Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
If you were perusing this series back in 2016 you would have read:
The Lottery Ticket: Keibert Ruiz (C): The Dodgers have had a knack for developing offensive-minded catchers and Ruiz could be the next one in line. Signed for less than $150,000, he’s another player that shows Los Angeles can really scout and develop young players. Ruiz, 18, played in a good hitter’s league in 2016 but the .354 average, 22 extra base hits and 23 strikeouts in 189 at-bats were impressive nonetheless. He shows enough skill behind the plate to stick there as long as he can improve his throwing. The switch-hitter could open up 2017 in full-season ball as a teenager if he has a strong spring.
Now on to the new stuff:
First Taste of The Show: Alex Verdugo, OF: Even with their off-season purge of a number of outfielders, the Dodgers have strong outfield depth which means Verdugo — who is 110% ready for the Majors — will be stuck in triple-A yet again. The young outfielder can hit .300 falling out of bed with his outstanding all-field approach, great eye and bat control. The biggest knock on him is that he doesn’t hit for a ton of power but it’s by choice and he possesses lots of raw pop — he’s just more of a throw-back player and that’s OK. Baseball needs players like Verdugo. The only other concern I have (which perhaps has played into the Dodgers reluctance to commit to him) is that he has some questionable makeup/maturity although I haven’t heard of anything specific for quite some time. A trade might be the best thing for Verdugo but the club also knows how valuable he is so the price is very, very high.
The Draft Pick: Braydon Fisher, RHP: The Dodgers draft probably didn’t go as well as hoped. They took a huge flyer on an injured pitcher in the second round but then failed to sign their first overall pick (J.T. Ginn, who I liked a lot with that pick). So let’s talk briefly about Fisher, the club’s fourth rounder. Fisher is understandably raw as a prep pick but he’s athletic and has a promising frame. My concern lies in his arm action. He has a high, three-quarter slot but he short-arms the ball, which could lead to command/control issues and might also make it hard to get consistently-good break on the breaking ball. He’s a long-term project.
The Riser: Gavin Lux, SS: Lux made a huge jump up most prospect rankings this past winter based on a strong offensive season in 2018. But I’m not convinced, yet, and want to see another strong season in 2019 at double-A/triple-A. Lux’s breakout with the bat came at high-A ball in the California League, which is known for artificially inflating stat lines with their hitter-friendly ball parks. With that said, Lux does have a nice balanced approach at the plate and really watches the ball into the catcher’s glove. His BB-K of 57-88 was impressive and wouldn’t really be park-affected. So there might just be something here. But the thing that worries me the most is that his swing is long and he might struggle against consistently good velocity without some adjustments. I’m interested to see if he can continue to hit for a decent average.
The Fallen: Jeren Kendall, OF: The Dodgers knew they were taking a project in Kendall, who was very raw with the bat despite being drafted out of the college ranks. They invested in the raw potential and strong athletic ability. So far, though, the experiment has not gone well. Kendall shows little to no feel at the plate and failed to benefit from the favorable hitting environment in 2018 at high-A ball. He struck out an alarming 158 times in just 114 games. He doesn’t need to hit for power to have value so I would completely overhaul his approach to focus on just putting the ball in play and driving balls into the gap. He has blazing speed and great athleticism so he should be able to maintain a strong BABIP. Kendall just needs to put bat to ball. He also has strong defensive skills and could be a plus fielder in center.
The 2019 Contributor: Dustin May, RHP: May has risen steadily up the Dodgers prospect ranking and is on the cusp of impacting the big league club. The right-hander has an enviable pitcher’s frame and stands 6-6. When he’s going well, he leverages his height to create outstanding downward plane on his offerings and opposing hitters generate a ton of ground-ball outs. He has a busy delivery and high leg kick but his athleticism allows him to keep good balance and throw strikes. With that said, May does struggle to repeat his arm slot. He shows a strong fastball-curveball mix with a developing cutter. I’d like to see him have move velo separation between his fastball and changeup, but the latter offering shows promise. I see No. 3 starter potential here.
The 2019 Sleeper: Gerardo Carrillo, RHP: Carrillo isn’t a big pitcher but he has promise nonetheless. He looks extremely comfortable and confident on the mound while filling up the strike zone. He has a strong fastball-changeup combo and flashes an above-average curveball with good break. Carrillo also repeats his delivery well and has a slingy type of arm action from a low-three-quarter slot. If he can show durability over a full season then the Dodgers have something interesting here and he could be a relatively quick mover.
The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Leonel Valera, SS: Valera is a raw but toolsy young prospect who will need a fair bit of polish to realize his full potential. He looks like he’ll have strong defensive value on the left side of the infield with a strong arm. With that said, he needs to get stronger to handle good velocity. He struck out a lot in 2018 and really struggled with breaking balls. He’s aggressive at the plate but not overly so. Valera, 19, has shown a willingness to use whole field which bodes well because, even if he gets stronger, he may never hit for much power. He also has good speed thanks to his above-average athleticism.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.