As we approach the 2017 trade deadline, the Dodgers can boast their deepest farm system since I began covering it three seasons ago for True Blue LA. While I suggested on my podcast appearance that the system had something of a disappointing first half (and some of the upper level players did slide back in my rankings), a lack of trades and graduations (just Cody Bellinger and Andrew Toles exited the Top 20 from the preseason) plus draft additions have restocked the system with healthy depth at most levels.
If you’ve followed my pre-season and draft lists, you know I like to grade players in tiers. While I did not include the tier rankings today, the Grade 60, 55, and 50 tiers have expanded to the point that my full prospect list goes 36 names deep in players that carry a 50 grade or higher (up from just 30 this off-season). Every player covered in the new Top 20 today carries at least a 55 grade. Outside of left-handed pitching, the Dodgers can accommodate almost any demand for positional talent at the trade deadline.
While the ranking was supposed to be just 20 players, two players tied with the same grade at the 20th position, so consider these 21 blurbs a bonus to help pass the time without Dodger baseball until Friday:
20 (Tie). AJ Alexy, RHP: The young right-hander has shown polish beyond his years, with a riding fastball and sharp slider/slurve breaking ball. He needs more velocity, but he’s developing ahead of schedule.
20 (Tie). Josh Sborz, RHP: Beginning to slide some as his starting ceiling is looking lower. Still think he might profile better in relief, but has four solid average offerings and the mentality to hold down a bottom rotation slot. A poor man’s Ross Stripling.
19. Yusniel Diaz, OF: I’m still the low man on Diaz, but he’s bumped up in my rankings due to video of an improved swing that should tap into a bit more game power. He is still producing at roughly the same clip as last season, but would like to see a breakout in the second half of his repeat season in California League.
18. Trevor Oaks, RHP: An oblique injury might slow his progress or put his trade availability into question, but before then he was plugging away as always. Not going to wow anyone, but one of the better sinkers in the organization and he keeps the ball on the ground. When healthy he’s ready.
17. Jordan Sheffield, RHP: His underwhelming performance in the Great Lakes rotation could force the transition to the bullpen sooner than later, but Sheffield still has an electric arm and the upside of a plus-strikeout reliever.
16. Morgan Cooper, RHP: The polished college arm might not make many appearances in 2017 but could be pushed quickly in 2018. The sharp breaking ball that he can manipulate the shape of will be his carry tool.
15. Imani Abdullah, RHP: His stock remains largely unchanged after being held out of most of the first half. His initial struggles can be attributed to rust for now, and his upside is still palpable.
14. Dustin May, RHP: Lanky-framed youngster looks to have adapted a lower but more consistent arm slot. His sinker-slider combination has the potential to make him a future number two or three starter, but his stuff profile could leave him vulnerable to better left-handed hitters.
13. Gavin Lux, SS: Struggling for quality contact in the Midwest League, it’s too early to get concerned about the 2016 first-rounder. Defensive reputation will take him up the ladder, but Lux needs to make swing adjustments to lift the ball to tap into his offensive potential.
12. Will Smith, C: He has not hit for average like he hinted at with a strong season at the University of Louisville last year, but Smith has steepened the angle of his swing and should have solid-average power. I will get the chance to evaluate his defense in the second half of the Texas League.
11. Edwin Rios, 3B: A “prove it” prospect that continues to do just that. His strong upper body and hands allow him to overcome questionable bat speed and pitch recognition to play with plus game power. Has the arm to handle third or a corner outfield spot but doesn’t move as well as his peers.
10. Mitchell White, RHP: Back on the mound with a rehab assignment in the Arizona League, White hopes to return to form in the second half. The strikeout specialist could move quickly in relief, but there’s no need to force the issue right now.
9. Keibert Ruiz, C: Ruiz hit .317 in the first half for Great Lakes, an almost unthinkable number there for a teenager. Power might determine his ultimate ceiling, but as a catcher his feel for hiting makes him a rare breed.
8. DJ Peters, OF: Mashing his way into the top 10, the hulking right-handed slugger has adjusted nicely to skipping Low-A. He has held his own in center but might profile better in right field, and with the long locks he’s just a beard away from completing the Jayson Werth toolkit.
7. Willie Calhoun, 2B: His bat is almost ready for the big leagues, as he’s cleaned up some split issues in Triple-A. The defense has reportedly improved some, but it had a long ways to go to be average. Major trade candidate to watch this month.
6. Brock Stewart, RHP: Stewart’s early season injury has kept him from graduating off this list. I still like him in the rotation, but his power stuff could be the answer to solving who sets up Kenley Jansen down the stretch.
5. Dennis Santana, RHP: Having a loud breakout season by reportedly running his sinker up into the high 90s. Guys don’t tend to control the pitch at this level as good as he does, and he can back the sinker with a slider that will flash plus. His ability to pitch for the strikeout or soft contact on the ground gives him No. 2 or 3 rotation potential.
4. Alex Verdugo, OF: Contact has never come easier for Verdugo, who has some of the best pitch recognition and bat speed in the organization. Power is still lagging behind and the overall profile hasn’t changed much since the offseason.
3. Yadier Alvarez, RHP: As seen at the Futures Game, Alvarez is still very much a project, though one with elite physical tools. His season has been better than his ERA would indicate, but I’d like to see Alvarez loosen up his upper body and refine his command or he could be heading for a relief role in time. Like Calhoun, on the blockbuster trade watch list.
2. Jeren Kendall, OF: Center field toolshed fell in the draft over concerns about strikeouts, but few players at that level impacted the ball as well as Kendall, and his track record of production is quite long. He could stand to loosen some stiffness in his upper body in his swing, and the Dodgers have had a solid recent track record in helping players do so.
1. Walker Buehler, RHP: In his first healthy year post Tommy John surgery, Buehler already looks like the early first-round talent he was projected to be before the 2015 draft. Dodgers will likely need to limit his innings in the second half, but it would not surprise me if he’s used in a Swiss army knife role in the Los Angeles bullpen down the stretch. His ceiling is still high as a starting pitcher and he should be ready for the rotation in 2018.
2017 midseason top Dodgers prospect