This year of pandemic baseball—no minor league games, players scattered around the globe with limited rosters at alternate training sites—will leave its mark on player development. But what that mark will be is hard to say.
“I think we won’t know the impact of this year for quite some time,” Dodgers farm director Will Rhymes said. “Our staff worked extremely hard to stay connected with players. They did a tremendous amount of remote coaching and player tracking and monitoring what they were doing. It was a truly impressive effort by our group.
“We feel we worked as hard as we could to get as much out of it, and our players did as well.”
In fact, Rhymes credits some players for using the unique environment to focus on particular aspects of their game in need of improvement—more so than they could have with minor league games every day—and make “huge strides forward.”
The Dodgers’ first-round pick this year, Louisville righthander Bobby Miller, and their top two picks from 2019—second baseman Michael Busch and third baseman Kody Hoese—were among the group that spent the summer at the Dodgers’ alternate training site at the University of Southern California.
“We’re really excited at his progress,” Rhymes said of Miller. “Michael Busch, the improvement on both sides of the ball—we saw it at USC and it’s carried through here (at instructional league). Just the at-bat quality, he’s stood out.”
Outfielders Andy Pages and James Outman as well as third baseman Miguel Vargas also stood out, Rhymes said. Pages, who hit 19 home runs in 63 games at Rookie-level Ogden, and Vargas, who hit .308 at two Class A levels, had breakout years offensively in 2019 and were robbed of a chance to build on those by the pandemic.
“It’s just an impressive group of guys—and there’s some selection bias here, obviously,” Rhymes said with a laugh. “These are our dudes, and they’re our dudes for a reason, you know?”
— The next challenge for Dodgers player development is how much winter league action prospects will be able to get. Seasons have been shortened and international travel provides more challenges.
Rhymes said outfielder Zach Reks will be playing in the Dominican League, but the jockeying for spots in winter leagues is “super competitive.” Other international signees will be playing in their native countries like Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua.