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Verdugo leads the way in Dodgers midseason prospect update

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex Verdugo has tapped into more power to top the mid-season prospect rankings.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Once considered one of the elite in baseball, the Dodgers system has thinned out thanks to trades, graduations, and attrition. The system is now merely good, but intriguing and still capable of meeting the big league club’s needs on the field and in trade.

An underwhelming 2018 draft signing haul as well as a few bust in recent early rounds have eaten into the top portion of the system while the middle tiers have expanded thanks to a talented development staff’s ability to get the most out of players. A handful of international signings have also started to gain a foothold in stateside ball, with several interesting arms beginning to push for opportunities at the full season level.

Like the start of the year, the catcher position is still the backbone of the system, made even stronger by the signing of Diego Cartaya. A gap in starting pitching is starting to appear in the lower rungs that could quickly be filled if Michael Grove and Morgan Cooper prove healthy and capable in 2019. The relief pitcher heavy draft of 2017 has already seen its best bullpen candidate traded (Zach Pop), but the organization has been especially adept at developing short stint arms with several 45-grade prospects knocking on the 50-grade door.

Because I place importance on the tier grade of prospects (using the 20-80 grade scale as a guide), my intent was to list all the players with an overall grade of 50 or higher. What I did not expect was for that number to neatly fall to 30, which it did after the Manny Machado trade took Yusniel Diaz (previously 6th), Rylan Bannon (14th), Pop (24th), Dean Kremer (33rd), and Breyvic Valera (35th) off of the list. The master list, which won’t be released again until the offseason, has ballooned to 95 names, so system depth is not necessarily a concern, but the 55 grade and up group is as small as it has been since I started these tiers. This is also the first time the list has no prospect in the 70 or higher tiers.

So here is my unintentionally neat, mid-season top thirty. If you don’t see a name here you were expecting, reach out in the comments or on Twitter and I’d be happy to give you my rationale for where I have ranked them.

Grade 50 Tier

30. Ariel Hernandez, RHRP- Acquired this Spring via trade, Hernandez has exceptional arm talent but minus command leaves him down the pecking order of relief prospects.

29. Donovan Casey, CF- He’s been out since May and hasn’t sported big production numbers, but Casey is a twitchy athlete and plenty of upside to still dip into as a former two way player.

28. Brayan Morales, CF- Speed merchant doesn’t bring much pop and more strikeouts than you would like, but he has table settling qualities and has weathered a tough hitting environment at Great Lakes.

27. Stetson Allie, RHRP- Hulked up power arm has Brandon Morrow like stuff, but not Morrow command. Could still carve out late relief role as a late bloomer.

26. Drew Jackson, 2B- Dodgers have cleaned up much of his stiffness, and now Jackson is tapping into above average raw power to add to his plus speed. Could find a role as a utility player.

25. Jordan Sheffield, RHSP/RP- Everything was heading backward before he hit the disabled list in May. Likely needs to return as a reliever to re-establish value.

24. Tim Locastro, CF/SS- Didn’t make the most of his brief tour in Los Angeles, but he still has upside as a jack of all trades bench player with some speed and pop.

23. Robinson Ortiz, LHSP- Short lefty may not be as projectable as his peers in short season, but few have his polish at this age. Lively fastball and clean mechanics.

22. Luke Raley, 1B/LF- Big slugger has more athleticism than the typical 1B/LF type, but down pecking order in outfield prospects and blocked at first.

21. Matt Beaty, 1B- Injuries have slowed him so far this year, but he’s proving he will hit almost anywhere. Where to play him is another question.

20. Josh Sborz, RHRP- Stuff had not made as big a jump as I expected when I saw him early in the year, but he’s still getting strikeouts and should be a solid middle reliever with plus makeup.

19. Starling Heredia, LF- He’s running into the full season wall that tends to plague similar swing and miss types, but he’s young enough to rebound.

18. Yadier Alvarez, RHRP- Dodgers hit the reset button with a disabled list trip, has returned primarily in relief. Tremendous arm talent with one of the system’s better sliders when right.

17. Tony Gonsolin, RHSP- His promotion to Double A puts him more in line with his age/peers, and his performance at this level will determine his upside. Has shown surprising velo and a tight slider.

16. Connor Wong, C- His power runs hot and cold, but Wong brings some speed with plus raw power to the catcher position out of a framing friendly build.

15. Michael Grove, RHSP- Was quietly one of the most dominant arms in the Big XII prior to Tommy John surgery, Dodgers are banking on a big recovering. High velocity slider with steep break is his primary calling card.

14. Diego Cartaya, C- The prize thus far of Los Angeles’ 2018 international haul, Cartaya adds to the system’s depth of standout catching prospects. I don’t like to rank players before they reach stateside, but Cartaya’s feel for hit and pro ready body give him a leg up on the international class.

13. Morgan Cooper, RHSP- From fatigue to shoulder woes, Cooper has yet to get his pro career started. He was an elite strikeout arm in his last year at Texas with the size and arm strength to dream on, but keeping him this high is getting harder to justify.

Grade 55 Tier

12. Cristian Santana, 3B/1B- Trade of Bannon might give Santana more time at third, which increases his value, but Santana needs to cut down on the strikeouts to tap into his plus raw hitting tools.

11. Edwin Rios, 1B- Injuries have held him back from producing big this year, and Max Muncy might have usurped his utility power role at the big league level, but Rios is a solid corner prospect and could fetch solid return in trade.

10. Caleb Ferguson, LHSP- He’s feeling out the major leagues in a relief role, but Ferguson still has value as a high spin left hander in the rotation some day. Open question as to whether his current role is stunting the development of a needed third pitch.

9. Mitchell White, RHSP- White started the year hurt and has been playing catch-up. Still, he was holding his velocity consistently around 93 mph when I saw him, and pounds the zone with his fastball and breaking ball pair. I still like the idea of converting him to multi-inning relief.

8. Dustin May, RHSP- Rumored to possibly be in the Machado deal, Dodgers were wise to hang on to him. He’s still long and lanky but the stuff is ticking up and the command has always been there. 2019 could be a big breakout year.

7. Jeren Kendall, CF- He keeps slipping on my list, but Kendall has four plus tools and continues to make the most of them despite a still minus hit tool. However, that has proven a critical flaw in many prospects before.

Grade 60 Tier

6. Gavin Lux, SS- Not all of Lux’s breakout can be attributed to the hitter friendly California League. Lux is maturing into the well rounded shortstop many projected when he was drafted in the first round.

5. Will Smith, C- Savvy hitter that gets the most out of his frame and could eventually be the organization’s best defender to boot. I considered pushing his grade higher, but he’s not really projectable. Should get a September cameo and is one to watch should Yasmani Grandal depart this off-season.

4. D.J. Peters, CF- Still learning to cope with his gargantuan strike zone, Peters has started to make adjustments in the second half and is seeing his numbers rebound. The ball explodes off his bat and his ceiling is one of the highest in the system.

Grade 65 Tier

3. Keibert Ruiz, C- I dropped Ruiz a grade because his excellent bat to ball skills do not always produce consistent loud contact, and he still shows some receiving inconsistencies. Still, Ruiz is a teenager holding his own in the Texas League and has All-Star upside at the catching position.

2. Dennis Santana, RHSP- Would likely have graduated from this list had he not been hurt shortly after a big league promotion, Santana is still the system’s top arm talent. Really impressed with his ability to pitch off his plus slider, and sinker was still tough to square.

1. Alex Verdugo, CF- Verdugo has traded some contact for more power but he needed to for the sake of upping his profile. He’s still the system’s best natural hitter and has nothing left to prove at the minor league level and his contact skills given him added value when hits are at a premium in the postseason.