to be traded for pitching help this season.

Blake DeWitt, 3B - I was pushing for DeWitt to get the starting 3B job last offseason, but the Dodgers saw fit to re-sign Casey Blake. While the move looks good now, I think DeWitt would have been the right choice over the next 3 years. He displayed exceptional defense while in the majors last year and has shown improved hitting skills in Triple A this season. I know, I know, the PCL is a hitter's dream, but Blake is walking more (19) than he's striking out (12). He's even hitting lefties. Like Hu, he seems destined to realize his potential with another organizationa.

Double A - Chattanooga

Another new affiliate, this time with plenty of prospects. However, the results have been drastically different, as the Lookouts are 10 games under .500 and in last place in their division.

Andrew Lambo, LF - After a spectacular opening month, Lambo has come plummeting back to earth. For the month of May, Lambo batted just .223 with only 1 home run. His strikeout rate skyrocketed along with his groundball rate. He's still sitting at a 20% line drive rate, but only 15% of his groundballs are going for hits. Once that number normalizes, expect his stats to climb back up to respectable levels. I still see Andrew as Manny's eventual replacement.

Josh Lindblom, RHP - On the surface, Lindblom's season looks like a disappointment (2-3, 4.78 ERA). But looking deeper, Josh has pitched very well. He's struck out nearly a batter an inning (33 in 37.2 IP), walked just 7 in that span and allowed only 2 home runs. I expect to see Lindblom in the majors some time this season, though I'm not sure if he'd be starting or relieving.

Josh Bell, 3B - Bell seems to have grown as a hitter, even after missing considerably time last season. The 22 year old switch-hitter hasn't put up the HR numbers I expected (just 4 longballs in 46 games), but he's clubbed 13 doubles and drawn an outstanding 27 walks. His strikeouts are a little high, especially given the dearth of home runs, but if the power does come back, Josh could establish himself as a hell of a prospect.

Scott Elbert, LHP - The Dodgers gave Scott a chance to keep a major league job and Scott blew it. It's that simple. Now it's up to him to show he's ready for another chance. So far, the results have been pretty good, except for one outing. In his last start, Elbert took a no-hitter into the 7th inning. But the appearance before that, Scott gave up 8 earned runs in 3.1 innings. He's still got plenty of fastball and a strong curve, but it's up in the air whether his future lies in the rotation or the pen.

Tony Abreu, 2B - Remember him? He's still around and he's still hitting. The 24 year old is batting .297 in 19 games, though he's only drawn one walk and collected 5 extra basehits. There's still an outside chance that he could catch on somewhere as a starting second baseman, though it's not likely to be with the Dodgers.

High A - Inland Empire

Beware, ye pitchers who enter here. Along with the PCL, the California League is a hitter's heaven. Thin, dry air and warm temperatures keep balls airborne far longer than gravity intended. The 66ers are 6 games under .500; that seems like some sort of message...

Scott Van Slyke, OF - Possibly the biggest surprise of the season thus far has been the development of the young Van Slyke, who came into the year with a career batting average of about .250. Right now, he's hitting .313/.372/.544 with 7 HR (more than he had in his first 3 seasons of pro ball combined). I was sure he'd snap out of it after an impressive month of April, but he's only improved in all facets of his game; he's walking more, striking out less and still hitting for gap and homer power. His 17 doubles rank 3rd in the Cali League. I'm cautiously pessimistc in regards to how much he's actually grown as a hitter. If he gets promoted to Double A and keeps on hitting, then I'll be a believer.

Tim Sexton, RHP - The 2007 25th rounder finds himself back in High A after struggling to a 6.04 ERA there last season. This year, he's had far more success, posting a 2.79 mark in 9 contests with a 2:1 ground/fly ratio and only 4 home runs surrendered. Tim will turn 22 next month, so a callup to Chattanooga seems like it could happen sooner rather than later.

Trayvon Robinson, OF - Coming into the season, I regarded Tray as a raw speedster who had a lot to learn about the pro game. It appears that he has less to learn now, though there's a ways to go in his development. Power wasn't really a part of his game up until this year, as he's clubbed 6 HR in his first 49 games. He's stealing plenty of bases (19), though his success rate should be higher than 70%. Unfortunately, his walk rate has regressed and his strikeout rate has climbed to about once every 4 at bats. I doubt he'd be able to hang with Double A pitching, but he's still young enough to take that next step in his development.

Chris Withrow, RHP - After being selected 20th overall in 2007, Withrow's first two pro seasons were less than inspiring as he pitched only 13 innings over that span. This year, he's made 6 starts and nearly tripled his career workload. The results have been mixed; he's struggling mightily with control and has walked about 4.5 per 9, leading to a bloated 5.65 ERA. On the other hand, he's struck out 50 batters (12.27 per 9) and allowed only 3 HR. As he continues to develop, Chris will need to hone his changeup in order to keep lefties in check. Unless he begins a Hershiser scoreless streak, I expect he'll spend the rest of the year in San Bernardino.

Preston Mattingly, LF - It's interesting that the Dodgers have the sons of 2 former all stars in their High A outfield. Both are big time athletes with big time questions about their game. Preston hasn't had as much success as Van Slyke, though the numbers are somewhat impressive. Coming into Sunday's game, Mattingly had drawn just one walk the entire season. He's also struck out 45 times in 30 games. So don't let the .303 batting average get you too excited. He still has a long way to go to have a shot at reaching the show.

Steven Johnson, RHP - It would figure that the day I do my first minor league review is the day Johnson has his worst outing of the year. Still just 21 years old, Steven was putting up some impressive numbers before seeing his ERA rise over a run. He still leads the league in strikeouts with 61 and his 21 walks are okay. Johnson's problem has been home runs; he's surrendered 9 of them in 10 starts. Oddly enough, it's right-handed hitters that are giving him problems; he's held lefties to a .227 average. If he can figure out why that is, he could take off.

Pedro Baez, 3B - Yet another raw athlete with big time tools, Pedro is a power/power guy at the hot corner who profiles as a slick defender with a cannon for an arm and plenty of pop at the plate. However, in order to utilize his offensive ability, he'll need to cut down on the whiffs. Baez already has 41 K's in 37 games, compared to just 9 walks. Plate discipline will be the key for him to advance to Double A and have any amount of success.

Low A - Great Lakes

"A loon is a loon, I suppose." - Clayon Kershaw

Dee Gordon, SS - The son of Flash has excited scouts with his raw tools. He's close to an 80 runner on the 20-80 scale. Most believe he'll be able to field the position well as he matures. He has raw contact ability and can drive the ball from time to time. With Gordon, it's all about the fine-tuning. He needs to walk a litle more and strikeout a little less; cut down on the errors. When all is said and done, he could replace Rafael Furcal as the Dodgers' shortstop of the future in 2012.

Ethan Martin, RHP - The 2008 first rounder breezed through the first month of the season, allowing just 3 runs on 12 hits in 20 innings while striking out 26. May hasn't been so easy, as Martin has struggled greatly with his control, leading to 25 walks in 40.2 innings. He's still striking guys out (11.28 per 9) and has only allowed 1 home run, but Ethan needs to improve his control and command of all his pitches.

Tony Delmonico, C - Tony has caught less than I thought he would this spring, having logged only 23 of his 49 games at the position. His bat has been somewhat inconsistent; he flashes power and on base ability but goes long stretches without home runs and is prone to striking out. I'm willing to give Delmonico a pass this year since he's adjusting to a new position, so hopefully he can address these issues in 2010.

Justin Miller, RHP - A personal favorite of mine, I was expecting Miller to be promoted to High A after a successful showing with the Loons in 2008. Apparently, the Dodgers had other plans. After issuing 4.8 walks per 9 last season, Justin has cut that nearly in half this year. However, his strikeout and home run rates have gotten worse and his ERA is about half a run higher. The 21 year old is still showing a dominant sinker, which has led to a 3.23:1 ground/fly ratio. If he can find that balance between missing the strike zone and missing bats, Justin could be a solid pitcher down the road.

Kyle Russell, OF - The very definition of a TTO (Three True Outcome) hitter: he's going to walk, strikeout and hit homers. Those outcomes have accounted for nearly half his plate appearances this season. Russell is tied for the league lead with 13 HR and he's third in strikeouts (61). The latter stat is a concern for me, since he's facing Low A pitching. Unless he cuts down on the K's, I doubt he makes it to the show.

Nathan Eovaldi, RHP - A late season showing with the Raptors in 2008 put Eovaldi in the Dodgers' Top 10 prospects list for Baseball America, after showing a mid 90s fastball and touching 96 twenty times. Nate's last start was the first in which he didn't allow an earned run and he's given up 3 or more in 5 of his 9 appearances. The strikeouts aren't where I thought they'd be (6.4 per 9), though the walks aren't horrible and he's allowed only 1 HR. Eovaldi's going to need a lot of time to develop, so don't give up on him just yet.

Austin Gallagher, 1B - Gallagher would definitely earn my "Biggest Disappointment" award, given that he's regressed so much after being demoted. After holding his own as a 19 year old in High A, Austin is now struggling to hit as a 20 year old in Low A. I'd expect much more than a .676 OPS from a slugging first baseman. His BABP is a tad bit low and he is walking enough, but the power needs to start showing up.

That it for the review. If you have any questions about any prospects I didn't mention, feel free to comment. Next up is my review of the big league squad.


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