Think Blue

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Offseason Plans - Part 2, First Blood

Now it's time to look at the left side of the infield and the outfield. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot in question here so I'll look more to the future.

Shortstop - Rafael Furcal

The former Brave is entering his 5th season as the Dodgers' starting shortstop. It's been a tumultuous tenure for the diminutive Dominican, as he started his Dodger career with a bang but has disappointed since with ailments and sub-par performance.

Coming off an injury-plagued 2008, Furcal appeared in 150 contests this past season. And while his defense was among the best in the National League (in spite of his 20 errors), Rafael again struggled to hit. His platoon-splits were favorable against lefties, as he OPS'd .815 against southpaws, but he struggled to hit versus righties, compiling a .261/.326/.352 line while batting left-handed. Once a base-stealing threat, he averaged only a pair of swipes per month, the cost of doing business with a player on the wrong side of 30.

Raffy's job is safe for the next 2 years, as his salary dictates his role. Waiting in the wings, however, is an exciting young player by the name of Dee Gordon. If you're a regular reader of this blog, and who is, you'll recognize him as the son of Tom "Flash" Gordon and MVP of the Midwest League. Flash Jr offers an exciting blend of blazing speed and pure athleticism, allowing him to make all the plays at short and stretch doubles into triples on the basepaths. However, he's still raw and will require a few more years in the minors to develop. His path to the majors coincides nicely with Furcal's contract status, so expect Dee to take over in 2012.

Third Base - Casey Blake

Now, I have nothing against the guy personally. I don't know him, never met him, haven't read anything about about him. So while my constant bashing of the trade that brought him here may seem like I have a vendetta against the guy, it's purely analytical and has nothing to do with the player lovingly referred to as "the beard." And with all my criticism, I'm man enough to acknowledge that Casey had a solid season, exceeding my relatively bleak expectations.

The biggest surprise for me was Blake's defense. Over his last 2 seasons, he was about 5 runs below league average. In 2009, he was 8 runs above league average. That's a difference of about 1 win, which is a huge turnaround especially given his age. Offensively, Casey also improved over his previous season, thanks in large part to a couple great months. Another oddity was his walk rate, which jumped to 11.5%, his highest mark in a full season's work. Maybe he's found the fountain of youth.

After Josh Bell was traded to Baltimore, the Dodgers lack of corner infield depth in the farm system was exposed. Blake DeWitt is likely to win the starting second base job in spring training. That leaves Pedro Baez with the mantle of "Top Third Base Prospect." The 2009 Futures Game participant has a power arm/power bat combination that entices scouts, but he's still raw offensively as evidenced by his 84 strikeouts compared to just 16 walks in 79 games. He probably didn't belong in High A last season, so I don't see the Dodgers having a problem repeating him at the level in 2010.

The Outfield - Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier

The Dodgers have the best outfield in the majors. Last season, Ramirez had the fewest HR of the trio (19) mainly because he missed 50 games due to his hormone treatment. Given a full, erectile dysfunction free season in 2010, it would be easy to imagine all 3 hitting 25+ HR. Unfortunately, while Kemp made strides in center, Ramirez and Ethier have the defensive aptitude of beached whales. Still, the unit is the envy of the major leagues and the younger two are under Dodger control through (at least) 2011.

Given the fact that the Dodgers' outfield situation for 2010 is set, it may be fun to look at the future of the club.

Andrew Lambo - Had a subpar showing in his return to Double A, putting up a line of .256/.311/.407. Adjusting for luck, his numbers take a jump in the right direction, increasing his OPS to nearly .800. He also has had a solid showing in the AFL, batting .330 with with 6 doubles and a pair of home runs. He'll participate in the league's championship game tomorrow. This performance may have earned Andrew a promotion to Triple A next season.

Trayvon Robinson - A 10th round pick in 2005, Tray has always had the tools but they haven't translated into production...until this year. Now, granted, he was playing in the hitter's haven known as the California League, but his peripherals and power numbers took a huge step forward. Coming into the year with 12 career home runs, Robinson smacked 15 long balls in High A and added 2 more after a brief promotion to Double A. He also stole 47 bases and OPS'd .866 overall. Joining Lambo in the AFL, Tray didn't have as much success nor as consistent playing time. However, while he batted just .244, he drew 7 walks in 12 games and stole 7 bases. He'll likely head to Double A next year.

Scott Van Slyke - The son of former Pirates slugger Andy was taken 4 selections after Robinson. He's followed a similar career path and, like Tray, broke out this year with High A Inland Empire. Whereas Robinson is a shorter, more compact athlete, Van Slyke is a big, hulking power hitter. At 6'5 and over 200 lbs, he finally tapped into his raw power potential in 2009. Coming into the season, Scott only had 40 doubles and 11 HR. He more than doubled each of those categories as he ended the season with 42 doubles and 23 HR. He also improved his walk rate, drawing a free pass in more than 10% of his plate appearances. He'll surely join Tray in Chattanooga in 2010.

Kyle Russell - Russell, to me, is the most interesting of the four prospects. He enjoyed a good amount of success this year, leading the Midwest League in home runs (26) and tied for 2nd in doubles (39). He was also the only Dodger farmhand to hit at least 20 home runs and steal at least 20 bases. The downside is that he also led the league with 180 strikeouts. There are serious questions as to whether Russell will make enough contact in the majors. One major part of Russell's game that tends to be overlooked is his defense. estimates that he saved the team 17 runs in the first half of the season. His defensive value alone may warrant a major league role, but he'll have to prove he can hit advanced pitching in order to earn the spot. I think, given his age (he'll be 24 in June), he'll need to start next season at Double A. He, Tray and Scott should provide a very talented and entertaining unit for the Lookouts.

Stay tuned for Part 3, when I look at the pitching staff and some possible additions to the rotation.


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