As we near the one third point of the minor league season, I spoke with Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. We talked a little about the Baseball Prospectus Futures Guide 2014 and then went through the top Dodger prospects on how they were doing thus far this season. This first of two parts will feature the very top of the Dodger prospect list.
The Futures Guide is very handy, especially as an e-book. The guide features Top 10 Prospects for every major-league team with updates to account for trades and other player movement since original publication. Baseball Prospectus is also publishing prospect scouting reports as free content
Baseball Prospectus' number one Dodger prospect was Julio Urias (25.2 IP, 4.91 ERA, 22 hits, 15 walks, 29 strikeouts) and Parks wanted to make one point very clear up front. "[You have] to look at his performance in a very special context. [Urias] would be a high school senior instead he is in the Cal League and he is already working on developmental progressions."
Parks gave an example of this work, "in camp, sometimes he would come out and [he would be told] you have 4 innings, go ahead and knock these guys out." "[Urias] would come out and use his fastball and his power slider and miss bats and knock these batters down." Parks said Urias would blow past guys 3-4 years older than him. And then Urias pitched in that major league game, getting out major league hitters.
Urias is working on specific things right now, Parks said. "Urias is working on locating his fastball, trying to continue to build arm strength, trying to turn over the change up more." "The slider can probably play in the major leagues right now."
Parks doesn't think Urias will pitch more than 100 innings this season, Urias will likely stay in the Cal League all season and once he gets close to whatever innings limit they have for him, he will get shut down.
Urias has had to deal with a few things that happen when you are advancing in the minor leagues, twice this season, Urias backed up Dodger pitchers making a rehab start. And Parks thought that those things do have an affect even if it is only that he has to wait to pitch that night.
Continuing with pitchers, after spending all of spring training with the Dodgers, Zach Lee has been one of the first pitching prospects to begin a season in AAA. The last one I can recall was Chad Billingsley in 2006 in Las Vegas. Parks ranked Zach Lee (47.1 IP, 4.37 ERA, 57 hits, 14 walks, 35 strikeouts) as the number four Dodger prospect. Parks said "The more pitchers climb, the more warts appear, where [Lee] is pitching does matter, [Albuquerque] is not the easiest place to pitch." "Last year, Lee had a really good AA season."
Parks noted Lee is a "pitch mixer," but doesn't have blow away stuff.
One thing that Parks said about Lee that struck me was that "Lee was a guy that could provide inning work load" but that may not good enough for the Dodgers given the team that they are, for the Dodgers he may more of a "long man" or "swing man," a spot starter kind of guy instead of a guy you would give 30 starts.
Joc Pederson (.356/.464/.650, 13 HR, 12 SB) has nothing left to prove in the minors according to Parks. "I knew he was going to tear [the Pacific Coast League] up" and that Pederson would put up "monster stats." But the question that remains for Parks is what will Pederson do in the majors. Per Parks, the problem for Pederson and the Dodgers is that when you put up these numbers, you can fall into bad habits because you don't have to make any adjustments and those things won't fly once you make the majors.
Parks believes that until Pederson goes to the majors and has to make those last set of adjustments you make if you are to stay there, Parks won't know if the numbers Pederson is putting up now are relate to future performance.
Parks also thinks that you can make too big a deal about the platoon numbers, "lefty vs lefty same side hitting is tough" and it will be tougher in the majors when he faces lefties who can go in and out. Parks followed that saying Pederson obviously sees right-handed pitching very well, stays back on secondary pitches, can hit the ball with velocity. Parks said Pederson's strikeout rate was a product of both his aggressiveness and that Pederson sees a lot of pitches (since Pederson also has a good walk rate).
Parks sees Pederson as being in some sort of "limbo" and everyone from Pederson, his agent, and his family knows that he has nothing left to prove in the minors. Parks said that this is a point in Pederson's career where even the best scouts will tell you that you don't know how a hitter will do against major league pitching until they get to see it every single day and until that book is written about you and you have to make more adjustments."
Parks thinks that in almost every other organization, Pederson would be "taking his lumps' right now as he was going through his learning curve. But because he is with the Dodgers, it is going to be a waiting game, a roster game of who stays and who goes. A lot of teams would like Pederson but the Dodgers have thus far showed no sign that they want to deal him so they must have a plan for him.
Corey Seager (.336/.391/.548, 15 doubles, 2 triples, 4 HR, 5 SB) was the number two Dodger prospect. Seager has continued to play shortstop in his first full season at Rancho Cucamonga. Parks said despite Seager's poor Arizona Fall League and also not having a good spring training, Parks wouldn't keep Seager in the Cal League that much longer.
Parks is impressed by how Seager's bat produces "really hard contact" and "line drives." "[Seager] has a good glove and a good arm but he doesn't move all that well." Seager should be an above-average third baseman.
Despite Seager's recent power surge, Parks thinks Seager is in the "15-20" home runs per season hitter. Parks believes Seager should make the move to AA this summer to continue his development and see if his bat plays.