The Dodgers system has it all: Impact talent, depth, excellent scouts and a proven player development system that just might be the best in the game.
The Graduate: Cody Bellinger, OF/1B: I had no doubt that Bellinger was going to be an impact player at the big league level but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. I also — most certainly — did not expect him to slug 38 home runs as a rookie in 2017. The freshman has struck out too much this season but the power and the on-base percentage makes the swing-and-miss entirely palatable. Known as an excellent defender at first base who can also play a solid outfield, Bellinger’s work out in the pastures left something to be desired while his work in the infield was as expected. That’s kind of bad news, though, since injured, veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez still has $21.5 million owed to him in 2018. As a result, Bellinger may have to spend a full season in the outfield until the contract expires. Once he settles in at first base for good, he should be there for a decade or more.
First Taste of The Show: Walker Buehler, RHP: The Dodgers got an absolute steal with Buehler when elbow surgery in his draft year knocked him down from the top five picks to the Dodgers at No. 24. He has a chance to have four better-than-average offerings — including the heater that can hit the upper-90s. Buehler, 23, spent time in the bullpen in the second half of the year but make no mistake about it, his future is as a No. 1 or 2 starter — if he stays healthy. The Dodgers have a veteran-heavy starting rotation but this freshman should make his way (permanently) into Los Angeles’ big league plans in 2018. With the likes of Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Buehler (plus the Kershaw guy, who’s really not that old), the organization has an enviable group of young stars to build around.
The Stud: Alex Verdugo, OF: I’m a huge Verdugo fan — and have been since his pro debut — but I think he’ll settle in at a level just below the Seagers and the Bellingers. He’s going to be an average-to-above-average player whose numbers are a little inflated by hitting in front of that pair. Verdugo has an advanced approach at the plate and really understands what he’s doing — but he sacrifices pop to hit for average and make consistent contact. He’ll probably make an excellent No. 2 hitter who will score a ton of runs and perhaps flirt with a batting title or two if he keeps the current approach. A former pitcher, Verdugo has an absolute rocket for an arm and has a lot of potential defensive value — especially if he moves to right field on a full-time basis.
The Draft Pick: Jeren Kendall, OF: I wouldn’t have loved this first-round pick for many organizations, but the Dodgers have an uncanny ability to bring the best out of players with excellent tools. Kendall is raw for a college product and likely never will hit for a high average due to his propensity for striking out but he has raw power, a ton of speed and well-above-average defensive potential. I’m really interested to see what the Dodgers’ player development staff can do with him. He has a chance to be an all-star even if he hits .250.
The Riser: Keibert Ruiz, C: Ruiz has been a sleeper favorite of mine for a couple of years but he’s probably now shaken that “sleeper” label. Catchers that can consistently hit .300 are far and few between — but Ruiz has done that three years in a row as a teenager. The switch-hitter now has a .330 career average in 201 pro games. The only things he doesn’t do really well are: 1. Hit for power (although he has gap power and he’s getting stronger; and 2. Take a free pass; he walked just 25 times in 101 games in 2017 but he also doesn’t strike out much. Defensively, there is little doubt that Ruiz is going to stick behind the plate, which only increases his value. He’s going to be an all-star catcher at the big league level.
The Sleeper: Matt Beaty, IF/OF: I was all over Austin Barnes — even from his early days in the Marlins system — and repeatedly said he was going to be a solid big league contributor. Beaty is another player that could develop into an excellent complementary piece for the Dodgers. He’s continued to get better and better with each promotion, he swings from the left side and he can play a variety of positions. He hit more than .300 at double-A in 2017 and came close to posting a .900 OPS. He also has some pop despite making a lot of contact. On the downside, he doesn’t run overly well and isn’t a great defender. As a former 12th round draft pick, Beaty is another perfect example of what a stud development system can do.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.