The Arizona Dodgers were the last Dodger affiliate to start their season as they played their first game last night, but because their roster was released so late I'm wasn't able to do their preview until today. The Arizona League consists of 13 teams that play their games at the spring training complexes of their parent club. It's a 56 game schedule, with almost all games being played at night due to the extreme heat of Arizona. Last year's team wasn't really star studded, but it was still a fun team to follow as it featured the likes of James Baldwin, Ralston Cash, and Brandon Martinez.
A couple of former Dodgers will be part of the team's coaching staff, with Jody Reed playing the role of manager and Matt Herges guiding the bullpen. Former Reds outfield Leo Garcia will serve as the hitting coach. These 3 coaches will be leading a young team that features several 2011 draft picks, quite a few players promoted from the DSL, and some other guys who are returning to the rookie league. Similar to what I described in my Ogden Raptor preview, while the roster is currently set, players will be added to this team throughout at the year as more 2011 draft picks sign.
Again I'm not going to list out the entire roster, but instead will highlight many of the names that will be appearing at each position. Also, the number in parenthesis after each name indicates where I ranked that player heading into this season. Those without a number were not ranked as they are new to the system in 2011.
I honestly have no idea which of the pitchers are on the roster are going to be in the starting rotation, but I'll take a shot at guessing anyways. The one sure bet is the 6'4" Luis Mesa (134), who actually was the opening day starter for the Dodgers last night. The soon to be 21 year old played in the DSL last season where he had a 3.02 ERA through 56.2 innings, but so far in his career he hasn't struck out a lot of batters. Daniel Tamares (93) was Mesa's teammate in the DSL last summer and had outstanding stats in 9 starts. I'm guessing the Dodgers will want to see what Tamares can do as a starter now that he'll be facing tougher competition. 2011 35th round pick Mike Thomas was a starter in college and will most likely throw in the Dodger rotation, but he already has 96 innings under his belt this year so he'll probably only throw a few innings each time out. 2011 47th round pick Gregg Downing might get a chance to start a few games, and as I wrote in my draft report he had a 2.30 though 74.1 innings in 2011 at Franklin Pierce University with 93 K' and walked 30. Finally, the real wildcard of my projected rotation is 2011 17th round pick Jesus Valdez. While he was announced as a 3rd basemen during the draft, he is listed on the roster as a pitcher and his value really is on the mound. While he might end up as a reliever, he'll probably get a chance to start as he has a loose and projectable frame with a low 90's fastball that hits 94 and a solid slider.
I'm going to slot the remaining pitchers listed on the roster in the bullpen, and I'll start with the remaining 2011 draft picks. 23rd rounder Garrett Bolt will try to turn things around after poor season at Western Illinois where he 11.65 ERA in just 17 innings. 34th round pick Rob Charma has a big frame at 6'4" and had a decent 2011 ERA at North Carolina State, however he only had 39 K's for the Wolfpack through 68.1 innings. Other newcomers to the Dodgers are Japanese youngster Kazuya Takano (76) and 23 year old Daniel Carela, who last played with the Mets organization. Now we'll move onto the relief pitchers who played in the Dodgers system last year. Jose Dominguez (113) is another player who has been promoted from the DSL, and he'll be an interesting one to watch because he is just 20 years old and had an outstanding 1.13 ERA last year. Chance Gilmore was an outfielder last season, but he's now listed as a pitcher and will try to be another converted player. Finally, the bullpen will feature Beyker Fructuoso (63) and Bolivar Medina (109), who have both been with the Dodgers for a while yet are both returning to a rookie league for the 4th season. Even still Fructuoso is just 21 years old, and I've always liked his 6'4" frame so hopefully he can make a name for himself this year. I'm less optimistic about Medina, but maybe he'll catch lightening in a bottle and prove me wrong. .
I'm surprised and a little underwhelmed by the current Arizona Dodger outfield. Even though Devon Ethier (85) only played in two games last season I thought he'd spend 2011 in Ogden, but it looks like he'll be the team's main center fielder. Ronny Lugo (190) is an even bigger surprise to me because I thought he'd get cut after under performing in the DSL last season, where he hit .231 as a 20 year old. But maybe the Dodgers saw something that I didn't because he already had a big opening day in Arizona as the starting right fielder. The left fielder on opening day was 2011 28th round pick Joe Winker, who was a 4 year starter at Mercer University. I don't know much about him and I'm not expected much out of him. Austin King (136) is the final outfielder listed on the roster, and he was demoted back to Arizona after spending 2010 in the Pioneer League. He's a quick athlete, is still just 22, and has always been an intriguing player to me.
The Dodger infield has a couple of intriguing players, but as a group they aren't anything to write home about. The obvious player to watch is 2011 2nd round pick Alex Santana, who signed quickly and will get a full season under his belt. He should get the majority of starts at 3rd base, and will probably be the most interesting player on this team to follow. 1st base will mark the return of the young Korean player Tae-Hyeok Nam (66). Some believe that Nam should be playing in Ogden, and while he might make it there later in the season he'll be in Arizona for now. I expect a pretty big year from Nam, but the question still remains if he'll ever be able to hit enough to hold his own at 1st base. It appears that the middle infield will be manned by the Morales', with Enlly (91) at 2nd and Delvis (176) at shortstop. Enlly had a standout season in the DSL in 2009, but then fell a bit flat in his US debut. He did end last season on fire, however, so maybe that will lead to big things in 2011. Delvis was a no-hit shortstop for the DSL Dodgers last year, but he does have a great eye at the plate and good speed. He's also extremely thin as he's listed at 6'1" and 146 lbs. Bladimr Franco (69) probably won't play every day, but he should see a decent amount of time at 3rd base and as a DH. He has a similar story as Enlly as he tore up the DSL in 2009, but struggled in the Arizona League in 2010. He's only 20 so he has plenty of time to turn things around. Other players that will see time in the infield are 2011 late round draftees Kevin Thompson (48th round) and Stefan Jarrin (40th round), who as we all know by now is Jaime Jarrin's grandson.
The catchers on the Arizona Dodgers are almost not worth mentioning as I don't see much potential here at all. The only guy who could see maybe turning into a decent player is Jose Capellan (157), who spent the last two years in the DSL. He struggled as a 18 year old in 2009, then only played 16 games last season but made them count with a .326 average and a .828 OPS. Capellan also started his 2011 season on the right foot with 4 RBI's in his first game. It looks like the 22 year old Joe Lincoln (169) will be one of the backups, and he hit just .179 with a terrible .484 OPS last season. Finally, Gianison Rosa was born in Aruba and played 2 games in the Nationals organization last year, but that's all I really have to say about him. As for the DH, any of the offensive players mentioned above could fill that role on any given day.