Los Angeles Dodgers: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Los Angeles Dodgers

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, 2007.

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Los Angeles Dodgers

The Mets may have swept the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, but Los Angeles shouldn't be singing the blues. The previous year, the franchise suffered through its second-worst showing since moving from Brooklyn in 1958 and the faces on the roster were as random as those at a cabstand. Fans' groans grew louder than traffic on the 5 when owner Frank McCourt fired Paul DePodesta and replaced him with Ned Colletti—who had been an assistant GM with the archrival Giants—the club's third general manager in four years.

They weren't groaning after 2006, as most of Colletti's moves worked. He signed veterans, spun trades, promoted rookies and saw the Dodgers move from mediocrity to prosperity. In winning Baseball America's Organization of the Year award, Los Angeles found its way back to the playoffs as a wild card and has the foundation to contend for years to come.

The Dodgers brought several youngsters into the mix last season. Russell Martin seized the catching job earlier than expected and shined both offensively and defensively. Andre Ethier, acquired from the Athletics for volatile outfielder Milton Bradley before the season, carried the club for a stretch at midseason with clutch hitting and power few predicted. Matt Kemp scorched the ball at the outset of a brief big league stint. When James Loney wasn't leading the minors in hitting at Triple-A Las Vegas, he was filling in admirably for the injured Nomar Garciaparra and reasserted himself as a frontline prospect.

On the mound, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton assumed important roles and showed why they're projected as Los Angeles' No. 1 starter and closer of the future. Enigmatic Hong-Chih Kuo resurfaced as the force the Dodgers expected when they acquired when they signed him in 1999. Takashi Saito, a 36-year-old former Japanese big leaguer in his first year in the United States, took over as closer when Eric Gagne got hurt again and amassed 24 saves.

In addition to reinforcements, the farm system also provided lots of trade fodder. Six players among last year's Dodgers top 30 prospects were sent packing, allowing the club to acquire such players as Marlon Anderson, Danys Baez, Wilson Betemit, Mark Hendrickson and Julio Lugo.

The Dodgers graduated or traded nine of their top 17 prospects from a year ago, so the system naturally lost some depth. But it's far from barren. Andy LaRoche and Loney are close to taking over the club's corner-infield jobs, while 2006 first-round pick Clayton Kershaw and 2004 first-rounder Scott Elbert are two of the best lefty pitching prospects in the game.

All four of those players were taken in the five drafts Logan White ran as scouting director. He was promoted to assistant GM for scouting in the offseason, with Tim Hallgren ascending from national crosschecker to replace White. DeJon Watson, formerly a Reds scouting director and most recently an Indians major league scout, takes over as farm director from Terry Collins, who left to manage Japan's Orix Buffaloes.

The Dodgers also made significant changes to their farm system during the reaffiliation process. They moved their high Class A affiliate from Vero Beach (Florida State) to Inland Empire (California), severing a 27-season relationship and signaling a future spring training move out of Dodgertown, and switched their low Class A affiliate from Columbus (South Atlantic) to Great Lakes (Midwest).

1. Andy LaRoche, 3b   Born: Sept. 13, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 200
 Drafted: Grayson County (Texas) CC, 2003 (39th round)Signed by: Mike Leuzinger
Andy LaRocheBackground: The son of former major league all-star Dave and the brother of Braves first baseman Adam, Andy could be the best big leaguer in the family. He graduated early from high school and attended Grayson County (Texas) CC in what would have been the spring of his senior year in 2002. The Padres took him in the 21st round that June as a draft and follow, but strangely made little effort to sign him the following spring. By that point LaRoche had committed to Rice and several clubs viewed him as unsignable. The Dodgers took a 39th-round flier on him in the 2003 draft, and after he raked in the Cape Cod League that summer, they signed him for $1 million. LaRoche established himself as one of the top position players in the minors by slugging 30 homers in 2005, and he fortified that reputation with another strong campaign in 2006. He hit a career-high .315 with 19 homers (including one on the first pitch he saw in Triple-A) despite a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required surgery following the season.

Strengths: Few players can cause a stir in batting practice like LaRoche can. He sometimes will take BP with a 36-ounce bat, which has helped him build remarkable strength in his hands and wrists. He has tremendous power and a ferocious approach, attacking pitches with a quick, leveraged swing. He can drive balls out to all parts of the park, but is at his best when he's hammering them from gap to gap. He lets the ball travel deep in the hitting zone. He's an intelligent hitter who d made strides in 2006 with his plate discipline and willingness to work counts without sacrificing any power. For the first time as a pro, he drew more walks than strikeouts. Defensively, he has good hands and a solid-average arm. He's a reliable third baseman who committed just five errors in 54 games at Triple-A Las Vegas.

Weaknesses: LaRoche can fall into bad habits at the plate, at times losing balance, lengthening his swing and chasing pitches out of the zone when he tries to muscle up. He's geared to pull for power, and his average could suffer unless he tones down his swing. He has below-average range and speed. He always has had a big league mentality and his brashness rubs some the wrong way. The Dodgers are quick to praise him for his grit and determination, and they don't consider his makeup to be a detriment.

The Future: LaRoche profiles as an everyday third baseman and an occasional all-star with a .275-.285 average and 25-30 homer potential. He should be fully recovered by the start of spring training, where he'll compete with Wilson Betemit to start at third base in Los Angeles. If he doesn't win the job, LaRoche likely will play regularly in Triple-A instead of sitting on the big league bench to open the year.
Jacksonville (AA).309.419.483230427113094641326
Las Vegas (AAA).322.400.5502023565141103525323
2. Clayton Kershaw, lhp   Born: March 19, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS-Dallas, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Calvin Jones
Clayton KershawBackground: Kershaw established himself as the best high school prospect in the 2006 draft when he improved his stuff and dominated Texas high school competition last spring. When Andrew Miller fell to the Tigers at No. 6, Kershaw got to the Dodgers at No. 7. He signed for $2.3 million and ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his debut.

Strengths: Kershaw's stuff and body have plenty of projection, and his fastball is already well above-average. He paints both corners with 93-94 mph heat, topping out at 96. His curveball is a plus pitch with 71-77 mph velocity and 1-to-5 tilt. has feel for a circle changeup that could become a third above-average pitch. He fills the strike zone with all three of his pitches. He has a durable frame and repeats his delivery. Laid-back and affable off the field, he's hard-nosed and tough-minded on it.

Weaknesses: Much more advanced than most young pitchers, Kershaw just needs to get more consistent with his pitches. His curve improved exponentially between his junior and senior seasons in high school, but it still gets loopy and hangs in the zone at times.

The Future: Because of his impeccable fastball command, Kershaw should have no problem with older hitters, and he could begin 2007 at the club's new high Class A Inland Empire affiliate. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff, command and makeup.
GCL Dodgers (R)201.951080137280554.201
3. Scott Elbert, lhp   Born: May 13, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS--Seneca, Mo., 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Mitch Webster
Scott ElbertBackground: Elbert grew up less than 10 miles from where assistant general manager Logan White went to grade school. He was an all-Missouri tailback as a high school junior, amassing 2,449 yards and 36 touchdowns before giving up football. The first prep lefty drafted in 2004, he signed for $1.575 million and reached Double-A Jacksonville last year at age 21.

Strengths: The fiercest competitor in the system, Elbert attacks both sides of the plate with his 90-92 mph fastball, which has late life and can reach 96 mph. His two-plane curveball has hard, sharp break. He's merciless against lefthanders, who hit just .156 off him in 2006. He's athletic and durable.

Weaknesses: Elbert doesn't consistently repeat his delivery and occasionally overthrows, which leads to below-average command. He'll power through his curveball, which causes it to flatten out. He hasn't needed his circle changeup much, and it lags behind his other two offerings.

The Future: Dodgers manager Grady Little could be tempted to add him to the big league bullpen in 2007, but Elbert has the stuff to develop into a workhorse No. 2 or 3 starter. He'll probably head back to Double-A to start the season.
Vero Beach (HiA)552.37171500845744197.193
Jacksonville (AA)643.611111006240114476.187
4. James Loney, 1b   Born: May 7, 1984B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS--Missouri City, Texas, 2002 (1st round)Signed by: Chris Smith
James LoneyBackground: Loney was a two-way star on the Elkins High (Missouri City, Texas) team that won the 2002 national championship. When Nomar Gaciaparra began 2006 on the disabled list, Loney made his major league debut, singling off John Smoltz for his first hit. He also had a nine-RBI game at Colorado in September and went 3-for-4 in his lone postseason start. In between, he led the minors in hitting.

Strengths: Loney has an advanced feel for hitting and makes consistent hard contact. He has above-average bat speed and uses his hands well, allowing the barrel to remain in the hitting zone for an extended period. He uses all fields and exhibits plate discipline. He's a well above-average first baseman with supple hands and a plus arm, and he saw some time in the outfield in 2006. He's a hard worker with strong makeup.

Weaknesses: Loney's 12 home runs in 2006 were a career high, and there's a wide range of opinion regarding his long-term power production. His swing path is fairly flat, and he could be more of a high-average doubles hitter in the mold of Mark Grace. He's a below-average runner

The Future: Los Angeles re-signed Garciaparra and he'll receive most of the playing time at first base. Loney should make the Dodgers as a backup and could see spot duty in right field in an effort to get his bat into the lineup.
Las Vegas (AAA).380.426.5463666413933286732349
Los Angeles .284.342.5591022029654188101
5. Etanislao Abreu, 2b   Born: Nov. 13, 1984B-T: B-RHt: 5-10Wt: 172
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002Signed by: Pablo Peguero
Etanislao AbreuBackground: Though often overshadowed in Los Angeles' deep system—he was left out of the team's 2006 media guide—Abreu quietly has established himself as one of its top position players. He won the 2005 high class A Florida State League batting title with a .327 average and had a solid 2006 in Double-A.

Strengths: Abreu is an aggressive, instinctual player with four plus tools. He has above-average bat speed and lashes line drives to all fields from both sides of the plate. He stays inside the ball well, has outstanding plate coverage, can turn around inside fastballs and maintains his balance through his swing. A switch-hitter, he has more pop from the right side but uses the whole field better from the left. He's an above-average runner with plus range. He has soft hands and enough arm to handle shortstop.

Weaknesses: While he makes consistent contact, Abreu isn't selective and doesn't work deep counts. He could drive the ball better if he gets stronger, but projects to be more of a doubles hitter rather than a home run threat. His concentration wanes, and at times he exhibits lazy footwork defensively. He's a conservative baserunner and could better utilize his speed on the basepaths. He's streaky and the Dodgers would like to see more consistency in his game.

The Future: Abreu profiles as an everyday second baseman who can hit .280-.290 with 8-12 homers while playing quality defense. He should spend most of 2007 in Triple-A.
Jacksonville (AA).287.343.3924576613124365533698
6. Ivan DeJesus Jr., ss   Born: May 1, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 182
 Drafted: HS--Guaynabo, P.R., 2005 (2nd round)Signed by: Manuel Estrada
Ivan DeJesusBackground: DeJesus' father Ivan Sr. originally signed with the Dodgers and spent 15 years in the majors. A second-round pick in 2005, Ivan Jr. was the highest-drafted Puerto Rican since the Braves made Luis Atilano a supplemental first-rounder two years earlier. A switch-hitter as an amateur, DeJesus batted solely righthanded last year.

Strengths: DeJesus has a rare blend of tools and instincts. His defense is ahead of his bat now, but he's patient, works counts and allows balls to travel deep in the hitting zone. He has good bat-head awareness and slaps the ball to all fields. Like his father, DeJesus has pure shortstop actions with supple hands and plus range. He has an average arm with efficient exchanges. He's a slightly above-average runner.

Weaknesses: He lacks strength and DeJesus' power is well below average. In 2006, he batted .228 away from hitter-friendly Golden Park in low Class A Columbus.

The Future: As he grows into his wiry frame, DeJesus could improve his punch at the plate. He profiles as an everyday, defense-first big leaguer. He should spend 2007 in high Class A.
Columbus (LoA).277.361.32748365134172144638516
7. Jonathan Meloan, rhp   Born: July 11, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 225
 Drafted: Arizona, 2005 (5th round)Signed by: Brian Stephenson
Jonathan MeloanBackground: Assistant GM Logan White first saw Meloan when he was a high school senior in 2002 and went up against Loney. Meloan's stuff wasn't overly impressive, but the fact he was pitching with a partially torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his knee eft an impression. Meloan signed for $155,000 in 2005 after going 27-2 in his final two years at Arizona.

Strengths: Meloan has hard stuff and a tenacious attitude on the hill. He works primarily off a 92-94 mph fastball and mid-80s slider, which has been up to 88. He also has feel for a curveball and changeup, which are passable pitches. He has above-average fastball command and locates his secondary stuff well.

Weaknesses: Meloan has a ripped physique that lacks looseness. His maximum-effort delivery features some recoil, a huge red flag. Because of his mechanics and his heavy college workload, the Dodgers wisely limited his innings in 2006. He had elbow soreness during spring training, though an MRI in the offseason found nothing to cause alarm.

The Future: After impressing scouts in the Arizona Fall League, Meloan could arrive quickly in Los Angeles as a setup man. His health and durability ultimately will determine his value. He'll likely open 2007 in Triple-A.
Columbus (LoA)111.54120012392741.118
Vero Beach (HiA)102.50430018152427.221
Jacksonville (AA)101.6950001131523.086
8. Blake DeWitt, 2b/3b   Born: Aug. 20, 1985B-T: L-RHt: 5-11Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS--Sikeston, Mo., 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Mitch Webster
Blake DeWittBackground: DeWitt's draft stock improved during his senior season and he was considered the best pure hitter in a lackluster 2004 high school draft class. He has been solid but not spectacular in three years in the minors. He moved from third base to second at high Class A Vero Beach last year, then back to the hot corner when promoted to Double-A.

Strengths: His tools aren't overwhelming, but DeWitt has good feel for the game. He has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball and he uses his hands well at the plate. His swing is short and fluid, and his bat stays in the hitting zone for a long time. He has a solid-average arm and quick release.

Weaknesses: DeWitt gets pull-happy and tends to drift during his swing, failing to keep his weight back. While he has enough bat speed to drive balls out of the park, he doesn't project to hit more than 12-18 homers annually in the big leagues. He's better suited for third base, so how much power he develops becomes vital to his value. He lacks the actions and range to stick in the middle infield and he's not a fluid fielder. He's a below-average runner.

The Future: DeWitt's mature approach to hitting and excellent makeup should carry him to the majors. He struggled in his first taste of Double-A in 2006 and should spend most of this year at that level.
Vero Beach (HiA).268.339.44242561114181186145798
Jacksonville (AA).183.241.22110461910168210
9. Josh Bell, 3b   Born: Nov. 13, 1986B-T: B-RHt: 6-1Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS--Lantana, Fla., 2005 (4th round)Signed by: Manny Estrada
Josh BellBackground: Bell entered his senior season as one of the top position players in the high school draft class of 2005. But his approach and setup vacillated from at-bat to at-bat, he struggled mightily and slipped to the fourth round, where he signed for $212,000. He has hit .312 in two pro seasons and ranked among the Rookie-level Pioneer League's top power hitters in 2006.

Strengths: Bell's raw power ranks as at least a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has tremendous leverage in his quick, powerful stroke from both sides of the plate. His hands and footwork are adequate at third base, where he shows a plus arm. He has strong makeup.

Weaknesses: His approach and all-around game are unrefined. Like Andy LaRoche, Bell tends to swing from his heels, sacrificing his balance. He can beaten on the inner half, especially when batting righthanded. His pitch recognition and plate discipline have a ways to go. He's doesn't have quick-twitch muscle movements, and he could improve his footwork defensively. Many of his 17 errors came on overthrows. He's a below-average runner.

The Future: Bell profiles as an everyday third baseman with a .250-.260 average and 25-30 home runs annually. He'll probably begin 2007 in low Class A.
Ogden (R).308.367.5442504577173125323724
10. Preston Mattingly, ss   Born: Aug. 28, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS--Evansville, Ind., 2006 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Marty Lamb
Preston MattinglyBackground: Despite being a three-sport star and the son of former American League MVP and batting champ Don Mattingly, Preston somehow stayed off the radar of most area scouts in 2006. The Dodgers liked him all along, and made him a surprise supplemental first-round pick. After signing for $1 million, he acquitted himself well in the Gulf Coast League.

Strengths: An all-Indiana wide receiver in football and a 20-point-a-game scorer in basketball, Mattingly stands out for his athleticism, bat speed and raw power. Balls jump off his bat and he has power to all fields. He has a good feel for hitting and a sound approach. He's an above-average runner. He has good makeup.

Weaknesses: Mattingly is very raw. He needs to improve his pitch recognition, use the whole field and avoid chasing breaking balls. He lacks the actions and footwork to remain in the middle of the diamond, and he ultimately could wind up in left field. His throwing mechanics are poor and he has below-average arm strength.

The Future: The Dodgers believe Mattingly will develop into a middle-of-the-order run producer. There are no immediate plans to change his position this year, which he'll probably spend in extended spring training and Rookie-level Ogden.
GCL Dodgers (R).290.322.403186225412312993912

Photo Credits:

LaRoche: Jerry Hale

Kershaw, Mattingly: Cliff Welch

Elbert, DeWitt: Steve Moore

DeJesus, Bell: Bill Mitchell