This is the second of two parts of my interview with ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law. If you want to read part one where Law talks about Gavin Lux, Dustin May, Jeter Downs, Josiah Gray and DJ Peters, click here.
We continue our conversation about the Dodger prospects and the first one mentioned in this article did not have a good 2018 season.
What will the Dodgers do with Alex Verdugo
Law had already said that there was no current prospect in the Dodger system that was as good as Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler. But then again, how many teams have a Rookie of the Year candidates just waiting to break down the door each season.
But the Dodgers also have not clearly made a place for Verdugo in the starting lineup. With the likelihood of always having two of these three players, Bellinger, Max Muncy and David Freese in the lineup everyday plus the newly arrived A.J. Pollock, you have Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, Kiké Hernández and Verdugo vying for one outfield spot.
“I think [Verdugo] is really talented, I still ranked him there pretty highly [Verdugo was 37th overall on Law’s Top 100] based on what he can do on a baseball field,” Law said, “and I do think he can play everyday for somebody this year, it may not be the Dodgers for obvious reasons.”
Law agreed with me that Verdugo being yet another left-handed outfielder could make it tough for him to find a spot. “There have been makeup concerns about Verdugo for a while and I am hearing that more and more because the Dodgers have been willing to discuss him in just about every significant trade recently,” Law said, “I think it is less about what is going to be on the field but they have concerns about him off the field.”
“I don’t really talk about that stuff very much until it starts impacting their baseball value,” Law said, “their trade value and it does seem to me like other teams are valuing him, they are probably valuing him lower than my prospect rating would indicate because I ranked him as a guy who could be an above-average regular.”
However with all that, Law still thinks that if the Dodgers or another team gave him an opportunity, Verdugo would produce on both sides on the ball.
Is this a make or break season for outfielder Jeren Kendall?
Kendall was ranked 20th in the Law’s list of Dodger prospects. I asked Law how important is this season for Kendall, given the fact that he has only played one full professional season and he was a first round pick for the Dodgers in 2017.
“He’s 23, he is a college guy who is essentially as underdeveloped as a raw 19-year old high school guy,” Law said, “hopefully I’ll see him in spring training maybe on the back fields, is he still swinging like he did in college.”
“Because all of last year, I know the Dodgers tried to work with him on his swing, Law said, “but he still had the same swing he had at Vanderbilt that led to him punching out 70 times in his draft year and still leads to his high strikeout rates.”
“It is a unworkable swing,” Law said, “nobody can hit with a swing like that, doesn’t use his lower half, can’t repeat the swing path.” “He can hit the occasional mistake because he has raw power and he has hand and wrist strength but there is never going to be consistency.”
“At the time of the draft, I said that’s a rebuild,” Law said, noting that Kendall has great athleticism, “he can really run, he has power, he can play the heck out of center, I don’t think he’s clueless in terms of pitch selection or recognition but he can’t execute.”
“You need to completely redo his swing and the player has to buy into that,” Law said, “I assume that has not happened because we have not seen any change so far and he has to do that if he wants to have any kind of major league career at all.”
If you have MILB.TV, what should you hope to see from Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith
Unless something really goes weird in the next four weeks, Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith should both be playing for Oklahoma City or Tulsa in April. I wanted to know at this point in their development, what should fans hope to see from them this season.
“A little different from both guys, with Smith, he changed his swing,” Law said, “to get to more power last year and he had a little more swing and miss, this is a guy who almost never struck out previously.” “I’m okay with that tradeoff and obviously the Dodgers are too, you do want to know that it won’t get worst as you move up the ladder.”
“You want to know that the extra power that made him into a top 100 prospect,” Law said, “isn’t coming at the expense of contact skills that made him what a 35th overall draft choice.”
“In Ruiz’s case he was so young for where he was last year and yet still he performed pretty well,” Law said, “you’d like to see more performance now that his age gets closer to the age of the pitchers he is facing.” “He’s got power, you want to see more of the power play, you want to see more high quality contact, he’s able to put the ball in play a lot, you want to see results on those balls that he puts in to play.”
“With Smith, he’s pretty advanced as a receiver right now,” Law said, “with Ruiz he has tools, translating those into skills that are better and better receiving.”
Law said Ruiz was ranked 27th overall because of his ceiling and Smith, ranked 79th, because he thinks Smith could play in the majors right now. Law also believes this must be what the Dodgers think given what they did in the offseason.
This concludes my interview with Keith Law, I hope to catch up with him during the season to look at who we discussed and hopefully others that force their way onto to Dodger top prospect list.