The Loons had a very exciting season getting to the post season for the first time ever, and with some Jamie Pedroza theatrics almost made it to the final round.
Dee Gordon and Kyle Russell shared the MidWestLeague MVP trophy, Aaron Miller wowed scouts and fans, Martin/Eovaldi were an interesting tag team, Delmonico tries to follow in the footsteps of Russell Martin and Carlos Santana, Guerra/St Clair closed games with aplomb, and Jon Michael Redding led all of the minor leagues in wins.
Best Hitter: Dee Gordon led the league in stolen bases with 73 which was 23 more then his closest competitor, batted .301 and was considered by many to be the most exciting player in the minor leagues. However Kyle Russell led the league in home runs (26), runs batted in (102), slug%(.545), 2nd in OPS (.951), 3rd in wOBA (.385) and I would have a hard time saying that Kyle Russell was not the best hitter on the team.
Best Pitcher: This would have been a hard call on August 1st but luckily the Dodgers promoted Aaron Miller and he proceeded to put to bed any thoughts that he was a project. In seven reguar season starts he pitched 30 innings, gave up only 22 hits, walked 10, and struck out 38.
Hugh Bernreuter who covered the Dodgers Midwest League affiliate, the Great Lake Loons for the Saginaw News took time to answer a plethora of questions I had about the Loons. My questions are in bold and Hugh's answers are in italic and my additions are in brackets. Many thanks to Hugh for taking his free time to answer my questions. If you have any additional questions, put them in the comments and I'll see if Hugh can answer them.
Here are my comments and opinions, so take them for what they are worth.
1st Base - Gerald Sands really struggled during his first stay with the Loons. He played CF for the Rookie League Ogden Raptors where he destroyed the league but when he was promoted to the Loons he played mostly first base. Once back up he showed off his power. Can he play center field or is he destined to play 1st base or a corner outfielder? Have you heard any talk from the scouts or coaches about him?
Jerry Sands is an outfielder, but when he returned to the Loons, they had lost Austin Gallagher and Tony Delmonico to injuries, so he was pushed into the infield, where he did a decent job. He has a great arm. When the Loons began the season with Silverio in left, Sands in center and Russell in right, few teams got away with taking an extra base. All three can throw. He is a very good center fielder at this level. Could he end up at one of the corner positions in the future? Sure. But his move to first base was not a commentary on his outfield defense. His numbers when he returned were impressive. He was third on the team on OPS. I can see Sands returning to Great Lakes to start next season, and he will be in center field, but he may not stay in Midland for long.
[Jerry Sands is an intriguing prospect. He's a big man 6'4 who just turned 22 today and has some real power. While his numbers in Ogden were inflated he continued to show off his power when promoted to the MidWestLeague with an Aug Slug% of .560. He kept his walk rate at 12.2 and while his K rate finished at 26% most of that damage came in April when he struggled. His final season wOBA was .370 which if he had qualified would have put him into the top 10 for the league. ]
2nd Base - Jamie Pedroza - Had some clutch home runs in the play offs. Seems to K way to much for a 22 year old in this league with limited power. Any thoughts? How is his defense?
Pedroza’s defense at second actually improved quite a bit during the season to the point where he became not only dependable, but also occasionally exciting. Still, he suffered from long slumps and benefited from batting behind Dee Gordon and seeing a lot of fastballs. He has some positives. He hits for decent power for a middle infielder and he draws a decent number of walks. But he’s old for this league and he struggles against left-handed pitching. This is an important off-season for him. The Dodgers have to decide whether to push him up to Double A or cut him.
[at this point Jamie Pedroza strikes out to much given what else he brings to the plate. With 162 K's and a slug% of .433 he's no Dan Uggla. He was one of the players who played in the Cal League in 2008 only to find themselves playing in the Midwest League in 2009. He did learn to take a walk this year (12.8%) and stole 36 bases on the way to scoring 100 runs. At 23 years old this month his clock is ticking. ]
SS - Dee Gordon - some have said he was the most exciting player in the minor leagues this year. We know he's raw but does he look like he can play SS? Some think his bat will be ready before his glove and thus maybe a move to center field would hasten his move up the ladder. What do you think? What have you heard?
Forget the talk about center field. Gordon is an outstanding shortstop. He has incredible range and is still learning the position. He makes errors of inexperience. For those of you play Stratomatic, he would probably grade out as a 1 fielder with an e-rating in the 30s. Given the Dodgers’ tendency to push players, I can see Gordon at Double A to start the season. There is little doubt he will play in the majors, but his development will determine whether he becomes a utility player/pinch runner, a decent player with holes in his game or an all-star. He has all-star potential. And while this may not be a big deal to baseball fans, he knows how to handle himself with the media, fans, teammates, etc. I hate to say this because you never know about the future, but I have a hard time believing Dee Gordon will ever do anything to embarrass the Dodgers.
[I'm not the biggest fan of speedy guys with little on base skills but Gordon is a shortstop who managed to keep his walk rate between 7 - 8% for most of the year after starting out April at 4%. He must have tired in August as his numbers were down across the board which dragged down his final numbers. As of now he's playing like someone drafted in the first round so we should be excited about him. As keeps getting mentioned the kid is raw so with more experience maybe he can make those Jose Reyes comparisons come true. ]
3rd Base - Gallagher was a 3rd baseman last year but hurt his shoulder this year. Was he going to play 3rd before his injury or have the Dodgers already decided he's a 1st baseman going forward?
I think he was and is going to be a first baseman. The Dodgers picked up minor league free agent Anthony Hatch before the season to play third for the Loons and he actually became one of the top players on the team, although he’s a bit old to be a prospect. Gallagher might have gotten some time at third if not for the injury, but he didn’t hit well either last year and he’s not the greatest defensive infielder. Does he have the power numbers teams want at first? Can he recover from the shoulder injury? This is a big off-season for Gallagher too, but I can see him starting next season in Great Lakes, then moving up depending on his performance. I don’t think the Dodgers were too impressed with his defense at third, but they believe the power numbers will improve as Gallagher gets older so that he will hit enough to play first.
[If Gallagher is only a first baseman going forward he loses much of his value. I can give the shoulder a bye but he has shown nothing that would get me interested in him as a 1st baseman. He's still young but for now he's off my map]
C - Tony Delmonico - was supposed to be converted to catcher but seemed to play a lot of first base and DH. His bat started out strong and ended strong but in the middle he was really bad. What did you think of his work at catcher? Can he stick there or has that experiment ended?
The experiment will continue, I believe. He was making progress at catcher before he hurt his hand. He has good catching skills, from a quick release to a decent arm. His progress from the start of the season to when he got hurt was impressive, especially in his ability to block pitches in the dirt. He was terrible at it to begin the season. He would play the occasional first base or DH when he needed a rest. He found out last year how taxing playing catcher is and how much it can take away from hitting. Delmonico is an outstanding hitter, but he was getting tired, which is another reason the Loons gave him time at first and DH and why you saw the dip in the middle of the season.
[This is very good news about Delmonico and he did throw out 26% of would be baserunners. Hoping he builds up his stamina next year and continues to make progress as a catcher. ]
Any thoughts on Matthew Wallach? Catching skills?
Wallach is a decent catcher and a decent player, but probably not a top prospect. He probably projects to a backup catcher in the majors if he gets that far. He didn’t hit that well and he didn’t draw many walks. He’ll probably go to Inland Empire next season, maybe even share catching duties with Delmonico again.
What happened to Brian Matthews?
Maybe the 2007 season (.319 BA) was an aberration, because he didn’t look like the same hitter in his brief appearances with the Loons in 2008 and 2009. In all three years, however, Mathews received very little playing time with the Loons, making the numbers difficult to judge. He was a late-round draft pick who had to wow the Dodgers. He didn’t do enough to wow anybody.
Right Field - Kyle Russell - CO - MVP, home run leader, Slug% leader but also led the league in strike outs (32% of the time) and he was 23 years old. I've heard he's a very good right fielder, is that true? Rarely has a hitter struck out 32% of the time at this level at his age, and then been successful in the major leagues. What do the coaches, scouts think?
He’s a very good right fielder with a very strong arm. He will play outfield in the majors. There’s no problem there. Russell is going to give the scouts and analysts headaches because he does so many things well that contradict the typical strikeout scenario. He strikes out, but it’s not like he’s pull-happy. He uses all fields and has power to all fields. It’s not like he’s a free swinger either. He had a .371 on-base percentage and hit .272 in a very difficult park and league for hitters. He’s also a good baserunner, with 20 steals in 22 attempts. He has good pitch recognition. He’s not a free swinger, but he takes some impressive cuts. When Russell sees a pitch he likes, he doesn’t try to just make contact. He’s going to swing to hit it hard somewhere. Will he adjust as he moves up the ladder? Will he shorten his swing and sacrifice some power for average? He’s a very interesting prospect who could absolutely blossom next year but could just as well crumble. I see him beginning the year at Double A. The Dodgers need to find out about Russell and they won’t learn much from sending him to Inland Empire. One more thing. Like Gordon, Russell is a good guy in the clubhouse and with the fans.
CF - Nick Buss - how was his defense? What did you think of him?
Buss is a quality outfielder, although he doesn’t have the arm of some of the other outfielders on the Loons this year. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just not as intimidating. Buss will probably end up in Inland Empire next season. Like many of the other Loons, Buss struggled against left-handers. He has good speed, but didn’t get to use it much because he did not get on base much (.298 on-base). He’s not one of the Dodgers’ top prospects, but he was a much better player than Van Slyke was with the Loons and we all saw how Van Slyke played this year at Inland Empire.
Left Field - Alfredo Silverio - increased his walk rate from 1.8 to 5.5 and hit a ton of doubles. I've heard he has a hose for an arm but not much speed. Can he turn those doubles into home runs, is he working on his plate discipline?
Plate discipline will always be Silverio’s problem. He improved, but you could almost predict with two strikes that he was going to strike out. He does have a hose for an arm and has some serious power. He has speed, but he’s not quick. So he doesn’t have a lot of stolen bases and he may not beat out infield singles, but once he got moving, he stunned people. He covers a lot of ground going from first to third or going for a double. He can turn the doubles into homers, but unless Silverio learns the strike zone, it could be a rude awakening when the off-speed pitches improve as he moves up the ladder.
Aaron Miller - wow, his numbers were great for a guy just drafted. Right now I have him a head of everyone but Withrow. What did you think?
I agree. Wow. Send him to Double A and see what he can do. He’s a big left-hander from Texas who throws hard, but let’s not get into any Kershaw comparisons. Kershaw was more dominating than Miller at this level, but it’s hard to ask for anything more. In an odd note, Miller did struggle against left-handers, but the sample size is very small so it may not be noteworthy. I believe the Dodgers were also surprised by his immediate success. He was projected by many teams to be a power-hitting outfielder, but the Dodgers liked his potential as a left-handed starter. They believed that once he got his feet wet, he would excel as a pitcher. I don’t believe his feet ever got wet before he dominated. He’s a college player, so Double A isn’t a huge jump for him. The other thing to like about Miller is that he also excelled in the playoffs, taking the ball to start in the first playoff game in Great Lakes Loons history. He thrived under the pressure.
Ethan Martin / Nathan Eovaldi - they performed as a tag team most of the 2nd half and the Dodgers never took the gloves off of them. Did you ever hear the plan on why they were limited so much? Who was more impressive? Best pitch? What do they need to work on?
They were on strict pitch limits, which taxed the Great Lakes bullpen every time they started. And when they started back-to-back, the bullpen was a disaster. Once they became a tag team and went 4 or 5 innings each, they were able to prepare as if they were starting, get their innings in and even save the bullpen. Both are very young and have had injuries, so the Dodgers were very careful. Both throw extremely hard, so their challenge is to develop their off-speed pitches and control. They also have to improve their consistency. Both had some absolutely dominating outings, then would follow with a blowout. It was maddening, but not necessarily surprising for young pitchers. Eovaldi, who had Tommy John surgery, was the more impressive of the two, but they are very similar pitchers. Martin struck out more, but also walked more. Because they are so young, they may start at Great Lakes again with a ticket ready to move up if they show anything. They have the arms to be successful, but they’re also so young it’s hard to project. Both need to work on their control.
Redding - led all minor leagues in wins, had some great games mixed in with some bad ones. Any insight on him?
He did have some outstanding games, but I wouldn’t put too much stock into the win-loss record. Batters had little trouble hitting Redding. The record is more a result of a very good Great Lakes offense and some good bullpen help. His numbers were not that good outside of the win-loss record. Left-handers hit .324 against him. He also benefited from Dow Diamond, which is a tough place to hit. At home, Redding had a 2.61 ERA. Away, he had a 6.34 ERA. Overall, batters hit .281 against Redding. He’s 22 and done his time at Great Lakes, but I don’t think the Dodgers will push him beyond Inland Empire next season, unless he wows them in spring training.
Geison Aguasviva - future in the rotation or bullpen. Best pitch? Needs to work on?
I see Aguasviva as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen. His ERA against lefties was 0.00, as in zero. In 20 innings against lefties, Aguasviva allowed 13 hits and two walks while striking out 19. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but has good movement, plus it works well against a very good changeup. He needs to get stronger (He’s 6-2 but only 166 pounds). He began the previous year with the Loons and was terrible. He has made tremendous strides. If he does get bigger and stronger, he may have the stamina to start. Until then, though, he’s a left-handed reliever.
Robert Boothe - had the best K rate on the team at 12.5% but his walk rate was also high at 4.6%. What did you think of him?
There were nights when he was unhittable and others when he couldn’t do anything right. The guy has a power arm and can blow hitters away when he’s right. There are some language problems since he speaks very little English. Midland is home to Dow and has a large international workforce, but Boothe probably didn’t see a lot of people from Tokyo. His fastball is in the mid-90s and is impressive. He’s got the kind of arm that will get chance after chance after chance with the hopes that it will all come together at some point. If it does, he has closer potential.
St. Clair - looks like a future closer, did he have the best stuff in the bullpen this year or do you think Javy Guerra did before his promotion?
I will be interested to see what St. Clair does as he moves up the ladder. He does not have an overpowering fastball like some of the other pitchers, but he has good control, he’s smart and has some quality breaking pitches. Could he become a starter at some point? Who knows? He doesn’t have that overpowering pitch that major league teams like from a closer, but he was outstanding for the Loons. Will that high-80s fastball be enough in Inland Empire? It may because the rest of his pitches are so good, plus he can place the fastball so well. Guerra had better stuff, but St. Clair has a closer's mentality and could locate his pitches.
Josh Walter - I know you like him but he's 24 in the MWL, how does his stuff compare to the big arms of guys above him on this list?
His arm is there, but probably as a reliever. The Loons moved him into the rotation at about the same time they went with the Martin-Eovaldi tag team. He’s huge ... 6-4 and 250 pounds and his older brother played in the NFL. He’s 24, so the Dodgers have to force-feed him up to Double A. He was decent as a starter, but more impressive as a reliever. In 24 innings as a reliever, Walter struck out 31 and walked nine. Batters hit just .186 against him. While he may not be a closer, he projects as a decent middle reliever
Jonathan Dutton - okay, maybe he's not a prospect but he's been a sleeper pick for me for several years. Can you give my reason for hope or should I write him off?
Well, don’t write him off, but he’s definitely not at the top of the prospect list. His numbers were actually pretty decent with the Loons last year. He’s another lefty who was tough on left-handed batters. He’s not big, must 6-1 and 155 pounds, but batters hit just .244 against him. I wouldn’t write him off, but I wouldn’t draft him in any keeper leagues.
Best Fastball? Nathan Eovaldi, with Martin right behind
Curveball? Eovaldi for strikes, Jordan Pratt for movement
Slider ? Aaron Miller
Changeup? Geison Aguasviva