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Top Ten Prospects: Los Angeles Dodgers
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Alan Matthews
December 9, 2005


Chat Wrap: Alan Matthews took your Dodgers questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.

When the 2005 season began, the Chavez Ravine air was rife with optimism. The Dodgers were fresh off their National League West division title in 2004 and a popular pick to return to the playoffs. But after a promising 12-2 start, their season slipped away and they finished at 71-91, the franchise’s second-worst record (63-99 in 1992) since moving from Brooklyn in 1958.

Injuries and unsuccessful acquisitions spelled doom in the second season under the guidance of general manager Paul DePodesta. Los Angeles players missed 1,150 games due to injury, the most on any Dodgers club in two decades.

While Jeff Kent (two years, $19 million) produced as expected, DePodesta’s two biggest free-agent acquisitions—J.D. Drew (five years, $55 million) and Derek Lowe (four years, $36 million)—were disappointments. Meanwhile, Kent and Milton Bradley engaged in an ugly clubhouse feud.

All the chaos looked mild compared to the front-office turmoil that began the day after the season ended. DePodesta and manager Jim Tracy opted to part ways, with Tracy surfacing with the Pirates and taking pitching coach Jim Colborn and bench coach Jim Lett with him.

DePodesta’s search for a new manager abruptly halted four weeks later when owner Frank McCourt fired him. While McCourt didn’t detail the reasons for the dismissal, he said his criteria for a new GM included communication skills and the ability to evaluate talent. The Dodgers turned to Ned Colletti, assistant GM for the Giants under Brian Sabean for the last nine years.

Asked if the Dodgers were presently capable of putting a division winner on the field, Colletti smiled and said, “No.” But thanks to the deepest and most talented farm system in baseball, the Dodgers are on the cusp of becoming perennial contenders.

Double-A Jacksonville cruised to the Southern League championship (the first for a Dodgers affiliate since 2002). The first five players on this prospect list—righthander Chad Billingsley, third baseman Andy LaRoche, shortstop Joel Guzman, catcher Russell Martin and righty Jonathan Broxton—starred for the Suns, the Minor League Team of the Year.

Most of the Dodgers’ top prospects have been signed since Logan White became scouting director following the 2001 season. His first-round picks have included Billingsley (2003), lefthander Scott Elbert (2004) and third baseman Blake DeWitt (2004), all of whom made this Top 10, and first baseman James Loney (2002) and righty Justin Orenduff (2004), who just missed.

White’s 2005 draft doesn’t initially appear as promising as his first three efforts. Los Angeles forfeited its first-round pick for signing Lowe as a free agent and spent its first pick on Tennessee righthander Luke Hochevar. After a summer with little give and take, Hochevar switched agents in September and agreed to a $2.98 million bonus, then reneged and falsely accused White of trying to coerce him into signing a bad contract. The negotiations don’t appear salvageable.


1. CHAD BILLINGSLEY, rhp      Born: July 29, 1984 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 B-T: R-R
Drafted: HS—Defiance, Ohio, 2003 (1st round)    Signed by: Marty Lamb

Background: Billingsley was just 13 when parents of teammates gasped in disbelief—not over his pitching prowess, but because of the amount he was throwing. After reading “Nolan Ryan’s Pitching Bible,” Billingsley’s father Jim began playing catch and long-tossing with his son before and after games, even if he was pitching that day. The routine helped Billingsley build the arm strength that led to mid-80s velocity by the time he was 15. A talented three-sport athlete, he ruptured his spleen during football practice as a freshman in high school, prompting him to concentrate on baseball. He and Dodgers lefty Chuck Tiffany were USA Baseball teammates in 2002, when Billingsley won the bronze-medal game at the World Junior Championships in Quebec. Two more top Dodgers prospects, catcher Russell Martin (Canada) and shortstop Chin-Lung Hu (Taiwan) also played in the tournament. One of just two high school righthanders taken in the first round of the 2003 draft, Billingsley has justified his $1.375 million bonus. He skipped past low Class A and has ranked as the top pitching prospect in his league in each of his three pro seasons. He first reached Double-A as a 19-year-old in 2004 and excelled there in 2005, combining with Jonathan Broxton on a no-hitter in the opening game of the Southern League playoffs.

Strengths: Outside of being a couple of inches shorter than the blueprint, Billingsley is the prototypical power pitcher. He attacks hitters from a high three-quarters arm slot that he repeats well and allows him to pitch downhill. His frame is rigid and durable in the mold of Tom Seaver’s. Billingsley made progress with his command, approach and all of his pitches in 2005. His 92-95 mph fastball has good life. Coming into the season, his 85-86 mph slider was considered the best in the organization, but his 82-84 mph curveball gives him a second plus breaking ball and could become Billingsley’s primary out pitch. He made strides in 2005 repeating his arm slot on both breaking balls, allowing him to more consistently command them. He works diligently on all phases of pitching.

Weaknesses: Billingsley has a tendency to overthrow, causing his fastball to straighten out and miss up in the zone. His arm occasionally struggles to catch up with his lower body, which results in a flatter slider. His changeup, which he grips like his fastball except for sliding his index finger to the side of the ball, improved but remains rudimentary. He can improve on his game management, as he occasionally allows the pace of a game to dictate his rhythm instead of slowing down when runners are on base.

The Future: Billingsley profiles as a No. 1 or 2 starter, something Los Angeles desperately needs. The big league pitching staff is littered with holes, and he’ll get a chance to show what he can do in big league spring training. Depending on the philosophy of new GM Ned Colletti, the Dodgers could start Billingsley in the back of their Opening Day rotation.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Jacksonville (AA) 13 6 3.51 28 26 2 0 146 116 12 50 162 .215


2. ANDY LaROCHE, 3b        Born: September 13, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Drafted: Grayson County (Texas) CC, 2003 (39th round)   Signed by: Mike Leuzinger

Background: LaRoche signed for $1 million as a 39th-rounder in 2003, giving up the chance to attend Rice. Before the 2005 season, he and his brother, Braves first baseman Adam, bet a fishing trip on who would hit the most homers. Andy won, leading Dodgers farmhands in homers and RBIs.


Strengths:
LaRoche plays the game with passion to go along with three plus tools. His power comes from a compact, controlled stroke. He turns around the liveliest fastballs. He’s a solid defender and owns the organization’s best infield arm. His instincts boost his average range and his hands are dependable.

  

Weaknesses:
LaRoche’s speed is his lone below-average tool. Most of his power is presently to the pull side, and he’ll need to cover the outer half better as he faces more advanced pitching. His swing can get long at times.

  

The Future:
The Dodgers have an immediate need for an everyday third baseman, and LaRoche could fill it, though they’ll probably ship him to Triple-A after he attends major league spring training.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Vero Beach (Hi A) .333 .380 .651 249 54 83 14 1 21 51 19 38 6 1
Jacksonville (AA) .273 .367 .445 227 41 62 12 0 9 43 32 54 2 2


3. JOEL GUZMAN, ss/3b       Born: November 24, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 225
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001  Signed by: Pablo Peguero

Background: Signed for a club- and Dominican-record $2.25 million in 2001, Guzman used a breakout 2004 season to rank atop this list a year ago. He wasn’t as consistent in 2005, teasing the Dodgers with potential he has yet to fully achieve. Yet he more than held his own and batted .316 during Jacksonville’s playoff run.


Strengths:
Guzman’s hitting ability and power are well above average. He keeps his hands inside the ball well and uncorks tape-measure blasts when he makes contact. He’s a dangerous low-ball hitter. A good athlete, he has a plus arm and average speed.

  

Weaknesses:
Guzman’s pitch recognition and plate discipline still need improvement, and like most big players he has a hole on the inner half. He lacks first-step quickness and his defensive actions are too long, which eventually will prompt a move from shortstop. He saw time at third base in 2005, but right field is his likely destination.

  

The Future:
With a strong spring, Guzman could win a corner-infield job in 2006. With shortstop Rafael Furcal signed to a three-year deal as a free agent, Guzman will have to find a new position, so a full year in Triple-A might be the best thing for his development.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Jacksonville (AA) .287 .351 .475 442 53 127 31 2 16 75 42 128 7 3


4. RUSSELL MARTIN, c       Born: February 15, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 202
Drafted: Chipola (Fla.) JC, 2002 (17th round)  Signed by: Clarence Johns

Background: Area scout Clarence Johns (now with the Rockies) scouted Martin as a third baseman and immediately projected him to catch. Martin has become one of the best catching prospects in the game, thanks to his athleticism and ability to absorb instruction.


Strengths:
Martin employs a patient approach at the plate and uses the entire field. His swing is compact and simple, he stays through the ball well and he’s a good situational hitter. He’s comfortable behind the plate and his blocking and receiving skills are advanced for such an inexperienced catcher. He has a strong, accurate arm, good footwork and an efficient exchange on throws.

  

Weaknesses:
Martin has yet to show much power, though he can drive balls out of the park when he stays back. Some scouts believe he’ll be a 15-20 homer threat in time. He has slightly below-average speed, but he’s fast for a catcher and isn’t afraid to take an extra base.

  

The Future:
Martin is similar to former Dodgers catcher Paul LoDuca, with better defensive skills and slightly less offensive ability. He’ll probably begin 2006 in Triple-A but could reach Los Angeles in the second half.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Jacksonville (AA) .311 .430 .423 409 83 127 17 1 9 61 78 69 15 7


5. JONATHAN BROXTON, rhp        Born: June 16, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 240
Drafted: HS—Waynesboro, Ga., 2002 (2nd round)  Signed by: Lon Joyce

Background: Because of his powerful fastball-slider mix, dogged demeanor and husky frame, Broxton long has been targeted as a future closer. When Eric Gagne went down for the season, the Dodgers moved Broxton to the bullpen in Double-A and called him up five weeks later. Albert Pujols was his first strikeout victim.


Strengths:
Broxton’s heavy, sinking fastball climbed from 92-94 mph to 96-98 and he touched triple digits when he moved to the bullpen. His filthy slider sits near 88 mph with good tilt. He’ll flash a two-seamer against lefthanders. His delivery is fluid. He pounds the strike zone.

  

Weaknesses:
Broxton is still learning how to pitch and set up hitters. As a reliever, he didn’t use his changeup often. It’s a fringe-average pitch that could help him against lefties. He’s a big man and will have to watch his weight closely.

  

The Future:
Gagne is expected to be ready for spring training and the Dodgers have a strong complement of relievers with more experience than Broxton. Nonetheless, he should win a job in their bullpen out of spring camp and become Gagne’s eventual successor as closer.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Jacksonville (AA) 5 3 3.17 33 13 0 5 97 79 4 31 107 .223
Los Angeles (NL) 1 0 5.93 14 0 0 0 14 13 0 12 22 .245


6. SCOTT ELBERT, lhp        Born: May 13, 1985 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS—Seneca, Mo., 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Mitch Webster

Background: As a running back, Elbert amassed 2,449 rushing yards and scored 36 touchdowns as a junior before giving up football. The first prep lefty drafted in 2004, he signed for $1.575 million. After getting knocked around in his pro debut, he rated as the No. 1 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2005.


Strengths:
Elbert’s stuff, body and makeup resemble Billingsley’s, plus he’s lefthanded. Elbert isn’t as polished, but he has a live 88-93 mph fastball, a two-plane breaking ball and future-average changeup. He still was touching 94 in instructional league after his first full pro season. He has outstanding mound presence and an aggressive approach.

  

Weaknesses:
Elbert’s breaking ball, which lies somewhere between a curve and a slider, has inconsistent break. He tends to rush his lower half during his delivery and yanks his arm across his body, getting around and under the ball. He’s still refining his circle changeup.

  

The Future:
While some scouts envision Elbert’s power repertoire profiling best at the back of a bullpen, others believe his athleticism will allow him to repeat his delivery and become a frontline starter. He’ll open 2006 at high Class A Vero Beach.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Columbus (Lo A) 8 5 2.66 25 24 1 0 115 83 8 57 128 .200


7. BLAKE DeWITT, 3b       Born: August 20, 1985 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 195
Drafted: HS—Sikeston, Mo., 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Mitch Webster

Background: The consensus best high school hitting prospect in the 2004 draft class, DeWitt has justified the hype since signing for $1.2 million. A career .289 hitter, he finished his first full season by hitting .419 in high Class A and adding a homer in the Florida State League playoffs.


Strengths:
DeWitt’s classic lefthanded swing is smooth and controlled, and he repeats it easily. He sets his hands with a good load and generates good bat speed and leverage, the main ingredients of his plus raw power. He shows a feel for the strike zone, though he can improve his pitch recognition and ability to use all fields. He has a slightly above-average arm.

  

Weaknesses:
DeWitt’s swing gets loopy when he doesn’t trust his hands. He tends to drift on breaking balls from lefthanders. He’s a below-average runner and an adequate defensive third baseman.

  

The Future:
With Andy LaRoche ahead of him, DeWitt got a look at second base during instructional league and fared well. His instincts and aptitude should allow him to handle the move if necessary. He’ll continue his development at third base in high Class A in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Columbus (Lo A) .283 .333 .428 481 66 136 31 3 11 65 34 79 0 1
Vero Beach (Hi A) .419 .438 .613 31 4 13 3 0 1 7 1 3 0 0


8. MATT KEMP, of      Born: September 23, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 215
Drafted: HS—Midwest City, Okla., 2003 (6th round)  Signed by: Mike Leuzinger

Background: Coming out of high school, Kemp was known mostly for his prowess on the basketball court, but the Dodgers liked his potential and signed him. He made as much improvement as anyone in the organization this season. He broke Adrian Beltre’s Vero Beach franchise record for homers, though 22 of his 27 came at home.


Strengths:
Kemp has big-time raw power and an aggressive approach. He has strong, quick hands and good bat speed. He kept collapsing on his back side early in 2005, causing him to pop up balls, but he adjusted and later hit the top half of the ball consistently. He shows good instincts in the outfield, above-average speed and a plus arm that plays in right field, where he likely will play more often as he fills out and loses some quickness.

  

Weaknesses:
Kemp’s pitch recognition is rudimentary at best. He’s a dead-fastball hitter early in counts, making him vulnerable to changeups. He has a tendency to stride off the ball.

  

The Future:
Kemp’s ceiling is considerable and he could develop into a .275 hitter with 25-30 homers annually. He’ll continue refining his game at Double-A in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Vero Beach (Hi A) .306 .349 .569 418 76 128 21 4 27 90 25 92 23 6


9. ETANISLAO ABREU, 2b       Born: November 13, 1984 B-T: B-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 172
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002   Signed by: Pablo Peguero

Background: Abreu got off to a slow start until hitting coordinator George Hendrick and Vero Beach hitting coach Dan Radison moved him off the plate, which made Abreu less pull-conscious. He won the Florida State League batting title, thanks in part to a .438 average in June.


Strengths:
Abreu has a live body and good tools across the board. His excellent hand-eye coordination allows him to make consistent sharp contact, and he has the strong wrists and bat speed to hit 15-plus homers annually in the big leagues. Defensively, Abreu has outstanding actions, soft hands, good range and enough arm to play shortstop. He is an above-average runner.

  

Weaknesses:
Abreu needs to shorten his swing from the right side. He also has a tendency to get his front foot down a tick late when he swings. He must become more selective and get stronger.

  

The Future:
If the Dodgers move Blake DeWitt to second base, they could be faced with a difficult decision in 2008, as both he and Abreu profile as solid everyday players who should require no more than two more seasons in the minors. Abreu is headed to Double-A for now.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Vero Beach (Lo A) .327 .356 .452 394 54 129 23 7 4 43 15 56 14 10
Jacksonville (AA) .250 .284 .323 96 10 24 3 2 0 9 4 21 0 2


10. CHIN-LUNG HU, ss       Born: February 2, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-9 Wt: 150
Signed: Taiwan, 2003   Signed by: Pat Kelly/Vincent Liao

Background: One scout described Vero Beach’s double-play combo of Hu and Abreu as “the traveling circus show” because of their penchant for defensive highlights. Hu finished second to Abreu in the Florida State League batting race, then hit .343 for Taiwan at the World Cup tournament following the season.


Strengths:
While Abreu is a plus defender, Hu is off the charts. He’s slightly undersized but wiry strong with outstanding body control and pure shortstop actions. His range is extraordinary, as are his hands, and his arm and speed are both above average. Hu made an adjustment at the plate, curtailing his leg kick, which improved his balance and prevented him from flying open during his swing. He has surprising pop, uses the whole field and a feel for the strike zone.

  

Weaknesses:
Hu has a tendency to bail on good breaking balls and he needs to become more selective. His small frame doesn’t lend considerable room for projection.

  

The Future:
Hu should be a .270 hitter with 10 home runs annually in the big leagues. Ticketed for Double-A, he should reach Los Angeles by the end of 2007.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Vero Beach (Hi A) .313 .347 .430 470 80 147 29 1 8 56 19 40 23 6


Photo Credits:
Billilngsley: Rick Battle
Blake DeWitt: Robert Gurganus
Abreu, Kemp, LaRoche: Bill Mitchell
Broxton, Elbert, Guzman, Martin: Steve Moore
Hu: Jon SooHoo

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