The Dodgers are seeing an influx of production from players drafted after fulfilling their college eligibility — typically one of the least successful demographics in the MLB Draft.
Whether it be Kyle Garlick chipping in a timely home run, or Matt Beaty providing a walk off home run, the Dodgers are striking gold with college senior draftees during Scouting Director Billy Gasparino’s tenure. Gasparino and his staff’s knack for finding talent in the senior ranks began immediately in his first draft in 2015, starting with the current poster child Matt Beaty in the 12th round.
Beaty was drafted out of Belmont University despite gaudy walk and contact rates, but carrying solid overall numbers. Beaty fits the mold of the ideal Dodger hitter. He starts his hands low and gets excellent length on his swing, leaving the bat head in the hitting zone longer than most of his peers. His power is adequate for a four-corner player, but he makes the most of it in games. While he’s carved out a semi-starting role, he’s given a glimpse of his best use going forward as a matchup player and bench weapon thanks to his low strikeout rate.
In the same draft that uncovered Beaty, the Dodgers were fortunate to snag Kyle Garlick in the 28th round. Garlick’s track record prior to his senior year was a series of injuries and ineffectiveness with the Oregon Ducks. Garlick’s one year of college power production still translates to the pros, and though he moved gradually through the system, his production remained steady until a big power breakout in 2019.
Garlick lacks Beaty’s standout hit tool, but brings power from the right side — something the Dodgers have lacked over the past few seasons. His upside is likely that of a platoon player or fourth outfielder, but he can be a pinch-hit terror on left handers. Because he’s limited to a corner, he will be vulnerable to being bumped on and off the roster, but his minor league career has proven his big league worthiness.
While two homegrown senior signees are fitting in with the team now, even more talent is on the way.
The 2016 draft might have brought the current crown jewel of the Dodger senior signees in Tony Gonsolin. Splitting time between hitting and pitching at St. Mary’s, the Dodgers turned Gonsolin’s athleticism loose to develop full-time on the mound. He rewarded them quickly with solid work from the pen, but turned another corner when he was moved to the rotation, and now sits as one of the top pitching prospects in the system.
The Dodgers development staff helped Gonsolin build strength and stamina to turn an above-average fastball into one with plus velocity. He sits around 94 mph with the ability to reach higher when needed. Gonsolin’s biggest addition has been a biting splitter that he commands in the upper 80s. With a pair of breaking balls to round out the profile and above-average command to boot, Gonsolin has been the total package on the mound the last two seasons.
Gonsolin is expected to make his major league debut Wednesday, with the chance to make it a long stint with Rich Hill out. Gonsolin’s stuff should play in either the rotation or as a multi-inning reliever, which could be his eventual October role if he has a strong season with Los Angeles.
With three college seniors signees making or about to make noise on the parent club, it’s surprising still to find more in the pipeline. The next senior sign likely to make waves is outfielder Zach Reks, in 2017 during the tenth round. Reks entered the club with a solid reputation for hitting and plate discipline, but his power has exploded in 2019. Reks has combined for 18 home runs over Double-A and Triple-A so far this year. His batted ball numbers suggest an adjustment to hit for more power, as he’s lifting and pulling the ball at higher rates than any other year.
Reks is a corner bat like Garlick, but brings power from the left side, where the Dodgers are a little crowded at the moment. His power outbreak might tempt other teams at the deadline, or he might make it easier for the Dodgers to part with an outfielder over the off-season. Either way, Reks should be making his major league debut some time in the next year.
Though no seniors signees from the 2018 class have set themselves apart, the Dodgers did take a potentially fast moving fifth year pitcher in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Right hander Aaron Ochsenbein carved up hitters in the Ohio Valley Conference last season and has the profile of a fast moving reliever. Ochsenbein has a power fastball-splitter combination and some deception in his delivery, and his arm strength could make him a potential late inning option down the road.
As arguably the cheapest demographic of amateur talent, the Dodgers have proven that you can still develop older college players that don’t have the leverage to negotiate larger signing bonuses. Not only has this allowed them to save slot money in the first ten rounds, but they are finding big leaguers from a talent pool that has typically lacked for staying power.
While this advantage gap may prove fleeting in today’s game of hyper-innovation, the Dodgers’ head start on the league might produce five solid big leaguers with minimal financial investment.