Los Angeles Dodgers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Bill Ballew
1. Ricardo Rodriguez, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Pablo Peguero.
Background: Rodriguez won a total of five games in three years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before making his U.S. debut in 2000. It was a smashing success, as he won the pitching triple crown in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. Tested by skipping two levels to the high Class A Florida State League last year, he responded with another strong performance. Rodriguez topped the FSL in strikeouts and ranked among the leaders in wins, ERA and innings. Both the FSL and the Dodgers named him their pitcher of the year, and he was picked for the Futures Game at midseason.
Strengths: Rodriguez has all the ingredients to be a solid No. 2 or 3 starter in the big leagues. He has a good two-seam fastball that registers consistently in the 91-93 mph range and as high as 95. He mixes his heater well with a plus curveball that has a hard break and acts like a slider. He added a changeup during instructional league in 2000 and used it extensively last year. What made Rodriguez most effective last season was that he was willing to throw all three of his pitches at any time in the count. He has a loose arm and above-average command, moves the ball around in the strike zone and is willing to pitch inside. Rodriguez also impresses with his maturity and the way he battles on the mound. He shows the ability to be an innings-eater at higher levels.
Weaknesses: The Dodgers say Rodriguez needs to refine his mechanics. While some observers felt that he dominated the Pioneer League because of his age, he had no problems jumping all the way to high Class A. If he can prove himself again at Double-A Jacksonville this year, that should erase all doubts.
The Future: The Dodgers have shown plenty of patience with Rodriguez and hope hell move more rapidly through Double-A and Triple-A. Hes developing into a complete pitcher, and his competitive streak should continue to take him up the ladder. Los Angeles has milked the international market for plenty of starters through the years, and Rodriguez has put himself next in line. With the rash of injuries striking the Dodgers rotation, he could get his chance at some point in 2003.
2. Chin-Feng Chen, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 189. Signed: Taiwan, 1999. Signed by: Jack Zduriencik
Background: The Dodgers top prospect after the 1999 season before falling a notch following 2000, Chen overcame offseason surgery on his right shoulder to reestablish himself as a top prospect. He regained his stroke in the first half as a DH at high Class A Vero Beach before crushing the ball in Double-A. He also displayed his power for Taiwan in the World Cup in November.
Strengths: Chen has middle-of-the-lineup power and makes quick adjustments. He kills fastballs and is adept at hitting breaking pitches. While his speed is below-average, Chen is an effective baserunner because of his solid instincts.
Weaknesses: The Dodgers want to see Chen have continued success against better competition. He needs to stay healthy and keep making adjustments against veteran pitchers. Even for a left fielder, his arm is average at best.
The Future: Chen is back on track toward becoming the first Taiwanese player to reach the major leagues. He has proven to be resilient and has the tools of a run producer. His next stop should be Triple-A, with a September callup to Los Angeles a possibility.
3. Joel Guzman, ss
Age: 16. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001. Signed by: Pablo Peguero.
Background: The Dodgers wasted little time returning to the Dominican Republic after being barred for a full year as punishment for their illegal signing of Adrian Beltre. Los Angeles outbid 20 teams and inked Guzman on July 2 to a $2.25 million bonus, the largest ever given to a Dominican player.
Strengths: Guzman is a potential five-tool talent whom the Dodgers compare to Alex Rodriguez. An outstanding athlete, he has a projectable body and plus power from the right side of the plate. For his age, he has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. Guzman speaks fluent English and shows a tremendous aptitude and thirst to improve his game.
Weaknesses: Guzman has yet to make his pro debut and is several years away from the majors. It remains to be seen how hell adjust to professional pitchers who are significantly older than he is, though the Dodgers arent worried.
The Future: Guzman will be moved slowly during the early stages of his development. Hes expected to begin 2002 in extended spring training before moving to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in June. Hes probably at least five years away from the majors.
4. Ben Diggins, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Arizona, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Tom Thomas.
Background: Ranked as the top prospect in the organization last winter, Diggins had an uneven pro debut last season at low Class A Wilmington. He struggled with his velocity at midseason and battled a hamstring problem early in the campaign. He did end on a high note, going 5-0, 1.57 in his final eight starts.
Strengths: After reaching 98 mph with his fastball and consistently hitting the mid-90s in college, Diggins was in the 87-89 mph range at Wilmington. He finally returned to the low 90s with good movement in August, while showing improvements with his curveball. He impressed the Dodgers with his competitiveness and ability to pitch. Diggins played both ways at Arizona and offers plenty of power at the plate.
Weaknesses: Like many tall pitchers, Diggins struggles with the consistency of his mechanics. He has been working on a changeup since he signed but the pitch still needs a good deal of refinement.
The Future: Diggins ceiling remains as high as anyone in the organization. Some scouts believe hes a better prospect as a power hitter, but the Dodgers see him as a pitcher, possibly as a closer. His development will continue this year in high Class A.
5. Joe Thurston, ss
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Sacramento CC, 1999 (4th round). Signed by: Mark Sheehy.
Background: Los Angeles minor league player of the year in 2000, Thurston experienced adversity last season but worked his way through it. He struggled at the plate in Double-A before adapting in the second half. Thurston capped his year by finishing third in the Arizona Fall League batting race at .369.
Strengths: Thurston succeeds with his tremendous heart, along with his good speed and quickness. He takes the extra base and possesses enough speed to steal 25 bases annually in the major leagues. He does the little things well with the bat, such as sacrificing, moving guys over and hitting to the opposite field. Defensively, he has excellent range at second base.
Weaknesses: Thurston likes to jump on the first pitch in an at-bat, but he could stand some more patience and work the count to give him more advantages. Moved from shortstop to second base last year, hes just an adequate defender because his hands arent particularly soft.
Background: Known as Joey Ballgame, Thurston was added to the 40-man roster in November. Hell move up to Triple-A in 2002.
6. Hong-Chih Kuo, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Signed: Taiwan, 1999. Signed by: Jack Zduriencik, Acey Kohrogi.
Background: Kuo continued his battle back from Tommy John surgery last year by rehabbing in extended spring training and making limited appearances in the Gulf Coast League. The Dodgers believe the Taiwan native, who signed for $1.25 million in June 1999, is nearly back to where he was before blowing out his left elbow during his first professional start.
Strengths: Kuo has all the makings of a power pitcher. He features a 95-97 mph fastball, a flexible upper body and thick legs that allow him to drive off the mound, like Tom Seaver. The Dodgers also love his aggressiveness.
Weaknesses: Surgery retarded the development of his curveball and changeup, but Kuo has shown the desire and talent necessary to improve those pitches. They should become at least average major league offerings. The biggest concern centers on Kuo remaining healthy over the course of a full season.
The Future: Kuo was tentative in 2001 and experienced some tenderness in his elbow during instructional league. The Dodgers believe hell be significantly stronger and more confident in high Class A this year.
7. Willy Aybar, 3b
Age: 19. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000. Signed by: Felix Feliz.
Background: Before signing Joel Guzman, the Dodgers had the previous record for a Dominican bonus when they gave Aybar $1.4 million. Though his power output in low Class A was nearly identical to his production in Rookie ball, Los Angeles wasnt disappointed with his performance in his first full year as a pro.
Strengths: The Dodgers believe Aybar will be a power-hitting machine. He has a sweet swing and the potential to drive balls from both sides of the plate. His quick, strong wrists keep him from being fooled often. At third base, Aybar shows outstanding hands and a good arm.
Weaknesses: Aybar needs to add strength to his growing body, in order to get more pop as well as endurance. He has a good eye, but improvement with his pitch recognition will increase his average.
The Future: Los Angeles may have pushed Aybar last year, though his numbers at Great Falls in 2000 merited a promotion. The Dodgers are in no hurry to get Aybar to the big leagues, preferring instead to see him develop a strong foundation of success. Hell head to high Class A this spring.
8. Jose Rojas, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 150. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999. Signed by: Pablo Peguero.
Background: Rojas matured to the point last season that more than one instructor in the Dodgers system described him as "a little Pedro Martinez." Pitching in his first full season in the United States, the righthander led the low Class A South Atlantic League in ERA.
Strengths: Rojas reached the mid-90s early in 2001 and settled in the 92-94 mph range. His fastball is enhanced because he can throw his changeup for strikes and at any point in the count. He also has exceptional control and doesnt make many mistakes in the strike zone.
Weaknesses: Rojas flashed a plus slider last season but never got it consistent enough to use in crucial situations. If he can add a third pitch to his repertoire, the Dodgers say hell be unhittable. His stature will lead to continual questions about his durability, though he hasnt had any problems to this point.
The Future: While his rapid progress last year was a surprise to some, Rojas showed enough that the Dodgers had to restrain themselves from promoting him to high Class A until the end of August. Hell return there in 2002.
9. Joel Hanrahan, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HSNorwalk, Iowa, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Mitch Webster.
Background: Promoted to low Class A as a teenager in his first full year, Hanrahan held up well. He led Wilmington in starts and innings while ranking second in strikeouts. He had success against older competition while making strides with the command of all three of his pitches.
Strengths: Hanrahan throws a 91-92 mph fastball, which alone didnt make him stand out on a Wilmington staff with several quality arms. What did separate him from the pack was his wicked slider and deceptive changeup. He isnt afraid to throw his change, which keeps hitters off balance. His projectable frame makes him a potential workhorse. Despite getting off to a 1-4, 6.33 start last year, Hanrahan didnt panic and instead made steady progress.
Weaknesses: Hanrahan can refine his mechanics and command, and his willingness to accept instruction should make those tasks easier. The Dodgers say Hanrahan simply needs time to continue working his way up the ladder.
The Future: Hanrahan is advanced for a high school pitcher out of Iowa, which doesnt have a spring high school baseball season. The Dodgers hope hell build on his success this year in high Class A.
10. Jorge Nunez, ss
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 158. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1995. Signed by: Epy Guerrero (Blue Jays).
Background: Acquired in the Shawn Green-Raul Mondesi trade with the Blue Jays prior to the 2000 season, Nunez led the Southern League in stolen bases last year. His performance enabled Nunez to return to the Dodgers 40-man roster in the offseason after he was left off the year before.
Strengths: Nunez is a tools player who can do several things well. He has plus speed and outstanding quickness that he uses on the basepaths and in the field. His arm was rated as the strongest among SL infielders last year.
Weaknesses: Nunez hit 14 homers in his last year in the Blue Jays system but hasnt shown the same kind of power since the trade. He needs to make more contact instead of trying to hit home runs. His offense will improve if he can tighten his strike zone. If he cant, then hell have to be relegated to the bottom of the batting order.
The Future: The Dodgers say Nunez is just beginning to mature physically and get comfortable with his body. Hell open 2002 in Triple-A. Los Angeles trade for Cesar Izturis has at least temporarily taken away Nunez status as the shortstop of the future.
Rest of the Best:
11. Koyie Hill, c
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