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Top Ten Prospects: Los Angeles Dodgers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Alan Matthews
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, 2005.
Background: Guzman's physical ability has been lauded since he signing for a club- and Dominican-record $2.25 million as a 16-year-old. Following two inconsistent seasons, he made significant progress last year turning his potential into reality. He was rated the No. 1 prospect in the high Class A Florida State League and ranked No. 2 in the Double-A Southern League. At the Futures Game in July, he turned heads with his power display during batting practice at Minute Maid Park. Guzman's maturity was questioned when he clashed with his low Class A manager Dann Bilardello early in 2003, but the Dodgers were pleased with his makeup and work ethic in 2004. Guzman's affluent background--his mother is a teacher and his father is an attorney in the Dominican Republic--has aided his development as he communicates well with teammates and absorbs instruction.
Strengths: Guzman might best be described as a man-child. He has as much offensive upside as almost any prospect in the minors, drawing tremendous raw power from his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame. Last year he made adjustments at the plate to help translate his batting-practice blasts into similarly prodigious homers during games. He made strides with his pitch recognition, which hampered him during his first two seasons, and stayed back on offspeed stuff better. Guzman has remarkable plate coverage and is learning to drive the ball out of all parts of the park. He does a tremendous job of staying inside the ball and keeping his hands ahead of the barrel. He generates exceptional bat speed. His approach is similar to Vladimir Guerrero's in that Guzman is aggressive in all counts. Defensively, he features a plus-plus arm and soft, easy hands. He has good actions and makes smooth transitions around the bag. While he almost certainly will outgrow the middle infield, scouts grade his overall defensive package as average to slightly above-average for a shortstop.
Weaknesses: Guzman's future playing weight figures to be somewhere near 250 pounds, almost certainly necessitating a position change. His range and foot speed project as below average for a big league shortstop. His instincts, athleticism and arm strength will allow him to move to a corner infield or outfield spot. With prospects James Loney (first base) and Andy LaRoche (third base) working their way up the ladder, the Dodgers most likely will put Guzman in right field. He swings and misses too frequently, though his power numbers help justify his lofty strikeout totals. Though he has improved his pitch recognition, he still has a tendency to allow situations to dictate his approach. For instance, he often chases pitches when he's trying to come through with runners in scoring position.
The Future: Despite being just 19, Guzman met every challenge Los Angeles threw at him in 2004, including a promotion to Double-A. He likely will open the season back at Jacksonville and would benefit from at least another full season in the minors. With patience and another year of refinement, Guzman could be ready to contribute in Los Angeles by 2006.
Background: Teams shied away from high school righthanders in the first round of the 2003 draft, with only two chosen, but the Dodgers don't regret spending their first-rounder and $1.375 million on Billingsley. His stock soared in his first full season, as he was rated the top pitching prospect in the Florida State League before earning a promotion to Double-A before his 20th birthday.
Strengths: Billingsley attacks hitters with plus power stuff. He shows good control of an explosive fastball that sits at 94 mph and tops out at 97. His slider has depth and late life, and he also throws a hard curveball. Strong and durable with calves like Mark Prior's, he also has tremendous makeup.
Weaknesses: While Billingsley has a good idea on the mound, he has a tendency to try to overpower every hitter, which leads to too many walks. He needs to improve his offspeed stuff to keep hitters off balance, but he doesn’t have a great feel for his changeup yet and hasn’t been forced to use it much.
The Future: The Dodgers might slow the pace of Billingsley's development after watching Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller get hurt when they were rushed. He’ll probably go back to Double-A in 2005. Billingsley has frontline starter stuff and could contend for a spot in the majors by the end of 2006.
Background: Jackson was dominant at times in his September 2003 big league callup, beating Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday in his first outing. A prime Rookie of the Year candidate for 2004, he struggled in spring training and never got untracked. His confidence suffered and he missed a month with a strained forearm.
Strengths: Though his velocity fluctuated last year, Jackson's lively fastball sits at 93 mph and touches 97 when he's healthy and pitching downhill. His slider was also inconsistent, but at times showed the tight, late break that makes it a potential out pitch. He has outstanding makeup and work ethic.
Weaknesses: The Dodgers tweaked Jackson's delivery and he seldom repeated the same free and easy motion. He was primarily an outfielder until 2002 and still lacks an advanced feel for pitching despite his meteoric rise. He needs to hone his control and consistency, especially of his offspeed stuff.
The Future: While Jackson regressed a year ago, he still remains a premium prospect. The Dodgers had him rest during the offseason and hope he makes a better showing in spring training this year. Unless he's lights out, he'll open 2005 back at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Background: After batting .343 with five doubles in 35 at-bats in big league camp last spring, Loney appeared ready to blast off. But he fractured the tip of the middle finger on his left hand and developed an infection in the finger, costing him three weeks and hampering his production afterward. Loney did bat .314 in the Arizona Fall League and remains one of the game's most promising first-base prospects.
Strengths: Loney makes hard line-drive contact and projects to hit for a high average. He stays inside the ball well and his swing path allows the bat head to stay in the zone for an extended time. His defense is major league-quality already. He's smooth and fluid and has good instincts, exceptionally soft hands and a well above-average arm.
Weaknesses: Scouts have wondered when Loney's power is going to come -- he has a .407 slugging percentage as a pro -- and some have suggested his swing path might not be conducive for big-time home run production. He has below-average speed, though he runs the bases well.
The Future: Since Loney reached high Class A Vero Beach at age 18, hand-related injuries have kept him from peak performance. He needs another full year and a healthy one before contending for a job in Los Angeles in 2006. He'll probably start this year in Double-A.
Background: The Dodgers had to fight the commissioner’s office’s bonus recommendations to sign LaRoche for $1 million in 2003. After establishing himself as the best hitter in the Cape Cod League that summer, they believe he'd become a first-rounder if he went to Rice. His father Dave was an all-star pitcher and his brother Adam starts at first base for the Braves.
Strengths: LaRoche has big-time power potential. He has good strength, a quick bat and excellent load for his swing, helping him generate backspin and loft. He owns the organization's best arm and has above-average range and hands. He's an average runner.
Weaknesses: LaRoche is almost exclusively a pull hitter and can be overaggressive in his approach. He swings and misses too often, so he may never hit for a huge average. He battled arm soreness, which led to some throwing errors, after moving to third base last year. He played shortstop before turning pro.
The Future: If he reaches his ceiling, LaRoche could hit 35-40 homers annually. He may start 2005 back in high Class A but should reach Double-A by the end of the season.
Background: Outside of Joel Guzman, Martin made the most significant leap in the system last year. A 35th-round pick by the Expos out of Baseball Canada's academy in 2000, he played two years at Chipola (Fla.) JC before signing with the Dodgers for $40,000 as a 17th-rounder. He moved from third base to catcher in 2003.
Strengths: Martin made strides in his defensive game last year. He's quick, uses his excellent footwork to help him block balls in the dirt and has a well above-average arm. Offensively, he has a line-drive stroke, very good plate discipline and the potential to hit 15-20 homers annually. He's durable, works hard and has a strong makeup.
Weaknesses: Martin's swing can get long at times. He needs to maintain his focus throughout games on his receiving but more than anything else, he requires more experience behind the plate. He's a below-average runner, though not a baseclogger.
The Future: After taking a step forward in the Arizona Fall League, Martin will open the season in Double-A. Dioner Navarro is his lone challenger to be the Dodgers' catcher of the future. Martin may be ready for the majors by September 2006.
Background: After establishing himself as baseball's top lefthanded pitching prospect in 2003, Miller never took the mound last season. He had shoulder pain toward the end of the 2003 season and had the bursa sac removed from his shoulder last March. There was no structural damage, but his recovery has taken longer than expected because he repeatedly has been slowed by inflammation.
Strengths: Before he got hurt, Miller's velocity had steadily increased, from the mid-80s to low 90s in high school to regularly touching 95 in 2003. His hard slider has developed into a plus pitch, and he also has a power curveball. A solid-average changeup completes his repertoire. What separates Miller, though, is his cerebral mindset and deft command of all his pitches.
Weaknesses: Miller's health is a major question mark. Some Dodgers officials believe his shoulder troubles resulted from being rushed, and that the club reacted too slowly to treat the problem.
The Future: Following changes in the player-development department, Los Angeles will take a more conservative approach with Miller. The Dodgers would be pleased if he could turn in a full, productive season in Double-A in 2005.
Background: Considered the best hitter in the 2004 high school draft class, DeWitt lived up to his reputation after signing for $1.2 million. He moved from shortstop to third base and strung together a 19-game hitting streak in his first month as a pro. He was rated the No. 2 prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.
Strengths: DeWitt has a pretty lefthanded stroke. He generates good bat speed with a nice load that allows him to set his hands before unleashing. He has the potential to develop into a 30-35 home run threat. He made adjustments well and handled offspeed stuff better as the season went on. His arm is slightly above average.
Weaknesses: Although DeWitt's foot speed and range are just fringe average, and his hands are just adequate. He led Pioneer League third basemen with 20 errors. The Dodgers think he can become at least an average third baseman and praise his work ethic. He needs to stay back on breaking balls and use all fields, and he showed a feel for doing so last summer.
The Future: DeWitt figures to begin his first full season at low Class A Columbus. As he gets acclimated to pro ball, he could move quickly.
Background: After missing much of 2003 with wrist tendinitis and a biceps strain, Broxton reported to spring training healthy and in much better shape. Nicknamed "The Bull," he's the most physically imposing pitching prospect in the system.
Strengths: Broxton pounds the strike zone with a heavy 92-93 mph sinker, which he complements with a sharp mid-80s slider. He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot and repeats his delivery consistently despite his size. He has good makeup and pitches with tenacity.
Weaknesses: Broxton struggles with his changeup grip. He prefers to throw the pitch similar to a palmball and tends to raise his arm angle, tipping it off to astute hitters. He needs a better offspeed offering to round out his arsenal. Maintaining his body will be important after his weight soared as high as 277 pounds in 2003.
The Future: If he develops the changeup, Broxton profiles as a potential No. 2 starter in the big leagues. He should open the season in the Double-A rotation, though he could move to late-inning relief down the road.
Background: Days before he was to attend class at Cal State Fullerton in the fall of 2003, Tiffany signed for $1.1 million, the second-highest bonus any second-rounder got that year. He started a combined no-hitter last May, then upstaged himself two weeks later with a seven-inning perfect game. He finished the season by reaching double-digit strikeouts in each of his last four starts.
Strengths: Tiffany shows an advanced feel for setting up hitters with three potential above-average pitches. He pitches at 86-90 mph with his fastball, which features late life and tops out at 92. Both his 12-to-6 curveball and circle changeup already rate as plus pitches at times.
Weaknesses: Like most young pitchers, Tiffany lacks consistency with his secondary pitches. Because he's just 6-foot-1, it's hard for him to maintain a downhill plane to the plate for added deception. He tends to get under or around his pitches, causing his stuff to flatten out and sit high in the strike zone. His stocky body always has concerned scouts.
The Future: Few lefthanders have better all-around stuff than Greg Miller or Tiffany. The Dodgers see no need to rush Tiffany and will send him to high Class A this year.