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Top Ten Prospects: Los Angeles Dodgers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Josh Boyd
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, 2004.
In his second attempt to purchase a major league franchise, Boston-based real-estate developer Frank McCourt paid $430 million to buy the Dodgers from Fox in October. McCourt, who outbid but lost out to John Henry for the Red Sox in 2002, won’t officially take over the team until the owners ratify the sale sometime in December.
Though no hangups are expected, the uncertaintly put the Dodgers organization in limbo after a somewhat tumultuous season. McCourt reportedly has plans for Corey Busch, a former Giants executive vice president who currently serves as an adviser to commissioner Bud Selig, to take over as club president. Rumors that Athletics general manager Billy Beane already was lobbying McCourt to head the baseball operation can’t make Dan Evans comfortable as he tries to prepare for his third season as GM.
Evans’ first year on the job was solid but unspectacular, as he was strapped by the immovable contracts left behind by Kevin Malone’s regime. But his second year was met with harsh criticism, as a team with a $109 million payroll didn’t make the playoffs and Evans couldn’t pull the big deal to push them over the top. The local media piled on, and though the Dodgers contended all season, they extended a playoff drought that dates back to 1996. The franchise doesn’t have a postseason victory since it won the 1988 World Series.
Evans and his front office have proceeded with business as usual, trying to land a bat to improve the Dodgers’ inept offense. Los Angeles finished dead last in the majors in runs scored last year. In-season attempts to punch up the offense by trading for Jeromy Burnitz and Robin Ventura didn’t cost them much but did little to help, either. Acquiring a difference-maker has proven to be a challenge for the Dodgers, who seem tentative at times in the market.
Their scouting and player development staff is hitting on all cylinders, however. The farm system, which ranked in the bottom five in talent when Evans took over, has been bolstered by two productive drafts by scouting director Logan White. BA rated his 2003 draft—which included righthander Chad Billingsley, lefty Chuck Tiffany, outfielder Xavier Paul and infielder Andy LaRoche—the best in the game. Considered unsignable because of a scholarship from Rice, LaRoche changed his mind for a $1 million bonus.
Righthander Edwin Jackson emerged as one of the most promising pitching prospects in baseball and won a surprise spot start in September. And some scouts say lefthander Greg Miller is even better than Jackson. That one-two punch can’t be matched by any organization, and Evans has deemed them all but untouchable.
Former farm director Bill Bavasi deserves credit for straightening out the organization’s player-development plan, and the Mariners hired him as GM in November. His position isn’t likely to be filled until the ownership change goes through. Assistant GM Kim Ng is coordinating the department in the meantime.
Top Prospect: Edwin Jackson, RHP
Age: 20 Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 190 Bats: R Throws: R
Background: First spotted by Dodgers scouts Jim Lester (now with the Pirates) and Lon Joyce when he was a center fielder at Shaw High in Columbus, Ga., Jackson also was the No. 3 starter behind Nick Long, now an Expos prospect, and Steven Register, now Auburn’s closer. Jackson reached 91 mph at the time, but Joyce’s first instinct was to make the most of his athleticism and bat potential in the outfield. The Dodgers weren’t sure which direction his career would head, so they allowed him to DH when he wasn’t pitching during in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2001. They abandoned any thoughts of developing him as an outfielder the following spring, and his career took off. After beginning 2002 in extended spring training, Jackson jumped to low Class A South Georgia. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his first start and fell seven innings short of qualifying for the South Atlantic League ERA title, which he would have won. Jackson skipped another level to start the 2003 season as one of the youngest pitchers in Double-A. He became the youngest pitcher since Dwight Gooden to win his major league debut when he beat Randy Johnson in September.
Strengths: Jackson’s picturesque delivery, clean arm action and premium athleticism aid him in making 98 mph fastballs look effortless. He sits between 91-97 and can maintain his velocity deep into games. His slider and changeup both have come a long way since he made the full-time conversion to pitching, and while he’s not consistent with his secondary pitches he flashes above-average potential with both offerings. Each of his three pitches features plus life, with his fastball boring up into the zone, his slider showing hard bite and depth at times, and his circle changeup fading and sinking. Jackson demonstrates an advanced feel for pitching too, not afraid to pitch inside or double up on sliders and changeups. The Dodgers have done a fine job limiting Jackson’s workload. He was limited to around 100 pitches a start, and he was scratched from the Arizona Fall League to avoid putting more innings on his arm.
Weaknesses: Jackson has been unfazed by his rapid ascent. He still needs to gain consistency and confidence with his slider and changeup. Like many strikeout pitchers, he can amass lofty pitch counts. With three potential out pitches and plus command, that shouldn’t be an issue for long.
The Future: Jackson is the complete package, and fits the profile of a top-of-the-line starting pitcher to a tee. He established himself as one of the elite prospects in baseball even before his September callup, and his performance all but guaranteed him a spot in the Los Angeles rotation for 2004. He’s the best homegrown pitching prospect the Dodgers have developed since Pedro Martinez, and they don’t plan on letting this one get away.