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A review of 2015 preseason top 20 Dodgers prospects

Corey Seager so far has lived up to his No. 1 billing among Dodgers prospects.
Corey Seager so far has lived up to his No. 1 billing among Dodgers prospects.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The minor league regular season has come to an end, and my first year of evaluating Dodgers prospects is in the books. In today’s look back at the 2015 top 20 prospects rankings, I’ve selected an excerpt from each player’s original report to now analyze after the fact, using the entirety of the 2015 season as evidence to prove or disprove my comments or suggestions.  Here is how the top twenty fared against my preseason critiques:

Click on the player name to read the preseason profile.

20. Joe Wieland

Wieland is ready to contribute to some team’s back of the rotation, and given his major league experience, he’s likely first in line to fill a hole for the Dodgers. Best case scenario is that Wieland pitches to league average across his starts, but it’s hard to project long term durability given his health track record.

All things considered, Wieland beat the health concerns, but largely pitched to a fringy profile, including one below average start in the major leagues.  He’s likely to get a few innings down the stretch, but his hold on a 40-man roster spot for next season could be tenuous.

19. AJ Vanegas

Vanegas will have to prove himself across two to three more levels of minor league ball before he’s receive the same opportunity that guys ahead of him have had or can expect to have in 2015. Vanegas makes the list on potential and the probability of him realizing it quickly. Now he just needs continued good health and innings to prove it.

Vanegas took two turns on the disabled list, but pitched enough to double his professional innings.  While the ERA is impressive for the California League, Vanegas’ peripherals don’t match what I would expect from someone who flashed the stuff he did at Stanford.  Probably holding serve on his standing, but will lose some spots to newcomers to the system.

18. Brandon Dixon

It’s still too early to guess at a potential major league arrival date, and it won’t come with contact rates and type he showed last year, but he still has growth potential and plays a position that doesn’t have the highest offensive threshold. Dixon could be the first player off this list if he doesn’t hit next season, but he shows the tools to still believe in him at the moment.

This was written while Dixon was a second baseman, which is no longer the case.  He looks like a better defensive fit in the outfield, and he isn’t without tools, but the threshold to make it as a corner outfielder is higher than what Dixon is likely to produce, giving him long odds to return to this list.

17. Jeff Brigham

At a minimum, Brigham provides depth to the system in either capacity and might be of most value to the Dodgers as a movable asset that will attract teams with the ease of projecting his fastball into a major league bullpen.

The moveable asset remark proved correct, as Brigham was one of three prospects sent to Miami in the Mat Latos package portion of the three-way July 30 deadline deal with Atlanta.  Brigham cruised through the Great Lakes league, found the California League rough going, before settling back down in the Florida State League.  He is still a ground ball machine, with a 54% ground ball percentage with the Marlins’ organization

16. Daniel Coulombe

Though used more as a pure reliever in the minors, Coulombe will likely need to carve his major league niche as a lefty specialist until he gains more confidence at that level. His overall stuff profile compares favorably against his peers on the Dodgers 40-man roster, but the competition for spots will be fierce and Coulombe may need to bide his time in Triple-A Oklahoma City until an opportunity arises.

Currently in roster limbo as I type this, Coulombe did not make the most of his opportunities to grab a spot in a frequently in flux Dodger bullpen, and Yimi Garcia proved to be a better candidate for this ranking.  Lefties hit .304 against Coulombe in Triple-A, making his chances of finding a major league roster spot more dicey.

15. Cody Bellinger

His tools aren’t so loud to suggest he can climb multiple levels in season just yet, and there’s work to be done to iron out his swing to continue producing offensively in the upper levels. Additionally, Bellinger will need a few seasons to add muscle to his frame to hit for the power expected of someone playing first base.

To be fair to myself, I was overall pretty high on Bellinger in my report, was ahead of most outlets in ranking him, and nobody forecasted this power outburst.  Bellinger will find himself several spots higher next season, but will need to prove his extreme pull approach can work at the higher levels.  Only one of Bellinger’s thirty home runs went to the opposite field (nitpicking, I know).

14. Darnell Sweeney

A team rebuilding, like Philadelphia, stands the most to gain from a player like Sweeney; where they can afford the patience of watching him strikeout at a 25-28% clip but might get the payoff of a .260/.340/.460 hitter.

Allow me to toot my horn on this before you scroll down to read the Chris Reed blurb.  Sweeney was always the perfect trade candidate as a player crowded out in Los Angeles but had the talent to warrant a chance elsewhere.  Sweeney’s MLB slash line of .200/.304/.475 is a microcosm of his unique skill set and the need for him to be in a patient nurturing environment that I hope Philadelphia intends to offer him.

13. Zack Bird

He’s at least two years away from any legitimate shots at reaching the major leagues, but he’s an interesting upside arm to file away with potential dividends down the road.

Bird ended up making immediate dividends as a trade piece sent to Atlanta in a package for Jim Johnson, Luis Avilan, Jose Peraza, and Latos (from Miami).  Bird was holding his own in the California League with more strikeouts than innings pitched, but also a walk rate in need of halving.  The velocity bump was still there, but Bird’s mechanics still suggested a better profile in relief.

12. Pedro Baez

He doesn’t have the deception in his delivery to get away with 90% fastballs like Jansen, so he will need improvement/confidence in either slider or change-up to take the next step forward.

Baez answered the challenge and incorporated more off his off-speed pitches to jump his K/9 over ten and become an integral member of the Dodgers’ pen.  Baez dropped his fastball heavy tendency about 5% to work in more sliders and change-ups.  He has managed to throw his fastball even harder this season, but also his change-up 1 mph slower to improve the separation of speed on the pitches.

11. Austin Barnes

It’s hard for me to say he’s major-league ready defensively without seeing his receiving skills first hand, but the bat and arm look ready and Barnes should enter spring training with an outside chance of sticking.

When I got the chance to focus on Barnes’ receiving skills in Oklahoma City, I came away more convinced he’s ready to handle the rigors of catching in the major leagues.  A.J. Ellis kept Barnes at bay this season, but Barnes is more than ready and deserves a look next season.  The catching battle will be one to watch in Spring Training next season.

10. Ross Stripling

Instead of a change-up like Clippard, Stripling’s best out pitch is a hard slider that almost appears to break straight down at times that he’s able to throw in the zone for called strikes. He also shows an above-average curve with bigger break but doesn’t pop out of hand because he throws from such a high angles.

Having now seen him in person, I’m more inclined to reverse my opinion of these two pitches.  The curveball looked more like the strikeout pitch, with the slider becoming more of a worm killer.  If you read back over the prospect report, the arguments I made for Stripling in relief over the rotation still stand, but he didn’t disprove his ability to stay a starter this season.

9. Alex Verdugo

He doesn’t have tools so loud that we could see a call up in two years, but he does have enough of a hit tool to potentially make quick work of the lower minors. I’d still try to keep the expectations low for the first full season and focus on improving his comfort level with pitches on the outer half while also trying to tap into more power pull side.

We tempered expectations, as suggested, for Verdugo as he adjusted slowly to full season ball, but once the light turned on, Verdugo exploded.  So much so that the first statement might seem a little bullish.  Verdugo’s next challenge will be carrying his offensive explosion into the less offensive environments of the Texas League, but the fast track isn’t out of the question now.

Alex Verdugo has excelled with Rancho Cucamonga

8. Chris Anderson

If Anderson makes improvements in Double-A and can reduce his walk rate, then he’ll jump ahead on this as a power throwing starter with strikeout and innings potential. However, I see Anderson as closer to a finished product that might be most effective in relief.

Having the chance to see him more in person this year, I feel more resolved about the latter statement.  Though durable, Anderson’s peripherals and stuff backed up as the year progressed.  I expect a move to the bullpen and a potential prospect rebound could be in the cards for 2016.

7. Zach Lee

There’s tremendous amount of value in an arm that can take his turn every time in the rotation, limit walks, and keep the ball on the ground with a decent defense behind him. If Lee regains confidence, and is asked to fill a role in the rotation at some point in 2015, he will have the benefit of the Dodgers’ tremendous infield defense behind him, and parks like Petco, AT&T and his own to suppress big flies.

The only part of this statement I may wish I could change would the notion that the Dodger’s infield defense is "tremendous."  Lee pitched to this profile this year in Triple-A and is ready for his chance at a rotation spot somewhere.  Lee improved his peripherals while maintaining a 51-percent ground ball rate, and his status as a solid tier-two guy will go unchanged heading into next season.

6. Scott Schebler

Scott Schebler may not be a name to many now, and his overall tools package won’t get him on many top prospect lists, but the two tools he possesses should make him a starting-caliber corner outfielder that out produces toolsy types.

You might be considering tempering expectations like these after the counting numbers Schebler put up in AAA, but I still believe this.  Schebler’s BABIP dropped 30 points from AA, and the power dipped a little with it, but the tools haven’t changed, and defensive measures like FRAA have actually been positive.  Schebler won’t be ranked quite this high again next year, but he didn’t drop off as much as a couple of players surpassing him on the strengths of their performances.

5. Chris Reed

The Dodgers are going to need innings from starters beyond their preferred top five this season, and though Reed may not be first in line, his overall stuff might be the best of those available on the 40 man roster in Triple-A this season. Reed might also be the Dodgers most moveable asset as a ready made starter with plus ground ball ability... I’d personally like to see what Reed could accomplish behind the Dodgers infield defense, and there’s a decent chance we’ll all get to see him at some point in 2015.

The line about Chris Reed being a moveable asset was perhaps the only thing I got right in the Reed profile.  Reed’s stuff took a big step back, he was demoted to the pen, left in AA to start the season, and eventually traded for fellow minor league lefty Grant Dayton.  Reed did make his major league debut with Miami, where his sinker had improved back up to 91 mph in his brief cup of coffee.

4. Grant Holmes

Additionally, Holmes has yet to face any adversity as a pitcher. He was simply too good for the hitters at the rookie level as one of the best arms in the draft, and his first taste of full season ball will tell us more about what we might expect from his stamina, durability, quality of stuff over multiple frames, etc.

Holmes faced said adversity in the first month with command issues, and while we can’t consider him cured, he certainly answered the bell with his performance this season.  Might give Urias a run for highest-ceiling arm in the system, Holmes still must continue to improve his command to up his potential floor.

3. Joc Pederson

While I still believe he can drop the strikeout rate to an acceptable rate around 20% — he’ll only be 23 in April — it will require patience by the Dodgers to allow him to work through this learning experience. The key is that Pederson can still be valuable offensively if he hits .230 next year, if it comes with the walks and home runs his profile suggests.

As it turns out, Joc’s strikeout rate has ballooned to 29 percent and has become a major issue in regards to his playing time and psyche.  I would not have expected him to be as productive with a K-rate near 30 percent, so his production speaks to his immense ability.  Young enough to keep improving, but not out of "enigma" status yet.

2. Julio Urias

It’s not out of the question that Urias could run into some adversity at the Double-A level, especially if command of his off-speed continues to lag behind his fastball.

I suppose it depends on how you define adversity, but it’s difficult to suggest that Double-A was much of a challenge for Urias.  The command of the secondaries was much better than I previously had suggested and is now a major strong suit of his game.

1. Corey Seager

The one thing we can say with almost certainty, is that the bat will feature in the middle of the order for years to come.

Seager’s bat did little to refute these claims.  Though his power hit a bit of a lull in Triple-A, his offense was still advanced for both his age and position, and he’s come on like gangbusters in the major leagues.  Seager likely hits between second and sixth in the Dodger order as early as next season.

The list

Rank Player Pos B/T 2015 age* 2014 highest level Still in org?
1 Corey Seager OF L/R 21 MLB Yes
2 Julio Urias LHP L/L 18 Triple-A Oklahoma City Yes
3 Joc Pederson OF L/L 23 MLB
4 Grant Holmes RHP L/R 19 Class-A Great Lakes Yes
5 Chris Reed LHP L/L 25 MLB No (Miami)
6 Scott Schebler OF L/R 24 MLB Yes
7 Zach Lee
RHP R/R 23 MLB Yes
8 Chris Anderson RHP R/R 22 Triple-A Oklahoma City Yes
9 Alex Verdugo OF L/L 19 Class-A Rancho Cucamonga Yes
10 Ross Stripling RHP R/R 25 Double-A Tulsa Yes
11 Austin Barnes C/IF R/R 25 MLB Yes
12 Pedro Baez RHP R/R 27 MLB Yes
13 Zachary Bird RHP R/R 20 Double-A Mississippi No (Atlanta)
14 Darnell Sweeney 2B/SS/OF S/R 24 MLB No (Philadelphia)
15 Cody Bellinger 1B L/L 19 Class-A Rancho Cucamonga Yes
16 Daniel Coulombe LHP L/L 25 MLB Yes
17 Jeff Brigham RHP R/R 23 Class-A Jupiter No (Miami)
18 Brandon Dixon 2B/3B R/R 23 Double-A Tulsa Yes
19 A.J. Vanegas P R/R 22 Class-A Rancho Cucamonga Yes
20 Joe Wieland RHP R/R 25 MLB Yes
*age as of June 30, 2015