2018 Los Angeles Dodgers Midseason Top 10 Prospects
SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 10 Prospects
What began as a nightmare has instead turned into business as usual for the Dodgers.
The defending National League champions entered the all-star break in first place in the NL West, just as they expected to be, although the journey was difficult.
They got off to a 16-26 start and lost Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager to injury. Rich Hill, Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Chase Utley and Logan Forsythe all hit the DL too, turning what was supposed to be redemption tour into an infirmary.
But as the Dodgers so often do, they turned afterthoughts into stars to make up for it. Max Muncy, who was released by the Athletics and spent all of last year in Triple-A, had a 1.013 OPS that would rank fifth in the majors if he qualified. Ross Stripling moved from the bullpen to the rotation and has a 2.36 ERA with 91 strikeouts and eight walks in 80 innings as a starter. A rejuvenated Matt Kemp is playing like it’s 2011. Buehler, Alex Verdugo, Dennis Santana, Caleb Ferguson and Kyle Farmer all came up from the farm system to supply reinforcements.
When they say winning is a team effort, it really has been for the Dodgers.
Even so, the Dodgers approach the trade deadline in need of help. They’ve gotten little production from second base. A rotating cast of characters has manned center field. A rickety, undermanned bullpen has led to 13 losses where the Dodgers either led or were tied in after six innings, tied for fourth-most in the National League.
The Dodgers have long been reluctant to trade prospects for short-term fixes, but they have young players to spare, particularly catchers and outfielders. Manny Machado has been frequently mentioned as a trade target, as has all-star second baseman Scooter Gennett, and the Dodgers have the pieces to make such a headline deal.
They also stand to receive reinforcements from within, with seven pitchers scheduled to come off the disabled list by the end of August, headlined by one-time phenom Julio Urias.
The Dodgers are where they expected to be—in first place—but with just a half-game lead over the Diamondbacks in a tight NL West, there are improvements that need to be made for them to pull away for good.
1. Alex Verdugo, OF
Triple-A Oklahoma City
Verdugo remains a fantastically gifted hitter who added strength and began picking out better pitches to drive this season to increase his power output. His batting average and slugging percentage were on pace to be career highs in full-season ball, and his improvement was apparent in an early-season callup to Los Angeles. Defensively Verdugo plays a respectable center field, but inconsistent routes have most evaluators projecting him to a corner, where his cannon arm will be a potential game-changer. Despite pronouncements of increased maturity, Verdugo’s effort level and concentration on the field still receive negative reviews. The Dodgers acknowledge the criticisms but believe Verdugo is improving.
2. Keibert Ruiz, C
Ruiz’s confidence and ability to handle a pitching staff have taken huge steps forward this season. He’s improved his focus to become an above-average receiver on a day-to-day basis as opposed to just his best days, and he’s cleaned up his footwork and transfer to consistently show an average, accurate arm and increase his caught stealing rate from 22 to 32 percent. Ruiz’s focus on defense has sapped his offense, but he rarely strikes out and is holding his own at Double-A given his age and positional demands.
3. Yusniel Diaz, OF
Major advancements to his pitch recognition and plate discipline have allowed Diaz to blossom even further after a breakout 2017. Diaz has posted more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his U.S. career, and is on pace to set career highs in all three slash line categories. Diaz’s outfield defense has leapt forward as well. He has taken over as the primary center fielder in Tulsa and shown the explosiveness and athleticism to stay there, while improving his communication and feel for the position.
4. Will Smith, C/3B
Smith has split time between catcher and third base this season and shown well at both. He remains an above-average defender behind the plate with plus arm strength, and he’s looked like a natural at the hot corner despite a few errors as he learns the position. Offensively Smith is finding the balance between his natural contact-oriented swing and the lofted, launch-angle swing the Dodgers implemented last year, with an adjustment to get ready a tick earlier unlocking stunning power.
5. Gavin Lux, SS/2B
High Class A Rancho Cucamonga
Lux bulked up to 195 pounds without losing any flexibility, allowing him to increase his power while maintaining the foot speed and range to stay in the middle infield. Lux has already surpassed his career highs in doubles and home runs, and is consistently pulling the ball in the air with authority with a retooled swing. Defensively Lux is showing the range, hands and arm strength to project as a solid-average defender at shortstop, but issues with his footwork and throwing accuracy have most projecting him to second base, where his improved bat profiles.
6. Dennis Santana, RHP
Los Angeles (DL)
Santana jumped from Double-A to Triple-A to the majors in two months before a rotator cuff strain put him on the 60-day disabled list. His sinker/slider combination was already excellent, and the improvement of his changeup sent him skyrocketing. Santana’s control also got better after he moved from the third base to first base of the rubber to improve his direction to the plate. He still projects as a reliever for some, but his changeup development and control strides give him a better chance to remain a starter.
7. Dustin May, RHP
High Class A Rancho Cucamonga
May has begun to fill out and add velocity, jumping from 89-92 mph on his fastball last year to 93-96 mph with heavy sink this year. His slider has morphed into a power curveball in the low 80s that projects to be above-average, and six weeks ago he began throwing a cutter to help neutralize lefthanders. May increased his fastball usage from about 55 percent per game early in the season to 70 percent recently, the impetus behind a sharp uptick in his performance since mid-June.
8. DJ Peters, OF
The holes in Peters’ swing have been exposed as expected at Double-A, putting him on pace for nearly 200 strikeouts. However, evaluators remain bullish on Peters because of raw power they grade as an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and his improved outfield defense. Peters remains a heavy runner, but his long strides and athleticism allow him to cover the requisite ground in center field as well as right. He’s working a lot of deep counts, so there is a sense he can cut his strikeouts if he becomes more aggressive earlier in his at-bats.
9. Mitchell White, RHP
White missed the first month due to general soreness and struggled upon his return, but since June started has begun to rediscover his form. After initially showing decreased velocities, White is back to sitting 92-95 mph with a power upper-80s slider and an effective 12-to-6 curveball. The Dodgers made adjustments to White’s delivery and pace to help get him get his best stuff back, and he had a strong June (3.65 ERA) but took a step back in July.
10. Yadier Alvarez, RHP
A groin strain nagged Alvarez through the early part of the season and depressed both his velocity and control before he was placed on the disabled list on May 6. Alvarez looked excellent in spring training, sitting 94-98 mph on his fastball and showing above-average to plus on both his slider and curveball, but the injury prevented him from showing that when he got out to Tulsa. He is currently rehabbing at the Dodgers complex in Arizona.
Six Pitching Prospects Whose Stuff Ticked Up In 2018
Identifying young pitching prospects whose projections have changed after their stuff improved last season.
- LHP Caleb Ferguson shot from Double-A to Triple-A to the majors in the first two months of the season. He improved his nutrition and body composition from last season to hold 93-95 mph velocity instead of just flashing it, which in turn gave him the confidence to go right after hitters rather than nibble.
- RHP Dean Kremer changed from being a sinker/slider pitcher to a four-seam fastball/curveball pitcher after the Dodgers looked at his pitch analytics, and the new approach has been a boon. He ranked among the minor league leaders in strikeouts while throwing a 90-95 mph fastball with carry through the zone, a curveball he lands for strikes and a slider with the potential to be an out pitch.
- 3B Rylan Bannon continues to hit at every level and is increasingly being seen as a potential big league utilityman. Though his open stance and uppercut swing are unorthodox, he turns around velocity, is always on time, doesn’t chase and hits for power.
- RHP Tony Gonsolin moved from the bullpen to the rotation at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and is holding 94-96 mph through his starts while flashing a big breaking, sharp curveball and a plus split-changeup.
- OF Jeren Kendall continues to tweak his stance and setup and has yet to find any semblance of comfort in the box, resulting in a 107 strikeouts in 75 games and an alarming amount of late, noncompetitive swings.
- RHP Jordan Sheffield struggled with his delivery and fell into just trying to throw a fastball by hitters rather than pitching, resulting in a 0-3, 7.33 mark in seven starts at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga before going down with an elbow strain.
- OF Starling Heredia hit .182 with 81 strikeouts in 51 games at low Class A Great Lakes before the Dodgers pulled him down to Arizona to rework his swing and implement pitch recognition exercises.
- RHP Imani Abdullah was pulled from high Class A Rancho Cucamonga to Arizona to rebuild his confidence, but he retired on July 11 at the age of 21.
- OF Yusniel Diaz stayed back in extended spring training due to general soreness and spent 10 days on the disabled list in May with back spasms.
- C Will Smith missed a month with a hairline fracture in his left thumb after it awkwardly got hit by a bunted foul tip when he was catching.
- RHP Yadier Alvarez (groin strain) was rehabbing in Arizona and expected to return to Tulsa about a week in late July.
- RHP Morgan Cooper (shoulder tightness) was still battling the shoulder woes that have afflicted him since he was drafted last year and has no timetable to return.
- RHP Yaisel Sierra (shoulder inflammation) is throwing live batting practice in Arizona but does not have a set timetable to return.
- RHP Chris Mathewson had Tommy John surgery and will be out until 2020.
- RHP Walker Buehler stepped into the Dodgers’ rotation and went 4-2, 3.45 in 11 games (10 starts). He started a combined no-hitter on May 4 and at one point looked like a leading NL Rookie of the Year contender, but he had struggled since returning from a rib microfracture injury.
- RHP J.T. Chargois, an offseason waiver claim from the Twins, had a 4.43 ERA through 24 relief appearances.