Dodgers 2012 Minor League Preview - Great Lakes Loons

Loons

With the minor league season right around the corner, I’m starting my annual mini-series to preview each of the Dodgers minor league full season teams. Since official rosters won’t be out for another few weeks, I am predicting what the minor league roster will be for each of the Dodgers full season affiliates at the start of the season.

I'm going to start this series with the Dodgers lowest full season minor league team; the Great Lakes Loons. I've become a big fan of the Loons over the past few years, mostly because they are the most accessible team of all the Dodgers' minor league affiliates. A subscription to MILB.TV allows you watch every one of their home games, and their broadcast team is top notch. Great Lakes has also seen some of the Dodgers top talent come their their city over the years, ranging from Dee Gordon to Zach Lee. This also makes the team fun to follow as they usually field a competitive squad.

After making the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 under fan favorite Juan Bustabad, the Loons missed out on the postseason in 2011 under rookie manager John Shoemaker. Shoemaker returns to the Loons for his sophomore season and will try and improve upon his 72 - 67 record from last year. Shoemaker previously coached the Jacksonville Suns from 2005 – 2008, winning the Southern League championship in 2005, and had also spent time as the coordinator of the Dodgers complex in Arizona. Razor Shines will be hitting coach for the Loons in a move that was almost certainly predicated by the fact that the Dodgers drafted his son last year. Being a LoA hitting coach is a step down for Shines who spent several seasons as a minor league manager and has also been a 3rd base coach at the big league level for the Mets and White Sox. The Great Lakes pitching coach will be Hector Berrios, who held the same positions for the Quakes in 2011 during his first year with the Dodgers organization.

Because the Dodgers consider LoA and HiA as basically the same level, this makes it difficult to guess who will play in Greats Lakes in 2012. I did spend considerable time piecing together each of the minor league teams, however, and I looked carefully at a number of different factors, including age, position, experience, prior year stats, etc. Also, you will notice that I put together 30 man rosters for each team instead of the traditional 25. I did this to take into account any possible injuries at the beginning of the season.

Starting Pitchers:

Name How Acquried My Rank Age Height Weight Throws
Ryan O'Sullivan 2011, 4th 23 21.54 6' 2" 190 R
Derek Cone 2010, 31st 35 21.75 6' 5" 210 R
Brandon Martinez 2009, 7th 37 21.32 6' 4" 150 R
Raydel Sanchez Signed 2011 81 22.03 6' 0" 205 R
Gustavo Gomez Signed 1/2/08 62 20.82 6' 1" 150 R

Compared to last season, the Loons rotation will be a little light on top Dodger prospects. Great Lakes was spoiled in 2011 with starting pitchers like Lee, Gould, and Sanchez, so in 2012 I predict a bit of a letdown. I currently have 2011 4th round pick Ryan O'Sullivan slated as the #1 starter for the Loons in 2012, and even that is somewhat dependent upon his health this spring. The oft-injured right hander threw just 8.1 innings in 2011, but he has good stuff and his pedigree should make him the Loons opening day starter. Derek Cone has jumped around a bit since signing as the Dodgers 31st round pick in 2010, but he ended the season as the Ogden Raptors' main starter and is a projectable pitcher. He struck out over a batter per inning last season and should be the Loons' #2 starter. Brandon Martinez was a big part of the Ogden rotation in 2011 as he made a team high 15 starts, and in 2012 the 21 year old could be ready for a breakout season. Currently I see Martinez s the Loons' #3 starter, although by the end of the season he could be higher in the rotation. Raydel Sanchez is a Cuban native who defected to Canada a few years back, and in 2011 he signed with the Dodgers for $125K. The 22 year old had a solid professional debut in the Pioneer League with a 3.81 FIP and more than a strikeout per inning, and it will be interesting to see how the right hander responds to a full season in 2012. Gustavo Gomez should round out the Loons rotation. He started 2011 in Great Lakes, but struggled mightily and was sent down to Ogden in June. Gomez had mixed results with the Raptors, but overall has solid stuff and had a K/9 of 12 last season.

Bullpen:

Name How Acquried My Rank Age Height Weight Throws
Matt Shelton 2011, 24th 93 23.30 6' 4" 205 R
Eric Eadington Signed July 2011 68 24.11 6' 2" 220 L
Daniel Tamares Signed 9/26/06 69 22.25 6' 3" 170 R
Yimi Garcia Signed 1/29/09 54 21.59 6' 1" 175 R
Michael Thomas 2011, 35th 128 23.20 6' 2" 185 L
Yimy Rodriguez 2010, 27th 134 24.55 6' 2" 215 R
Kazuki Nishijima Signed 11/12/10 97 23.06 6' 1" 190 L
Juan Noriega Signed Aug 2011 108 21.54 5' 7" 145 R
Matthew Laney Signed July 2011 140 23.55 6' 4" 235 L
Jason West Signed July 2011 148 23.64 5' 11" 185 R

The bullpen of any minor league team is tough to project, and in the lower minor leagues this is especially difficult to forecast. I have Matt Shelton slotted as the Loons' closer after a very successful professional debut in the Pioneer League where he posted a 2.05 ERA and a 10.3 K/9 over 26 innings. Shelton should have a variety of pitchers setting him up over the course of the season, including Eric Eadington who signed as a non drafted free agent last July but got his name on the Dodger prospect radar after the southpaw flashed a 94 mph fastball and put up outstanding stats. Daniel Tamares had a K/9 of over 14 in 2011 so he should make the jump from the Arizona Rookie League to be another Loons late inning reliever. Yimi Garcia had a breakout season for the Raptors in 2011 while holding down a variety of roles in the bullpen, and I expect more of the same from Yimi in 2012. I could see him starting the season the bullpen as the long man before eventually finding his way into the rotation. Michael Thomas also has what it takes to be a starting pitcher, but I don't see room for him in the rotation so he'll likely serve as a long reliever out of the bullpen to start the season. My relief prediction for the Loons ends with 2010 draft pick Yimy Rodriguez and four other non-drafted players who all have very different backgrounds. Kazuki Nishijima is a lefty reliever signed out of Japan, while Juan Noriega is a 5'7" right hander signed out of Mexico who had a very impressive professional debut in 201. Matthew Laney and Jason West were both non drafted players who dominated the Arizona Rookie League as some of the oldest players in the league. Laney played his college ball at Coastal Carolina, while West spent his college days at Stephen F Austin University.

Outfield:

Name How Acquried My Rank Age Height Weight Bats
James Baldwin 2010, 4th 7 20.44 6' 3" 190 L
Joc Pederson 2010, 11th 9 19.91 6' 1" 185 L
Noel Cuevas 2010, 21st 49 20.47 6' 2" 187 R

Joc Pederson and James Baldwin seem to be locks in the Loons outfield, and should be the driving force of the Great Lakes' offense in 2012. Pederson is coming off of an MVP type season in 2011 which saw him hit .353 for the Raptors with 11 HR's, 24 SB's, and an OPS of almost 1.000. Baldwin, on the other hand, had an up and down season in 2011 and struck out way too much, but he showed breakout potential and has one of the highest ceilings of any Dodger offensive prospect. The final outfield spot for the Loons is a little more difficult to predict, but I'm guessing that Noel Cuevas gets sent to Great Lakes. Cuevas started the 2011 season in HiA, but struggled mightily and finished the season in Ogden. Noel had a solid season for the Raptors, but he's still quite young and I don't think he's quite ready for a return to Rancho Cucamonga. Overall the Loons outfield offers a ton of potential and should be extremely fun to follow in 2012. They could be the best outfield trio in the Midwest League and I could see each one of these players going 20 - 20 (20 HR's and 20 SB's) if they are all able to stay healthy all season long.

Infield:

Name How Acquried My Rank Age Height Weight Bats
O'Koyea Dickson 2011, 12th 40 22.11 5' 11" 215 R
Jeff Hunt 2009, 15th 73 21.10 6' 2" 190 L
Bryant Hernandez 2009, 9th 133 24.04 5' 8" 170 R
Alexis Aguilar Signed 4/8/08 116 20.76 5' 11" 162 R

The Loons' infield could be the weakness of the team as I don't see a whole lot of potential out of this group. O'Koyea Dickson should be the offensive workhorse at 1st base as he is coming off of a big season in the Pioneer League and is looking to solidify himself among the top Dodger prospects. 3rd base will likely be manned by Jeff Hunt who signed with the organization as a 15th round pick in 2009 out of high school, but has yet to play in a full season league. I've always like the Canadian's power potential (especially as a 3rd baseman), but he hasn't done a whole lot of damage since turning pro. The middle infield of the Loons looks like it will be pretty weak as I foresee couple of minor league veterans holding down the 2nd base and shortstop positions. Bryant Hernandez was a 9th round pick back in 2009, but he hasn't done a whole lot since turning pro and could be the Loons' everyday shortstop. 2nd base is even more of a wildcard because the Dodgers signed quite a few middle infielders in the 2011 draft, but I don't think that any of them will play for Great Lakes in 2012. My best prediction is that Alexis Aguilar will play 2nd base for the Loons next season and will hope to build on solid 2011, which was his best year to date.

Catcher/DH:

Name How Acquried My Rank Age Height Weight Bats
Pratt Maynard 2011, 3rd 39 22.33 6' 0" 215 L
Matthew Kirkland 2010, 12th 80 21.02 6' 2" 210 R

2011 3rd round pick Pratt Manyard seems like the logical choice for the Loons catcher in 2012 because the Dodgers invested over $300K in the North Carolina product. While Maynard struggled in his professional debut with the Raptors, he probably has the most offensive potential of any of the Dodger catching prospects so the organization will want to be aggressive with the left handed backstop. Matt Kirkland is known for his raw power, and he should see a lot of time as the Loons' DH in 2012 while also spending a decent amount of time at 1st base. The Tennessee native hasn't shown a shown a whole lot of potential since signing his pro deal in 2010, but he's a big kid and could be a 20+ homer guy if he gets the chance to play a full season.

Bench:

Name How Acquried My Rank Age Height Weight Bats
Devin Shines 2011, 38th 141 22.85 5' 9" 185 R
Joseph Winker 2011, 28th 103 22.56 6' 1" 190 L
Chris O'Brien 2011, 18th 86 22.66 6' 0" 219 S
Jan Vazquez 2009, 6th 111 20.89 5' 10" 165 S
Scott Woodward 2011, 7th 88 23.29 6' 2" 205 L
Alexis Aguilar Signed 4/8/08 116 20.76 5' 11" 162 R
David Iden 2009, 35th 193 25.05 5' 9" 160 R

Similar to the bullpen, the bench is difficult to predict so this final group of players is really just a guess. That being said, I am pretty confident that Devin Shines will be on the team since his dad is the coach, but I don't think there is room for him in the everyday lineup. He should get be able to back up all 3 outfield spots and will be a useful player off the bench. Joe Winker had a huge season for the Arizona Dodgers in 2011, but he was one of the older players in the league so those stats should be taken with a grain of salt. He's another guy who can play the outfield and could also see a decent amount of time at DH. Chris O'Brien is my guess for backup catcher, but he should see plenty of playing time as a starter as well. Jan Vazquez is another catcher who will likely be on the team on a part time basis, and the switch hitter is going to need to start producing now that he's entering his 4th professional season. Finally, I have disappointing 2011 draftee Scott Woodward and David Iden penciled in as the backup infielders of the team.

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