Alan Matthews took your Dodgers questions
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, 2006.
When the 2005 season began, the Chavez Ravine air was rife with optimism.
The Dodgers were fresh off their National League West division title
in 2004 and a popular pick to return to the playoffs. But after a promising
12-2 start, their season slipped away and they finished at 71-91, the
franchise’s second-worst record (63-99 in 1992) since moving from
Brooklyn in 1958.
Injuries and unsuccessful acquisitions spelled doom in the second season
under the guidance of general manager Paul DePodesta. Los Angeles players
missed 1,150 games due to injury, the most on any Dodgers club in two
While Jeff Kent (two years, $19 million) produced as expected, DePodesta’s
two biggest free-agent acquisitions—J.D. Drew (five years, $55
million) and Derek Lowe (four years, $36 million)—were disappointments.
Meanwhile, Kent and Milton Bradley engaged in an ugly clubhouse feud.
All the chaos looked mild compared to the front-office turmoil that
began the day after the season ended. DePodesta and manager Jim Tracy
opted to part ways, with Tracy surfacing with the Pirates and taking
pitching coach Jim Colborn and bench coach Jim Lett with him.
DePodesta’s search for a new manager abruptly halted four weeks
later when owner Frank McCourt fired him. While McCourt didn’t
detail the reasons for the dismissal, he said his criteria for a new
GM included communication skills and the ability to evaluate talent.
The Dodgers turned to Ned Colletti, assistant GM for the Giants under
Brian Sabean for the last nine years.
Asked if the Dodgers were presently capable of putting a division winner
on the field, Colletti smiled and said, “No.” But thanks
to the deepest and most talented farm system in baseball, the Dodgers
are on the cusp of becoming perennial contenders.
Double-A Jacksonville cruised to the Southern League championship (the
first for a Dodgers affiliate since 2002). The first five players on
this prospect list—righthander Chad Billingsley, third baseman
Andy LaRoche, shortstop Joel Guzman, catcher Russell Martin and righty
Jonathan Broxton—starred for the Suns, the Minor League Team of
Most of the Dodgers’ top prospects have been signed since Logan
White became scouting director following the 2001 season. His first-round
picks have included Billingsley (2003), lefthander Scott Elbert (2004)
and third baseman Blake DeWitt (2004), all of whom made this Top 10,
and first baseman James Loney (2002) and righty Justin Orenduff (2004),
who just missed.
White’s 2005 draft doesn’t initially appear as promising
as his first three efforts. Los Angeles forfeited its first-round pick
for signing Lowe as a free agent and spent its first pick on Tennessee
righthander Luke Hochevar. After a summer with little give and take,
Hochevar switched agents in September and agreed to a $2.98 million
bonus, then reneged and falsely accused White of trying to coerce him
into signing a bad contract. The negotiations don’t appear salvageable.
July 29, 1984 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 B-T: R-R
HS—Defiance, Ohio, 2003 (1st round) Signed
by: Marty Lamb
Background: Billingsley was just 13 when parents
of teammates gasped in disbelief—not over his pitching prowess,
but because of the amount he was throwing. After reading “Nolan
Ryan’s Pitching Bible,” Billingsley’s father Jim began
playing catch and long-tossing with his son before and after games, even
if he was pitching that day. The routine helped Billingsley build the
arm strength that led to mid-80s velocity by the time he was 15. A talented
three-sport athlete, he ruptured his spleen during football practice as
a freshman in high school, prompting him to concentrate on baseball. He
and Dodgers lefty Chuck Tiffany were USA Baseball teammates in 2002, when
Billingsley won the bronze-medal game at the World Junior Championships
in Quebec. Two more top Dodgers prospects, catcher Russell Martin (Canada)
and shortstop Chin-Lung Hu (Taiwan) also played in the tournament. One
of just two high school righthanders taken in the first round of the 2003
draft, Billingsley has justified his $1.375 million bonus. He skipped
past low Class A and has ranked as the top pitching prospect in his league
in each of his three pro seasons. He first reached Double-A as a 19-year-old
in 2004 and excelled there in 2005, combining with Jonathan Broxton on
a no-hitter in the opening game of the Southern League playoffs.
Strengths: Outside of being a couple of inches shorter than
the blueprint, Billingsley is the prototypical power pitcher. He attacks
hitters from a high three-quarters arm slot that he repeats well and
allows him to pitch downhill. His frame is rigid and durable in the
mold of Tom Seaver’s. Billingsley made progress with his command,
approach and all of his pitches in 2005. His 92-95 mph fastball has
good life. Coming into the season, his 85-86 mph slider was considered
the best in the organization, but his 82-84 mph curveball gives him
a second plus breaking ball and could become Billingsley’s primary
out pitch. He made strides in 2005 repeating his arm slot on both breaking
balls, allowing him to more consistently command them. He works diligently
on all phases of pitching.
Weaknesses: Billingsley has a tendency to overthrow, causing
his fastball to straighten out and miss up in the zone. His arm occasionally
struggles to catch up with his lower body, which results in a flatter
slider. His changeup, which he grips like his fastball except for sliding
his index finger to the side of the ball, improved but remains rudimentary.
He can improve on his game management, as he occasionally allows the
pace of a game to dictate his rhythm instead of slowing down when runners
are on base.
The Future: Billingsley profiles as a No. 1 or 2 starter, something
Los Angeles desperately needs. The big league pitching staff is littered
with holes, and he’ll get a chance to show what he can do in big
league spring training. Depending on the philosophy of new GM Ned Colletti,
the Dodgers could start Billingsley in the back of their Opening Day
2005 Club (Class)
September 13, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Grayson County (Texas) CC, 2003 (39th round) Signed
by: Mike Leuzinger
Background: LaRoche signed for $1 million as
a 39th-rounder in 2003, giving up the chance to attend Rice. Before the
2005 season, he and his brother, Braves first baseman Adam, bet a fishing
trip on who would hit the most homers. Andy won, leading Dodgers farmhands
in homers and RBIs.
LaRoche plays the game with passion to go along with three plus
tools. His power comes from a compact, controlled stroke. He turns
around the liveliest fastballs. He’s a solid defender and
owns the organization’s best infield arm. His instincts
boost his average range and his hands are dependable.
LaRoche’s speed is his lone below-average tool. Most of
his power is presently to the pull side, and he’ll need
to cover the outer half better as he faces more advanced pitching.
His swing can get long at times.
The Dodgers have an immediate need for an everyday third baseman,
and LaRoche could fill it, though they’ll probably ship
him to Triple-A after he attends major league spring training.
2005 Club (Class)
Vero Beach (Hi A)
November 24, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 225
Dominican Republic, 2001 Signed by: Pablo Peguero
Background: Signed for a club- and Dominican-record
$2.25 million in 2001, Guzman used a breakout 2004 season to rank atop
this list a year ago. He wasn’t as consistent in 2005, teasing the
Dodgers with potential he has yet to fully achieve. Yet he more than held
his own and batted .316 during Jacksonville’s playoff run.
Guzman’s hitting ability and power are well above average.
He keeps his hands inside the ball well and uncorks tape-measure
blasts when he makes contact. He’s a dangerous low-ball
hitter. A good athlete, he has a plus arm and average speed.
Guzman’s pitch recognition and plate discipline still need
improvement, and like most big players he has a hole on the inner
half. He lacks first-step quickness and his defensive actions
are too long, which eventually will prompt a move from shortstop.
He saw time at third base in 2005, but right field is his likely
The Future: With a strong spring, Guzman could win a corner-infield
job in 2006. With shortstop Rafael Furcal signed to a three-year
deal as a free agent, Guzman will have to find a new position,
so a full year in Triple-A might be the best thing for his development.
2005 Club (Class)
February 15, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 202
Background: Area scout Clarence Johns (now with
the Rockies) scouted Martin as a third baseman and immediately projected
him to catch. Martin has become one of the best catching prospects in
the game, thanks to his athleticism and ability to absorb instruction.
Martin employs a patient approach at the plate and uses the entire
field. His swing is compact and simple, he stays through the ball
well and he’s a good situational hitter. He’s comfortable
behind the plate and his blocking and receiving skills are advanced
for such an inexperienced catcher. He has a strong, accurate arm,
good footwork and an efficient exchange on throws.
Martin has yet to show much power, though he can drive balls out
of the park when he stays back. Some scouts believe he’ll
be a 15-20 homer threat in time. He has slightly below-average
speed, but he’s fast for a catcher and isn’t afraid
to take an extra base.
Martin is similar to former Dodgers catcher Paul LoDuca, with
better defensive skills and slightly less offensive ability. He’ll
probably begin 2006 in Triple-A but could reach Los Angeles in
the second half.
2005 Club (Class)
BROXTON, rhp Born:
June 16, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 240
HS—Waynesboro, Ga., 2002 (2nd round) Signed by:
Background: Because of his powerful fastball-slider
mix, dogged demeanor and husky frame, Broxton long has been targeted as
a future closer. When Eric Gagne went down for the season, the Dodgers
moved Broxton to the bullpen in Double-A and called him up five weeks
later. Albert Pujols was his first strikeout victim.
Broxton’s heavy, sinking fastball climbed from 92-94 mph
to 96-98 and he touched triple digits when he moved to the bullpen.
His filthy slider sits near 88 mph with good tilt. He’ll
flash a two-seamer against lefthanders. His delivery is fluid.
He pounds the strike zone.
Broxton is still learning how to pitch and set up hitters. As
a reliever, he didn’t use his changeup often. It’s
a fringe-average pitch that could help him against lefties. He’s
a big man and will have to watch his weight closely.
Gagne is expected to be ready for spring training and the Dodgers
have a strong complement of relievers with more experience than
Broxton. Nonetheless, he should win a job in their bullpen out
of spring camp and become Gagne’s eventual successor as
2005 Club (Class)
Los Angeles (NL)
May 13, 1985 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
HS—Seneca, Mo., 2004 (1st round) Signed by: Mitch
Background: As a running back, Elbert amassed
2,449 rushing yards and scored 36 touchdowns as a junior before giving
up football. The first prep lefty drafted in 2004, he signed for $1.575
million. After getting knocked around in his pro debut, he rated as the
No. 1 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2005.
Elbert’s stuff, body and makeup resemble Billingsley’s,
plus he’s lefthanded. Elbert isn’t as polished, but
he has a live 88-93 mph fastball, a two-plane breaking ball and
future-average changeup. He still was touching 94 in instructional
league after his first full pro season. He has outstanding mound
presence and an aggressive approach.
Elbert’s breaking ball, which lies somewhere between a curve
and a slider, has inconsistent break. He tends to rush his lower
half during his delivery and yanks his arm across his body, getting
around and under the ball. He’s still refining his circle
The Future: While some scouts envision Elbert’s
power repertoire profiling best at the back of a bullpen, others
believe his athleticism will allow him to repeat his delivery
and become a frontline starter. He’ll open 2006 at high
Class A Vero Beach.
HS—Sikeston, Mo., 2004 (1st round) Signed
by: Mitch Webster
Background: The consensus best high school hitting
prospect in the 2004 draft class, DeWitt has justified the hype since
signing for $1.2 million. A career .289 hitter, he finished his first
full season by hitting .419 in high Class A and adding a homer in the
Florida State League playoffs.
DeWitt’s classic lefthanded swing is smooth and controlled,
and he repeats it easily. He sets his hands with a good load and
generates good bat speed and leverage, the main ingredients of
his plus raw power. He shows a feel for the strike zone, though
he can improve his pitch recognition and ability to use all fields.
He has a slightly above-average arm.
DeWitt’s swing gets loopy when he doesn’t trust his
hands. He tends to drift on breaking balls from lefthanders. He’s
a below-average runner and an adequate defensive third baseman.
With Andy LaRoche ahead of him, DeWitt got a look at second base
during instructional league and fared well. His instincts and
aptitude should allow him to handle the move if necessary. He’ll
continue his development at third base in high Class A in 2006.
2005 Club (Class)
Columbus (Lo A)
Vero Beach (Hi A)
September 23, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 215
HS—Midwest City, Okla., 2003 (6th round) Signed
by: Mike Leuzinger
Background: Coming out of high school, Kemp
was known mostly for his prowess on the basketball court, but the Dodgers
liked his potential and signed him. He made as much improvement as anyone
in the organization this season. He broke Adrian Beltre’s Vero Beach
franchise record for homers, though 22 of his 27 came at home.
Kemp has big-time raw power and an aggressive approach. He has
strong, quick hands and good bat speed. He kept collapsing on
his back side early in 2005, causing him to pop up balls, but
he adjusted and later hit the top half of the ball consistently.
He shows good instincts in the outfield, above-average speed and
a plus arm that plays in right field, where he likely will play
more often as he fills out and loses some quickness.
Kemp’s pitch recognition is rudimentary at best. He’s
a dead-fastball hitter early in counts, making him vulnerable
to changeups. He has a tendency to stride off the ball.
The Future: Kemp’s ceiling is considerable and he
could develop into a .275 hitter with 25-30 homers annually. He’ll
continue refining his game at Double-A in 2006.
Dominican Republic, 2002 Signed by: Pablo Peguero
Background: Abreu got off to a slow start until
hitting coordinator George Hendrick and Vero Beach hitting coach Dan Radison
moved him off the plate, which made Abreu less pull-conscious. He won
the Florida State League batting title, thanks in part to a .438 average
Abreu has a live body and good tools across the board. His excellent
hand-eye coordination allows him to make consistent sharp contact,
and he has the strong wrists and bat speed to hit 15-plus homers
annually in the big leagues. Defensively, Abreu has outstanding
actions, soft hands, good range and enough arm to play shortstop.
He is an above-average runner.
Abreu needs to shorten his swing from the right side. He also
has a tendency to get his front foot down a tick late when he
swings. He must become more selective and get stronger.
The Future: If the Dodgers move Blake DeWitt to second
base, they could be faced with a difficult decision in 2008, as
both he and Abreu profile as solid everyday players who should
require no more than two more seasons in the minors. Abreu is
headed to Double-A for now.
Taiwan, 2003 Signed by: Pat Kelly/Vincent Liao
Background: One scout described Vero Beach’s
double-play combo of Hu and Abreu as “the traveling circus show”
because of their penchant for defensive highlights. Hu finished second
to Abreu in the Florida State League batting race, then hit .343 for Taiwan
at the World Cup tournament following the season.
Strengths: While Abreu is a plus defender, Hu is off
the charts. He’s slightly undersized but wiry strong with
outstanding body control and pure shortstop actions. His range
is extraordinary, as are his hands, and his arm and speed are
both above average. Hu made an adjustment at the plate, curtailing
his leg kick, which improved his balance and prevented him from
flying open during his swing. He has surprising pop, uses the
whole field and a feel for the strike zone.
Hu has a tendency to bail on good breaking balls and he needs
to become more selective. His small frame doesn’t lend considerable
room for projection.
The Future: Hu should be a .270 hitter with 10 home runs
annually in the big leagues. Ticketed for Double-A, he should
reach Los Angeles by the end of 2007.
2005 Club (Class)
Vero Beach (Hi A)
Billilngsley: Rick Battle
Blake DeWitt: Robert Gurganus
Abreu, Kemp, LaRoche: Bill Mitchell
Broxton, Elbert, Guzman, Martin: Steve Moore
Hu: Jon SooHoo