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2017 top Dodgers prospects: An overview

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The rhyme and reason behind the prospect rankings

josh-sborz-2016-quakes-tomo-san
Josh Sborz, drafted in 2015 out of Virginia, made the jump from Class-A Rancho Cucamonga to Double-A Tulsa in 2016.
Photo credit: Tomo San | LA Dodgers

At the start of my third off-season covering Dodgers prospects, the process has become much more fluid for me. Being on the front end of covering two draft classes that now flood the ranks of the system while also gaining a better grip of the player development philosophy should produce what I hope is my best list to date. Despite a handful of trade departures and player graduations at the top end of last season’s list, the 2016-17 organizational crop is the deepest yet of the Friedman era, and my list currently tops out at 69 player names.

Unveiling the Rankings

Returning from last season will be the color coded Prospect Table, breaking down the players into tiers while also providing some pro/con shorthand on each ranked player. The first grouping of players released will be players currently 31-69, and I will highlight a few notable players from this grouping in an upcoming article. After that players 21-30 will get smaller profiles, followed by the large profiles of players ranked 1-20, to be released one at a time.

As you will notice in the list, the players will skew older. I try to rank any player that I believe has a better than emergency call-up chance of accumulating meaningful service time at the big league level. That player may only bounce up and down for a season or two, and the threshold itself is debatable, but just note that if they are ranked here, I think they have some type of shot at making the major leagues. Older players get a bump here because they are relatively close to the big league level, and because I live in Tulsa, I’ve likely had several looks in order to make a more complete evaluation of their potential.

Evaluation Process

The evaluation process also remains unchanged. I have the privilege of seeing most all of the Dodgers’ talent at some point before they reach the major leagues when they make their stop in Double-A Tulsa. I get my own radar gun readings and home to first times for players I see in person, and most of my impressions on the older players can already be found on True Blue LA.

Where I can’t see a player in person, I rely on video, and thankfully, this tool has become more bountiful each year. Additionally, published scouting reports from other media sources help fill in gaps on tools descriptions where video cannot show this information. This can be the most unreliable part of the process, however, where I’ve found many scouting reports to over-report a pitcher’s velocity or repertoire.

If I can’t find sufficient video on a player or see the player in person to gain my own impression of the player independent of other sources, I will not rank the player. This has led to some big names being omitted from previous lists, namely Jose De Leon in 2014-15. While I don’t expect any omissions this year to be as significant as De Leon, there are four names that you won’t find on my list that are likely to appear elsewhere. Dennis Santana, Keibert Ruiz, Leonardo Crawford, and Brandon Montgomery did not have sufficient enough video for me to give a comfortable evaluation, so while I suspect these players to be worthy of ranking (and in the case of Santana and Ruiz, potentially quite highly), I have had to leave their names out of the prospect rankings.

Previous Dodgers top prospects lists: 2016 | 2015

Reading the Table

I’m going to leave the explanations here largely unchanged from last year, with updates to the examples to reflect current players. To get the most value out of reading the table, here’s your guide to the values:

RK: “Rank”- This is the player’s overall ranking within the system. As of right now, 69 players are ranked on the table.

NAME: Rather obvious of course, but each name is also a link to a video of the player. Because videos of younger players can be quite scarce, not all videos will provide you with enough detail to evaluate the player. When I could find it, I tried to link the best possible video of the player that captures their present tools/skills and future potential. For instance, the De Leon video gives you a full look at this delivery, stuff, and pitchability. However, for players further down the list, the video may only be a brief highlight that only shows you the player’s size, body type, or a specific skill or tool.

POS: “Position”- This is a combination of what role the player fills now, and what role I see the player fulfilling in the future. For example, Josh Sborz’s position is listed as RHSP/RP, meaning right-handed starting pitcher/relief pitcher. While he starts now, I think he might find a big league role as a reliever.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers
Brock Stewart was ranked the No. 36 prospect by David Hood before the 2016 season, then made the climb all the way to the majors, pitching 28 innings for the Dodgers.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

OD AGE: “Opening Day Age”- The player’s age by April 1, more or less. The decimal is for months, so a player list as 21.11 years old is one month away from turning 22 at the start of the season. Months are rounded up or down depending on where the birthday falls within the month.

LEVEL: This is the minor league level the player ended the season at, with a few exceptions. I tried to separate players that received a full promotion from players that just filled a roster shortfall in late season call-ups. This should just be used as a small snapshot to see where a player currently sits on the ladder to the major leagues.

OVERALL: “Overall Player Grade/Tier”- Grades used come from the 20-80 scouting scale, with 40-grade players being fringe average, 45 average, and 50 beyond a standard deviation above the next grade. The overall grade is a subjective, all encompassing “prospect” grade that should represent their value to the organization. For example, a 45-grade prospect may eventually become a 60 grade player, but his distance from the majors/injury history/production has his “sell on” value at a 45.

Players can obviously improve this grade over time as we gain a better picture of their future skills while the player works to correct shortcomings in their game or continue to physically develop. Outside cases of clearly apparent potential/skills, players further down the organizational ladder tend to be graded more conservatively. More on this next week.

RISK: This is the likelihood the player reaches the major leagues, given what obstacles we know about the player. The higher the score, the more likely I see the player reaching the majors. Several factors go into risk, the primary factors being: age, injury history, distance from majors, polish of tools, scarcity of position. Austin Barnes is a polished offensive player at the cusp of the big league level and at a position of relative scarcity; his risk grade is very high

CEILING: This is the highest potential grade I could see the player achieving at the big league level. I tried to be conservative on this grade for unpolished players with significant unrealized potential, such as Brendon Davis and Dustin May. A player’s ceiling grade might shrink and their risk score might rise while they climb the organizational ladder and polish their tools.

PROS: Short-hand comments that highlight the positive attributes of the player. I will frequently use + (above grade 55) or ++ (above grade 60) to describe a particular tool, pitch, or trait. Comments are relative to a player’s peers in terms of age or tier. For instance a + mark for pitchability on a AA level player means the pitcher has the acumen ready to pitch in the major leagues, but + pitchability on a rookie league player simply suggests he’s ahead of the curve.

CONS: Short-hand comments that describe my concerns for the player. Relativity matters much more in this instance. For example, if a 60 grade tier player has a “CON” of lacking upside, I’m comparing the player to other 60 grade players, in this organization or otherwise. If you are a 60-tier player, I consider you an above average major league contributor, so try to use context when reading these comments. For the top 20 players, this will be better explained in the player’s article.

As each segment of the rankings is posted, I will try to survey the comments and answer any questions you might have, but don’t expect any spoilers. Also, as players are inevitably dealt away or into the system, I will adjust the rankings accordingly. My hope is that now in year three, I have a better grasp of the system itself and the talent on hand, and that the information I will be providing to you leading up to the start of Spring Training enhances your knowledge and understanding of the health of the Dodgers’ farm system.

Example

The list will be in table form beginning with the article detailing prospects 31-69. For now, we will reveal only the No. 69 prospect heading into 2017 — shortstop Ronny Brito — as an example of the grading system.

Rank Player Pos OD Age Level Overall Risk Ceiling Pros Cons
69 Ronny Brito SS 18.0 DSL 40 30 50 infield actions, long athlete, chance to hit ? on overall offensive potential, far from majors