Dodgers 2012 Minor League Countdown: 80 - 71

Tyler Henson taking grounders at 3rd base during the Dodgers 2012 Winter Development Program

Here is the next part of my Dodger minor league countdown. We are getting to the point of my ranking where basically all of the players could be considered fringe prospects at the very least, so most of the names should be pretty familiar. This group in particular includes a few younger players whose ranking is based on projection, as well as some older minor league veterans who are basically a breakout season away from making it up to the big leagues. As always feel free to debate my ranking and let me know who you think should have ranked higher or lower.

80. Matt Kirkland, 1B/3B (39 games in Pioneer Rookie Lg in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2010, 12th round
6’2”, 210 lbs, 21 years old, bats right handed
.292 average, .755 OPS, 4 HR’s, 30 RBI’s, 0 SB’s
Pre 2011 Rank: 59; Pre 2010 Rank: N/A; Pre 2009 Rank: N/A

Matt Kirkland was selected by the Dodgers out of high school in the 12th round of the 2010 draft, and although he had committed to play college ball at Tennessee he signed with the Dodgers pretty quickly. After signing he said, “It's a thrill. My family is excited. The community is excited. I got a lot of support. I think it's good for the community. I plan to represent my family and community as best as possible.” In high school Kirkland hit 17 homers as a junior and 11 bombs as a senior (with a .505 average). According to pre-draft scouting reports, Kirkland was described as having plus raw power and was also said to be an above average defender with a plus arm and good range. You can judge for yourself in this showcase video. After a short 16 game professional debut in the Arizona Rookie League, Kirkland spent 2011 with the Ogden Raptors. Matt put together a relatively solid campaign in his sophomore season, and even though he only hit 4 homers Kirkland managed to bat .292 and had a torrid month of July during which his OPS was .958. The one problem with his season, however, was that Kirkland has apparently switched positions from 3rd base to 1st base because that is where he spent the entire year. That move causes Matt to lose a ton of value as a prospect because while his bat would have been intriguing at 3rd base, as a 1st baseman his hitting potential appears to be average at best. I don’t think there will be room for Kirkland in a full season league in 2012, so I believe that he’ll probably return to the Pioneer League for another season. Hopefully he’ll get another shot at the hot corner so he can regain some of his value, but if he remains at 1st base for the rest of his career then I doubt he’ll have what it takes to make it to the show.

79. Travis Denker, 2B/3B (66 games in AA, 55 games in HiA in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2003, 21st round, released, then resigned in May 2010
5’9”, 205 lbs, 26.5 years old, bats right handed
.274 average, .879 OPS, 25 HR’s, 81 RBI’s, 9 SB’s
Pre 2011 Rank: 83; Pre 2010 Rank: N/A; Pre 2009 Rank: N/A

Travis Denker was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 2003, and moved slowly through the system before getting sent to the Giants in the famous Mike Sweeney trade of 2007. At the time of the trade, Denker was with the 66ers in Inland Empire and was having a pretty good season. Fast forward 3 years, and Denker was back with the 66ers after resigning with the Dodgers in May of 2010 as a minor league free agent. In between his time with the Dodgers, Denker spent time with the Padres, Red Sox, and Mariners, and even made it up to the big leagues with the Giants in 2008 where he played in 24 games and can tell his kids that he hit a major league home run. Denker finished the 2010 season in AAA with the Isotopes, but returned to the California League at the start of the 2011 season as the Quakes main 3rd baseman. After smacking 15 homers in just 197 at bats, Travis was promoted to AA where he finished the season. Denker did very well with the Lookouts, hitting .288 with 10 more homers to give him 25 total bombs for the year. He also walked almost as much as he struck out and had an OPS of .862 with the Lookouts. That being said, Denker had an ugly fielding % at 3rd base and was one of the older players in the league. In 2012 Denker will probably serve as an insurance policy for the Dodgers while playing the infield for the Isotopes. He has outstanding power for an infielder, but unless there are some injuries with the Dodgers I’m not sure he’ll ever make it back to the show. Finally, here’s a batting practice video of Denker during the Dodgers 2011 spring training.

Follow the jump for #'s 78 - 71

78. Matt Wallach, C/1B (76 games in AA, 3 games in Arz Rookie Lg in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2007, 22nd round
6’1”, 205 lbs, 26 years old, bats left handed
.242 average, .740 OPS, 3 HR’s, 19 RBI’s, 3 SB
Pre 2011 Rank: 65; Pre 2010 Rank: 125; Pre 2009 Rank: 64

When your dad is the 3rd base coach of the big league club, you are going to get a little more leniency than most players. Such is the case for Matt Wallach who has had a mediocre minor league career, yet continues to get the opportunities that are usually reserved for the organization’s top prospects. You see Wallach has been invited to three straight Winter Development Programs, and thus has received more elite coaching than most minor league players receive during their entire minor league career. This was especially evident during this past January’s Winter Development Program when Tommy Lasorda specially asked for Wallach to get some additional batting practice after all the other players were done for the day. That being said, Wallach does have some potential as a Dodger prospect after a breakout season for the Dodgers in 2010 where he hit 11 homers and had a .773 OPS. While his stats came back down to earth in 2011, the fact that Matt has the potential for double digit homers while displaying plus defense give him the potential to at least be a backup catcher at the big league level. While he’s not on the Dodgers 40 man roster, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Wallach made it up to the big league club within the next two years. Matt will probably split 2012 between AA and AAA, and I see him as a September call up in 2013. He’ll never be as good as his dad, but I think he’ll get the chance to play in the big leagues at some point in his professional career.

77. Tyler Henson, 3B/OF (123 games in AAA in 2011)
Obtained in a trade for Dana Eveland
6’1”, 205 lbs, 24.25 years old, bats right handed
.247 average, .634 OPS, 3 HR’s, 36 RBI’s, 9 SB’s
Pre 2011 Rank: N/A; Pre 2010 Rank: N/A; Pre 2009 Rank: N/A

Tyler Henson was one of two players obtained by the Dodgers in the Dana Eveland trade. He was originally drafted out of high school as a shortstop by the Orioles in the 5th round of the 2006 draft, and his pre-draft report said the he was an athlete with good pop, but also had a questionable approach at the plate. After signing, Henson only spent 92 games at shortstop before moving to 3rd base. After a couple of seasons at the hot corner, his position changed again as he has been exclusively an outfielder for the past few seasons. Henson moved steadily through Baltimore’s minor league system, making all the normal stops before reaching playing a full season in AAA in 2011. He’s never been much of an offensive force, however, as his best season came back in 2010 when he hit just .278 with 12 homers in 124 games. Here is some footage of him from that season. Last year, he managed a .247 average with 3 homers and a .634 OPS, which is pretty weak for an outfielder. All that being said, Henson is still just 24 years old and already has a year of experience in AAA so it’s possible he could put together a good season now that he’s hitting his prime. He was invited to participate in the Dodgers winter development camp so the organization must think he as some value, and during the infield drills they had him taking grounders at 3rd base. At worst he could serve as an insurance policy for the Dodgers at AAA, although there will be several names ahead of him when the 2012 season begins.

76. Jaime Pedroza, 2B (87 games in AA, 30 games in HiA in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2007, 9th round
5’8”, 167 lbs, 25.5 years old, switch hitter
.258 average, .783 OPS, 10 HR’s, 50 RBI’s, 11 SB’s
Pre 2011 Rank: 58; Pre 2010 Rank: 59; Pre 2009 Rank: 19

Since getting drafted out of UC Riverside in 2007, Jaime Pedroza has had an interesting career path. After an outstanding offensive season in the Pioneer League in his professional debut, Pedroza was sent to HiA in 2008, his first full season. While his stats weren’t quite as impressive with the 66ers, he still had a solid season at the plate and was probably looking forward to playing in AA. However, the Dodgers had other plans for Jaime in 2009 and sent him to LoA. While he was probably disappointed with this assignment, he responded with career highs in homers (15) and stolen bases (36), and also hit this big home run during the playoffs. In 2010 Pedroza finally got that promotion to AA, and while his power and speed numbers dropped significantly, he still had a decent season for a 2nd baseman with a .280 average and .779 OPS. Jaime returned to Chattanooga in 2011, but he didn’t show any improvement and actually regressed a bit so he was demoted to HiA for the final month of the season. It must have been quite frustrating for Pedroza to find himself back in the California League after almost 2 seasons in AA, but he made the most of it and put up solid numbers including a .848 OPS. Overall, even though Pedroza has been very mediocre over the past few seasons and has a very small stature, the Dodgers minor league talent at 2nd base remains thin so he’s still a relatively important player in the organization. He plays serviceable defense and has a decent bat for a 2nd baseman, so at the very least he can serve as another insurance policy for Los Angeles. In 2012 he’ll probably return to AA, although he could also spend the year in AAA depending upon how the spring training invitee’s shake out.

75. Rick Anton, LHP (27 IP in LoA, 17 IP in Pioneer Rookie Lg in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2011, 8th round
6’0”, 190 lbs, 22.75 years old
1-1, 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2.61 FIP, 6.14 K/9
Pre 2011 Rank: N/A; Pre 2010 Rank: N/A; Pre 2009 Rank: N/A

Rick Anton didn’t have to go too far to make his professional debut after he was drafted by the Dodgers. After going 9 – 1 as a senior for the Utes in 2011 with a 2.52 ERA and 85 K’s in 100 innings, the University of Utah left hander only had to travel 30 miles up the road to Ogden where he played for the Raptors. Anton only started 6 games in the Pioneer League, however, because his impressive 1.59 ERA and 0.94 WHIP earned him a promotion to the Loons in late July. Rick found LoA to be a little more challenging as his ERA jumped to 4.00 over 27 frames, but I’m sure some of his decline was related to his heavy workload in 2011 (he combined for 144 innings between college and minor leagues). In terms of his stuff, the always reliable Hugh Bernreuter provided some useful information in a recent article about Anton. Apparently Rick wasn’t even a draft prospect until his senior season in college which is when he starting throwing a cutter. According to Anton “I probably wasn’t on the radar. But I got stronger and I picked up the cutter. It made a big difference. Guys started hitting a lot more grounders. I’m not a strikeout pitcher, but I started getting a lot of ground balls.” Baseball America’s pre-draft report said that Anton also throws a curveball and a changeup, and that his fastball can reach 92 mph (although in Hugh’s article says his fastball was only clocked as high as 88 mph). Heading into 2012, I would guess that Anton will return to the Loons and spend the year in the rotation. He seems to have some potential as a prospect as he seems to have enough pitches to stick in the rotation, but his ceiling doesn’t seem all that high. I could see him maybe being another John Ely, just without all the mania.

74. Nick Buss, CF (115 games in HiA in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2008, 8th round
6’2”, 195 lbs, 25.25 years old, bats left handed
.328 average, .880 OPS, 14 HR, 55 RBI’s, 28 SB’s
Pre 2011 Rank: 103; Pre 2010 Rank: 80; Pre 2009 Rank: 27

Nick Buss may have been the Dodger minor league comeback player of the year in 2011. After hitting .243 for the Quakes in 2010 and posting a .612 OPS that earned him a mid-season demotion to the Loons, Buss turned things around completely in 2011 in his return to Rancho Cucamonga. His.328 average led the team, as did his 28 stolen bases. He also showed pop with 14 homers, struck out in just 11.9% of plate appearances, and was nearly flawless in center field. While I’m not sure about his throwing arm, you could almost say that “Chili” showed 5 tool abilities this past season. After the season Nick played in the Panama Winter League, and while his stats were quite as good as league MVP Blake Smith, he definitely held his own with a .302 average and a .845 OPS. Overall, Buss has finally started to show the talent that the Dodgers saw when the drafted him for the second time back in 2008. While his stats were probably a bit inflated because he was playing in the hitter friendly California League, there is no question that he’s shown drastic improvement. Now 25 years old, Buss should be ready for AA in 2012 and with another good season he could really put his name back on the prospect map. His skill set actually reminds me a bit of Jamie Hoffmann, and if he could follow the same path as Hoffmann and make it to the majors then I would say his career would be a success.

73. Jeff Hunt, 3B (45 games in Pioneer Rookie Lg in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2009, 15th round
6’2”, 190 lbs, 21 years old, bats right handed
.272 average, .790 OPS, 4 HR’s, 17 RBI’s, 2 SB’s
Pre 2011 Rank: 57; Pre 2010 Rank: 37; Pre 2009 Rank: N/A

Selected by the Dodgers in the 15th round of the 2009 draft, Jeff Hunt turned down a scholarship to Ohio University and signed with the Dodgers when they offered him a $125,000 bonus and up to $114,000 in education money if he enrolls in school within two years of retiring from professional baseball. Upon signing Hunt said it was a tough decision, but also explained that he wanted to play every day instead of having to worry about school work. Hunt’s professional career got started a little late due to delayed US visa paperwork (he’s from Canada), and his 2009 stint with the Arizona Dodgers was mostly just a learning experience as he only played in 18 games. Hunt returned to the Arizona Rookie League in 2010 but an injury limited him to 18 games for the second season in a row. That brings us to 2011 which saw Jeff get promoted to the Pioneer League where he was the Raptors primary 3rd baseman throughout the season. Hunt had somewhat of a breakout season when you consider what his lack of playing time over the past two years, although he didn't wow anyone in his first stint as a starter because struck out way too much (32.4% of plate appearances). Even still he batted a respectable .272 while hitting 4 bombs and posting an OPS of almost .800. His defense definitely needs work, however, as his fielding percentage was a sloppy .816. I've been a fan of Hunt since he was drafted, but he’s now 3 years into his professional career and I haven’t seen a whole lot of progress. He’s still just 21, but he’s going to need to show way more improvement in 2012 if he wants to be considered a legitimate Dodger prospect. My guess is that he spends next year with the Loons which should give us a good look at his potential.

72. Greg Wilborn, LHP (43.1 IP in HiA, 65 IP in LoA in 2011)
Drafted by Dodgers 2009, 18th round
6’2”, 175 lbs, 24.75 years old
6-7, 4.98 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 3.92 FIP, 10.63 K/9
Pre 2011 Rank: 44; Pre 2010 Rank: 124; Pre 2009 Rank: N/A

Greg Wilborn was selected by the Dodgers out of the University of Louisiana Lafayette in the 18th round of the 2009 draft, and for his career with the Ragin Cajuns Wilborn compiled an ERA of 7.30. However, it should be noted that he missed the entire 2008 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007. Upon signing with the Dodgers Wilborn had a forgettable professional debut in the Pioneer League, but he put his name on the prospect map with an outstanding season in 2010. He split his time between the Raptors and Loons and posted a 2.62 ERA, an 11.70 K/9, and a dazzling FIP of 2.13. Thanks to his brilliant season Wilborn was promoted to HiA in 2011 and began the year in the Quakes rotation. His first few starts with this new team went pretty well, but then in early May he got shelled in back to back appearances which was the beginning of the end of his time in Rancho. In mid June Wilborn and his 6.85 ERA was sent back to LoA which is where he finished the year. After the demotion, Greg said “You’re never happy about being sent down, but I knew I was going to a place I was comfortable and had success. I like the park. I was familiar with everything here, plus I played with a lot of these guys last year at Ogden.” The good news is that Wilborn did pretty well in his return to the Midwest League as he ended up making 14 starts and recorded a 3.54 FIP. He also stuck out batters like crazy and had a K/9 of about 12.5. In terms of his pitching repertoire, this lefty features a slider, curveball, and changeup, and can get his fastball up to 94 mph. He has velocity and secondary pitches to remain in the starting rotation, but at almost 25 years old he might have a better chance of making it to the Show as a left handed bullpen arm. Wilborn will probably get another crack at the California League in 2012, but if he has early success then a move to AA isn’t out of the question given his age.

71. Carlos Frias, RHP (16 IP in HiA in 2011)
Signed by Dodgers 1/3/07
6’4”, 170 lbs, 22.25 years old
1-1, 6.19 ERA, 2.13 WHIP, 7.45 FIP, 6.19 K/9
Pre 2011 Rank: 42; Pre 2010 Rank: 32; Pre 2009 Rank: 71

Carlos Frias’ professional career got off to a great start, but over the past two seasons his stats have gone in the wrong direction. Signed out the Dominican Republic as a 17 year old before the 2007 season, Frias posted a 1.81 ERA in his professional debut in the DSL. He was then promoted to the Gulf Coast League for the 2008 season and held his own despite being one of the younger players in the league. He spent most of 2009 in the Arizona League and it was there that scouts and coaches began to notice his 96 mph fastball and his overall potential. After jumping onto the Dodger prospect radar, however, Carlos struggled with inconsistency in 2010 and ended up with ugly stats in the Pioneer League. His velocity was down, and he had trouble controlling his strong curveball. That brings us to 2011 which saw Frias spend a few months in extended spring training before getting a surprise assignment to the Quakes. Frias only appeared in 12 games out of the Rancho bullpen, but he had a rough season as he walked more than a batter per inning and posted a 6.19 ERA. He also saw his strikeout rate drop significantly and allowed 3 homers in just 16 innings. Overall I love Frias’ potential given his strong frame and potential for a mid 90’s fastball, but his struggles over the past two years give me some real concerns about his future. He’s still just 22 years old so he has plenty of time to work on his secondary pitches (he also has a changeup and slider in addition to his fastball), but he needs to get results soon if he wants to be considered a legitimate Dodger prospect. My guess is that Frias will spend 2012 with the Loons, either in their bullpen or in their rotation.

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