Los Angeles Dodgers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Bill Ballew
1. Ben Diggins, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Arizona, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Tom Thomas.
Background: Teams entered last years draft with mixed feelings about Diggins. Some clubs liked his bat, others preferred his arm and several teams were interested in both. That was the case in 1998, when the Cardinals used a supplemental first-round pick to draft Diggins in hopes of developing both aspects of his game. He instead attended the University of Arizona and went 10-4, 3.83 as a draft-eligible sophomore last spring. Diggins wound up as the 17th overall pick, but didnt come to terms until the day before classes were to resume for Arizonas fall semester, netting a club-record $2.2 million signing bonus. He reported to instructional league and proved to be even better than advertised.
Strengths: Diggins has a 96 mph fastball that was clocked as high as 98 at Arizona. He also throws a good changeup and is continuing to work on the consistency of a slider that already is average and has all the makings of a plus pitch. Yet the Dodgers are most impressed with Diggins athleticism, especially for a 6-foot-7 pitcher. Comparisons to Dave Kingman and Dave Winfield have been common. Considering that Chin-Feng Chen hit just six homers while Willie Aybar drilled four in 2000, a case could be made that Diggins has the organizations best power potential. But hes definitely sticking to the mound.
Weaknesses: Inexperience is the biggest hurdle for Diggins to clear at this point. Some scouts are concerned about his tendency to throw his fastball across his body. His delivery and mechanics need fine-tuning, which will enable him to control his arm action and improve his overall command. Diggins also showed fatigue late in the college season, meaning hell need to improve his conditioning to handle the longer pro season. Of course, focusing strictly on pitching instead of playing a position in between starts will keep him fresher.
The Future: Diggins is coming off an outstanding showing in instructional league that included several overpowering performances. Hes expected to open the 2001 season at Class A Wilmington. The Dodgers believe that once Diggins gets his feet wet in the pro ranks, he could move quickly.
2. Chin-Feng Chen, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Signed: Taiwan, 1999. Signed by: Jack Zduriencik.
Background: Chen had a difficult first season in Double-A. Named the organizations top player in 1999 after becoming the first 30-30 performer in high Class A California League annals, Chen hit .344 last April before batting just .262 with four homers during the seasons final four months. He was ranked only as the 20th-best prospect in the Texas League, an indication that he did not make a good impression on managers.
Strengths: Chen is the most natural baseball player and has the best power in the system. He has outstanding instincts on the basepaths and in the field. Chen also possesses above-average strength and the hitting ability to be a middle-of-the-lineup run producer in the majors.
Weaknesses: While his throws are accurate, Chens arm strength is below average. His speed is no better than average, which led to his being caught 15 times in 38 basestealing attempts last year. When slumping, Chen has difficulty catching up to plus fastballs.
The Future: Chen had surgery to remove scar tissue in his right shoulder after a strong start in the Arizona Fall League. Hes still on pace to become the first Taiwan native to reach the majors. This spring will determine whether he returns to Double-A or moves up to Triple-A.
3. Hong-Chih Kuo, lhp
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 187. Signed: Taiwan, 1999. Signed by: Jack Zduriencik.
Background: Ranked third on this list last winter after receiving a reported $1.25 million signing bonus, Kuo made one dominating appearance in 2000 by striking out seven batters in three innings before feeling a minor twinge in his left elbow. To everyones surprise, he required Tommy John surgery, costing him the remainder of the season.
Strengths: The Dodgers believe Kuo is one of the most talented pitchers in baseball. His forte is a 95-97 mph fastball. With a flexible upper body and a thick, strong lower body, he has all the makings of a power pitcher. The Dodgers also like his high-energy personality and aggressiveness on the mound.
Weaknesses: Kuo relied strictly on his fastball as an amateur in Taiwan, and surgery slowed the necessary improvement with his curveball and changeup. While hes expected to come back as strong as before his operation, the procedure can take two full years for a complete recovery.
The Future: Kuo has given every indication hes ahead of schedule with his rehab. The Dodgers believe hell be at full strength by the end of spring training and able to open the season at Class A Vero Beach.
4. Jason Repko, ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Drafted: HSWest Richland, Wash., 1999 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Hank Jones.
Background: The 2000 season was a wasted one for Repko, who battled a hamstring problem early in the campaign, followed by a strained back. Though he got just 17 at-bats at short-season Yakima, the Dodgers believe his progress hasnt been hindered, based on his showings in spring training and instructional league.
Strengths: Repko is a top-of-the-lineup hitter who has attracted comparisons to Paul Molitor. His offensive potential is as high as anyones in the organization. He brings considerable energy and athleticism to the lineup with his outstanding speed. Repko continues to display more power than most scouts expected he would have upon signing out of high school. His arm strength is also above-average.
Weaknesses: The shortstop needs experience more than anything else. A natural athlete with five tools, Repko tries to do too much at times, especially on defense. The Dodgers believe his errors will decrease as he learns the nuances of pro ball.
The Future: Last years injuries should have no effect on Repko in 2001. Hell experience his first taste of a full-season league by opening the year at Class A Wilmington.
5. Luke Prokopec, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. Signed: Australia, 1994. Signed by: Brian Cakebread/Jim Stoeckel.
Background: The Australian made major strides in his second season in the Double-A Texas League after he was removed from the 40-man roster prior to the 2000 campaign. Prokopec ranked second in the circuit with a 2.45 ERA, then received a September promotion to Los Angeles and won his second start. He ranked as the TLs eighth-best prospect.
Strengths: Prokopec reaches the low 90s with a fastball that looks better than it may be, thanks to a hard slider that was the best breaking ball in the TL last year. His control is the best in the system. Hes a warrior with outstanding aggressiveness.
Weaknesses: After signing as an outfielder, Prokopec didnt begin pitching as a professional until 1997, and his inexperience shows at times. Though not afraid to pitch inside, he needs to continue to work both sides of the plate while improving his changeup.
The Future: The Dodgers were criticized for promoting Prokopec instead of allowing him to pitch for Australia in the Olympics. That cup of coffee, however, could mean the difference this spring on whether Prokopec earns a job in the Los Angeles rotation or returns to Triple-A.
6. Mike Judd, rhp
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 217. Drafted: Grossmont (Calif.) JC, 1995 (9th round). Signed by: Gordon Blakeley (Yankees).
Background: Judd has accumulated 46 innings with the Dodgers over the last four years while spending most of the past three seasons as a Triple-A starter. Acquired from the Yankees in 1996 for lefthander Billy Brewer, Judd is coming off his best year in Triple-A and finally looking more like a pitcher than a thrower.
Strengths: Judds entire repertoire consists of hard stuff. He works off his 93-96 mph fastball, which has excellent movement and moves up and in against righthanders. Judd also throws a good, sharp slider as well as an average changeup and curveball.
Weaknesses: Judd needs to be more consistent with his delivery. Smoother mechanics also will improve his command. He continues to throw too many breaking balls early in the count instead of going right after hitters with his heat.
The Future: The Dodgers continue to be infatuated with Judds potential, though he has yet to live up to expectations at the higher levels. Most in the Los Angeles front office believe this will be the year he puts everything together by earning a job in the major league bullpen.
7. Willy Aybar, 3b
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000. Signed by: Pablo Peguero.
Background: The Dodgers signed Aybar in January 2000 to a $1.4 million deal, which established a new high for a Dominican amateur. He showed the ability to make adjustments against more experienced players and ranked as the 14th-best prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.
Strengths: Scouts rave about the different sound the ball makes off Aybars bat compared to most players. Though aggressive at the plate, he remains under control most of the time. The switch-hitter has power from both sides that should enable him to hit 30-plus homers annually. Aybar also made the move to third after playing shortstop as an amateur. He has good hands, a consistent glove and a strong arm.
Weaknesses: Not unlike most players his age, Aybar needs to add strength, which should occur naturally as his body continues to mature. More experience is also paramount at this stage in his career.
The Future: Aybar handled an advanced Rookie league last year with nary a problem. The Dodgers will be patient because of his youth and may have him return to Great Falls in 2001, though a promotion to Wilmington is a definite possibility.
8. Hiram Bocachica, 2b
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 165. Drafted: HSPuerto Rico, 1994 (1st round). Signed by: Juan Loyola (Expos).
Background: Bocachica had one of the best seasons in the organization last year and was named the second baseman on Baseball Americas Triple-A all-star team. He also performed well during his first cup of coffee in the majors. Bocachica could turn out to be the best thing to come out of a regrettable July 1998 trade with the Expos that also brought Mark Grudzielanek and Carlos Perez for four prospects.
Strengths: Bocachica gave every indication that he has put the finishing touches on all aspects of his game and is close to being a polished product. An exciting offensive performer with his excellent speed, he combines good strength and bat speed to drive the ball into the gaps. He also has an above-average arm and is a steady fielder.
Weaknesses: The Dodgers see Bocachica as a utilityman. He tried the outfield during winter ball, but the results werent great. Dogged by a reputation for a lack of dedication, he has proven his critics wrong and simply must make adjustments against better competition.
The Future: The Dodgers plan to give Bocachica a shot this spring at earning a job as a reserve infielder in the big leagues.
9. Joe Thurston, ss
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Sacramento CC, 1999 (4th round). Signed by: First Last.
Background: Thurston was the Dodgers minor league player of the year in 2000, his first full season. He impressed California League managers enough last year to earn recognition as the loops most exciting player, the shortstop on the postseason all-star team and the circuits 17th-best prospect.
Strengths: Thurstons game is built around his outstanding speed and quickness. He makes solid contact and uses his legs to get on base, enabling him to lead the Cal League in hits. He has excellent range and a lightning-quick first step out of the box and in the field. Hes a good baserunner who was second in the system in stolen bases last year.
Weaknesses: While some scouts like Thurston as a shortstop, his high total of throwing errors could land him at second base. His defense remains raw, though he has improved immensely with his routes to grounders.
The Future: Thurston took his game to a higher level by learning how to hit to the opposite field. Possessing impeccable character, hell move quickly to the top if he has the same type of season this year at Double-A Jacksonville that he did in 2000 at San Bernardino.
10. Chad Ricketts, rhp
Age: 26. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Polk (Fla.) CC, 1995 (9th round). Signed by: Joe Housey (Cubs).
Background: Acquired last winter from the Cubs along with Terry Adams and Brian Stephenson in exchange for Eric Young and Ismael Valdes, Ricketts was the Dodgers most effective Triple-A reliever in 2000. He topped Albuquerque in appearances while placing second in ERA and third in saves.
Strengths: Ricketts has an intimidating presence, combining above-average height and stuff to dominate out of the bullpen. His fastball is clocked consistently in the low 90s and possesses good side-to-side movement. He also throws an above-average changeup and a slider that showed solid improvement over the course of last season.
Weaknesses: Ricketts tends to lose confidence in his second and third pitches and winds up going exclusively with his fastball when he needs to throw strikes. With his large frame, his delivery needs regular fine-tuning in order to maintain his control.
The Future: Ricketts has an outside shot of earning a job in the Los Angeles bullpen this spring. The more likely scenario, though, has him returning to Triple-A to gain more consistency with his secondary pitches.
Rest of the Best:
11. Brennan King, 3b
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