Since the start of the Arizona Fall League is almost upon us, I figured it’d be a good time to write a preview for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, which is the team the Dodgers prospects will be playing for. First of all, for those of you not very family with the AFL, here is a brief background. There are 6 teams in the AFL that play a 32 game schedule, and each team is comprised of prospects from 5 different organizations. Each organization is required to provide at least 6 players to the AFL, and per the MILB.com website, to be eligible the players much meet the following requirements:
· All Triple-A and Double-A players are eligible, provided the players are on at least a Double-A level roster no later than Aug. 1.
· One player below the Double-A level is allowed per Major League team.
· One foreign player is allowed, as long as the player does not reside in a country that participates in winter ball, as part of the Caribbean Confederation or the Australian winter league.
· No players with more than one year of credited Major League service as of August 31 are eligible, except a team may select one player picked in the most recently concluded Major League Rule 5 Draft.
· To be eligible, players on Minor League disabled lists must be activated at least 45 days before the conclusion of their respective seasons.
The other organizations that will be playing with the Dodger prospects are the Marlins, the A’s, the Braves, and the Yankees. The team will be managed by the Dodgers very own Don Mattingly, so hopefully he’ll show some favoritism to the guys in the Dodgers organization and get them a little more playing time. Also, I wanted to mention that there used to be the Hawaii Winter League which was the counterpart of the AFL for younger players, but that was shut down after the 2008 season. There was supposedly going to be a lesser version of the AFL starting up this year for those younger prospects that used to go to the Hawaii League, but apparently that isn’t happening yet to the extent that they keep stats.
The Dodger Pitching Prospects
Javy Guerra – Guerra missed quite a bit of time during the 2010 season due to injuries, so the AFL is the perfect place for Javy to make up for some lost time. Guerra threw just 27 innings with the Lookouts, but had solid ERA of 2.33 ERA. However, his WHIP was 1.70 due to his 22 walks, and his FIP was 4.24. Guerra is actually a veteran of the AFL as also played for the Peoria Javelinas after the 2009 season. With the Javelinas last year, Guerra only allowed 1 earned run in 10.2 innings and was selected to play in the Rising Stars Game, but he was also very wild back then as he walked 9 batters. Since he is on the 40 man roster, a strong showing could potentially give him a shot at the Dodgers 25 man roster in 2011.
Jon Link – Link was called up by the Dodgers 6 different times during the 2010 season, but was used sparingly to the tune of just 8.2 innings. In 60.2 innings in AAA, Link did very well considering his home park, posting a 3.71 ERA and a 3.55 FIP. At 26 years old, Link will be one of the older players on the Desert Dogs roster, and with a solid performance could solidify a permanent spot in the Dodgers 2011 bullpen.
Justin Miller – Justin Miller, who had made 53 starts from 2008 – 2009, was converted to a full time reliever in 2010 and found a great deal of success. Miller started the season in LoA, but was promoted to Chattanooga after recording a 1.30 ERA in 34.2 innings. Miller continued to thrive in AA as his ERA was just 2.76 in 42.1 innings. The one knock on Miller has always been his strikeout rate, which is a legitimate concern given that he averaged only 5.2 K’s per 9 over his career. However, Miller is a ground ball sinker pitcher, so pitching to contact is part of his game plan. Since he will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason, I have no doubt that the Dodgers will add Miller to their 40 man roster in November no matter how he performs in the AFL.
Scott Elbert – While he’s not officially on the roster right now, it has been reported that Elbert will play in the AFL this year. Given that Elbert hasn’t thrown a professional pitch since June, I think it’s a great idea for Elbert to get some more innings in this season, especially since he’ll be facing some solid competition. Since the Dodgers have so many question marks this offseason, it would be great if Elbert could have a good showing in the AFL to give the organization another option heading into 2011.
The Dodger Hitting Prospects
Matt Wallach – The AFL is the perfect place for Wallach to prove that he should be considered a legitimate prospect. Before the 2010 season, Wallach wasn’t really more than organizational depth even though he had good bloodlines and played solid defense. After a breakout season in 2010, however, Wallach showed glimpses of potential which demonstrated that he might have the ability to be one day be a backup catcher at the big league level.
Ivan De Jesus – Many were surprised when De Jesus didn’t get a big league call up in September, myself included. But the more I think about it, I guess it makes sense that the Dodgers decided to give him the month of September off since he is still recovering from a badly broken leg. Taking a month off, and then letting him get regular playing time against a solid competition is probably a better option than letting him sit on a major league bench of a losing team. In addition, I’ve heard from multiple sources that De Jesus does indeed have a poor attitude, so it might be a good idea for Mattingly to work with him in a more relaxed environment.
Jerry Sands – Not much more can be written about Jerry Sands. He had an amazing season in 2010, and has jumped to the top of many Dodger prospect lists. Since we all know he can hit, the biggest question heading into the AFL is if can learn to play 3rd base. It’s been rumored that he’ll spend some time at the hot corner, so it will be interesting to see if he actually gets to play there. Even if the experiment at 3rd base fails, Sands still has the ability to play multiple positions and will give the Dodgers quite a few options down the road. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sands ended up leading the AFL in homers.
Trayvon Robinson – Robinson participated in the Arizona Fall League last year, but only played in 12 games. After a solid 2010 season in AA, however, Robinson should see more playing time this fall with the Desert Dogs. Robinson’s regular season ended on a sour note as he missed the final week of the minor season due to an injury, and then did not get a big league call up despite being on the 40 man roster. Nevertheless, if Tray has a great showing in the AFL, he could give the Dodgers something to think about heading into the offseason as they scour the outfield free agent market.
Apparently the Dodgers decided not to include a younger player on their roster this season as all the Dodger prospects on the Desert Dogs were playing in AA or higher before August 1st. Nevertheless, this group should be fun to watch as the Dodgers have sent some of their top position players, along with a couple of solid relief pitchers. It will also be interesting to see how Elbert responds after sitting out for so long. Hopefully some of the Dodger players will get picked to play in the Rising Stars All Star game, which will probably be televised again this year by the MLB Network.
Players from Other Organizations to Watch
I usually don’t write about the prospects from other teams, but the AFL is a unique situation. From what I can tell, the Phoenix Desert Dogs don’t really feature any top pitching prospects, but there are a couple of big offensive to keep an eye on.
Michael Taylor was part of the 3 team deal that sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, but then was traded to Oakland for Brett Wallace. He was ranked as Phillies 3rd best prospect this offseason according to Baseball America, but seemed to lose his power stroke in 2010 as he hit just 6 homers in 464 at bats in the Pacific Coast League.
Grant Green, another Oakland prospect, was a 13th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of USC. The shortstop had an outstanding season in the California League in 2010, smacking 20 homers and hitting .318 for the season.
Freddy Freeman is a big 1st baseman in the Braves system, and will probably be up in Atlanta full time next season. While he struggled as a September call up this year, in 124 AAA games Freeman hit 18 homers with a .318 average and had an .898 OPS.
Kyle Skipworth was a major catching prospect coming out of high school, and was drafted by the Marlins in 2008 as the 6th overall pick. While he only hit .208 over his first two professional seasons, Skipworth improved in 2010 by posting a .245 average and smacking 17 home runs. At just 20 years old he is the youngest player on the team, so he has a bright future ahead of him.