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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. 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. 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. 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.
Several Dodgers scouts say Miller is even better than Edwin Jackson. After going 2-2, 5.03 in his first six starts, Miller dominated the high Class A Florida State League and earned a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville as an 18-year-old. Miller's velocity has increased from the mid-80s in high school to the low 90s, and he regularly hit 95 mph in 2003. His power curveball is among the best in the organization, and he added a cutter that has morphed into a nasty slider. His average changeup gives a fourth pitch with which to attack hitters. He completes the package with command, intelligence and uncanny poise. Miller's season ended with shoulder bursitis, and some wonder if the stress of throwing a slider contributed to his problems. Other than staying healthy, he has little to work on. Though the Dodgers opted for Jackson when Hideo Nomo got hurt, Miller got serious consideration for a September spot start. He'll be given an outside chance to make the big league rotation in the spring, but most likely will return to Double-A.
Gutierrez didn't emerge as a full-fledged prospect until 2003, when he homered six times in as many games to start the season at high Class A Vero Beach. He ranked among the Florida State League leaders in home runs and slugging before a promotion to Double-A. Gutierrez' raw power became above-average game power last year. He has a balanced approach with outstanding bat speed and natural lift to his swing. He's wiry strong and athletic, with the speed to run down balls in center field. He has plus arm strength and enough bat to handle a move to right if needed. His swing gets long, creating holes, especially up and in. Improving his pitch recognition would help Gutierrez make better contact. Like many young hitters, he's vulnerable to good breaking stuff and needs to learn to take pitches the other way. Gutierrez has developed into a dynamic five-tool prospect and there's still room for projection. A future heart-of-the-order masher, he was the talk of the Venezuelan League, which should further accelerate his timetable. He'll open 2004 in Double-A.
Loney led Elkins High to a national championship in 2002 as a twoway star. The Dodgers went against the consensus in drafting him as a first baseman, not a lefthander. He reached high Class A in his debut season before a pitch broke his left wrist. He struggled early in 2003 before regaining strength in his wrist. A disciplined hitter with good pitch recognition and a classic lefthanded stroke that recalls Mark Grace, Loney sprays line drives to all fields and has power to the alleys. He's still growing and projects to hit 30 homers annually. Defensively, he works well around the bag and his arm is as good as it gets at first base. His instincts and makeup are off the charts. Since his hand injury, Loney tends to pull off pitches and collapse his back side on occasion. This also might be a result of trying to hit for more power, instead of letting it come naturally. He has below-average speed but is a smart baserunner. The Dodgers have been aggressive with Loney. He might be best off with a season each in Double-A and Triple-A before he breaks into the majors.
Hanrahan threw a pair of no-hitters in high Class A in 2002, then won the Double-A Southern League ERA title last year. Strong and physical, Hanrahan has established himself as a workhorse with the power repertoire to match. He throws a heavy 90-94 mph sinker and touches 95 at times. He tries to get ahead in the count with his fastball and put away hitters with a plus mid-80s slider. He works down in the zone and keeps the ball in the park. Hanrahan has an average changeup but must use it more often. He doesn't consistently repeat his release point, and he needs to stay on top of his slider. His walk rate soared at Triple-A Las Vegas when he tired and his mechanics got sloppy. He can lean on his slider too much at times. Ticketed for a return to Triple-A, Hanrahan is on the cusp of a major league promotion. It may not happen in Los Angeles, but he should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for many years.
A preseason All-American, Billingsley entered last spring as one of the hottest high school prospects in the 2003 draft class. Clubs' wariness of drafting prep righthanders, combined with his slow start in the cold Midwest, contributed to his stock sliding. But the Dodgers watched all of his outings and didn't hesitate signing him for $1.375 million. A power pitcher built along the lines of Jaret Wright or Jeremy Bonderman, Billingsley runs his fastball up to 97 mph, sitting at 90-94 with average riding action. He throws both a late-breaking 86-87 mph slider and a hammer curveball, and he also shows a good feel for a changeup. He commands all four pitches well. Billingsley has advanced mechanics and pounds the strike zone, but he needs to become more consistent in repeating his arm slot. He tends to get under his slider, causing it to flatten out. He also can improve his pitch selection. One of just two high school righties drafted in the first round, Billingsley will move fast for the Dodgers. He'll spend 2004 in Class A.
Paul first attracted the attention of scouts as a high school sophomore. Most teams overlooked him in the 2003 draft because of his size and commitment to Tulane, but he shined for the Dodgers in a predraft workout in New Orleans. Area scout Clarence Johns did his homework on Paul's signability and Los Angeles got him for $270,000. Paul has a strong, compact body with a short swing and surprising raw power. He shows the discipline and plate awareness to hit at the top of the lineup. He already puts together the best combination of power and natural hitting ability in the organization. He hits the ball where it's pitched and uses the whole field. Paul is a plus runner once he gets going and has a plusplus arm in the outfield. He touched 94 mph as a prep pitcher. Paul needs to stay focused and improve his routes in the outfield. He'll increase his value if he can handle a move to center field in 2004. Never afraid to challenge their prospects, the Dodgers could jump Paul to high Class A this year. He's not a premium basestealing threat, but he profiles as a potent top-of-the-order hitter.
The son of former all-star Dave LaRoche and brother of Braves prospect Adam, Andy was considered unsignable and headed for Rice when the Dodgers took a flier on him last June. When he tore up the Cape Cod League and projected as a 2004 first-rounder, the Dodgers went against MLB's recommendations and signed him for $1 million. An aggressive hitter, LaRoche caught scouts off guard by displaying well-above-average raw power in the Cape. It was evident again in instructional league, where he launched several tape-measure shots. His arm strength is the best in the organization, and he has a natural feel for the game. The question about LaRoche is where he will play. He may lack the quickness to stay at shortstop, but he isn't a defensive liability and his versatility gives the Dodgers options, including catcher. He can get pull-happy, making him susceptible to offspeed pitches. LaRoche broke his leg early in the Cape season and wasn't cleared to play shortstop until the fall. The Dodgers expect him to be fully recovered this spring, when they'll move him to second base and promote him to high Class A.
Hill was disappointed to start 2003 back in Double-A for a second straight season, but David Ross blocked him in Triple-A. Hill turned his year around after a promotion to Las Vegas in May. A line-drive hitter with a level swing from both sides of the plate, Hill makes consistent contact and sprays the ball to all fields, showing enough power to carry the alleys. A patient hitter, Hill rarely chases bad pitches. A third baseman in college, Hill converted to catcher after signing. He has good hands, athleticism and arm strength but must improve his receiving mechanics, release and throwing accuracy. He nabbed just 27 percent of basestealers in 2003. His walk rate plummeted last year, though his strikeout rate did as well. He's a well below-average runner. If the Dodgers can trade Paul Lo Duca, Hill will share the big league catching job with Ross. Though he has work to do behind the plate, Hill already is better defensively than Lo Duca and won't be a significant dropoff offensively.
Abercrombie entertained college football scholarships before his parents persuaded him to focus on baseball. He has added more than 40 pounds of muscle since signing and draws comparisons to premium athletes such as Eric Davis, Torii Hunter and Preston Wilson. Many scouts say Abercrombie is the best physical specimen in baseball. His speed, center-field range and arm strength all earn 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He has tremendous bat speed and the strength to drive pitches out of any park to all fields. Abercrombie's plate discipline has been downright awful. He appeared to make progress after getting contact lenses in May 2002, but his strikeout-walk ratio worsened in 2003. Though he works hard on pitch-recognition drills, he continues to struggle in that area. He's overaggressive, gets off balance and chases too many pitches in the dirt and out of the zone. Abercrombie tore the ACL in his right knee chasing a fly ball in the Arizona Fall League and could be out until May. The Dodgers still protected him on their 40-man roster. Once he returns to Double-A, it will be time for him to start making adjustments.
When Guzman signed for a Dominican-record $2.25 million bonus in 2001, he was showered with hyperbole, and not just from the Dodgers. But he hasn't made the immediate impact a typical can't-miss prospect would in the lower levels of the minors. Guzman received a promotion to high Class A last year not on merit but solely because of a conflict between him and South Georgia manager Dann Billardello. Los Angeles hoped the change of environment would help motivate him. It's easy to forget he won't turn 20 until after the 2004 season, but he needs to mature. Guzman offers an intriguing package of plus raw tools, including well above-average raw power and plus arm strength. After working with Dominican instructor Antonio Bautista and roving hitting instuctor Bob Mariano, he has shown significant progress staying back against breaking balls, though they still give him trouble. He's a free swinger who swings and misses too frequently to take advantage of his immense power potential. Guzman is quickly outgrowing shortstop, and it's only a matter of time before he shifts to third base or even first base. The Dodgers should slow his development down and let him experience an extended period of success this year in Class A.
The Dodgers had two of the worst consecutive drafts ever in 1997-98, and Colyer is all they have to show for a '97 effort that started with first-rounder Glenn Davis and unsigned second-rounder Chase Utley. Colyer spent four years in Class A as a starter, showing little hope of harnessing his overpowering arsenal until he moved to the bullpen in 2002. His aggressive delivery and linebacker-like approach are best suited for a late-inning role. He generates explosive life on his fastball, which is one of the best in the organization at 93-98 mph. His hard slider gives him a second weapon with which to attack hitters, but command is still an issue. Colyer was impressive in big league camp last year, fanning 13 in 10 innings before Tom Martin beat him out for the lefty set-up job. Colyer rode the Las Vegas-Los Angeles shuttle five times last year, and was inexplicably left to sit in the Dodgers bullpen for two weeks in July without making an appearance before he was sent back to Triple-A. Colyer should join Martin in the big league bullpen this year, and he could close out games in the future if he figures out the importance of throwing strikes.
Aybar, who signed for a then-Dominican-record $1.4 million in January 2000 (since eclipsed by Joel Guzman's $2.25 million deal), bounced back from a disappointing 2002 season. He never got untracked that year after visa problems caused him to miss spring training and arrive at high Class A a month into the season. His younger brother Erick is a hot shortstop prospect on the way up in the Angels organization. At the plate, Aybar hits line drives from both sides of the plate, showing more bat speed from the right side and a smooth, easy stroke from the left. He hit .298 batting lefthanded versus .224 righthanded in 2003. He keeps his hands back and hitting offspeed stuff well. He's patient but scouts don't believe that necessarily equates into good plate discipline or pitch recognition. Defensively, Aybar is one of the best defensive infielders in the system, capable of making plays on the run and throwing strikes to first with his plus arm strength. He still needs to mature and improve his overall approach. If his power doesn't come, some in the organization think Aybar could slide over to second base. Aybar is one prospect the Dodgers need to promote cautiously. After two years in high Class A, he's ready for Double-A.
After an impressive spring, Broxton was hampered by wrist tendinitis and later a biceps strain throughout most of the regular season. None of that prevented him from blowing 97-mph heat in instructional league, as he had done in spring training. Known as "The Bull," Broxton creates outstanding leverage to the plate with his 6-foot-4 frame and high three-quarters arm slot. His fastball dipped to 86-87 when he was nagged by the biceps injury, but it rarely dips below 90 and sits around 94 with heavy sink when he's healthy. He demonstrates excellent command of his 85-86 mph slider, which breaks sharply off the table. After learning a changeup from minor league pitching instructor Mark Brewer in 2002, Broxton continued to show a feel for the pitch after working on it with South Georgia pitching coach Roger McDowell last year. Broxton has a high-maintenance body that requires extra attention. His weight soared as high as 277 during the season. The Dodgers envision him as a workhorse and don't expect the injuries he battled last season to linger and affect his development. He'll continue to build innings as a starter in high Class A, though some scouts project him eventually moving to the bullpen. Broxton does have three potential plus pitches, which is more than enough to keep him in the rotation.
Tiffany tied Dodgers 2003 first-rounder Chad Billingsley and Twins 16th-rounder Michael Rogers for the U.S. junior national team lead with four wins in the summer of 2002. That wasn't his biggest amateur achievement. He was MVP of the PONY League World Series as a 14-year-old. Los Angeles exceeded the commissioner's office's bonus recommendation by buying Tiffany out of his Cal State Fullerton commitment with a $1.2 million bonus. His pro debut was delayed until late August because of the negotiations, and then he was limited by a hamstring injury, which also hampered him during high school. Often compared to Mike Stanton because of his strong, stocky build, Tiffany can run his fastball up to 94 mph. He regularly sits in the 90-92 mph range with his two- and four-seamers. His circle changeup is major league-quality already, featuring late sink and fade away from righthanders. His arm works free and easy, helping his fastball ride up in the zone. His curveball projects as average, but he's still inconsistent because he doesn't always stay on top of his pitches. Tiffany needs to work on his flexibility to avoid further hamstring issues, and he'll have to keep close tabs on his weight because of his stocky frame. The Dodgers would like to get Tiffany acclimated with full-season ball by starting him in low Class A.
Chen became the first Taiwanese player to reach the majors in 2002, and he hit .579 with three homers in 19 at-bats in big league camp. That still wasn't enough to crack the Dodgers outfield, so he spent his second consecutive season in Triple-A. After becoming the first player in high Class A California League history to join the 30-30 club in his 1999 pro debut, Chen looked like a multitooled phenom on the fast track to Chavez Ravine. Four years later, his below-average tools are preventing him from advancing and the Dodgers are counting on his lone plus attribute (power) to carry him to the majors. A dead-red fastball hitter, Chen is capable of producing 30 homers annually in the majors. He generates power to all fields with quick, strong wrists and above-average bat speed. He swings and misses too often, though. In the outfield, his arm is a liability and he doesn't read balls off the bat well enough to compensate for his lack of range. The Dodgers tried to make him a full-time first baseman in 2002, but his footwork was terrible. A key cog in Taiwan's lineup, Chen led the World Cup in home runs in 2001 and his 6-for-12 performance in the Asian Games last fall helped his country earn a berth in the 2004 Olympics. They'll have to play without him if he's in the big leagues in August.
The Dodgers signed Figueroa for $500,000 following an outstanding performance on the Perfect Game showcase circuit in the spring of 2002. He was so dominant in his pro debut that some Los Angeles officials believed he could have handled a jump to the major league bullpen. But Figueroa came down with shoulder tendinitis in instructional league following the 2002 season. As a result, his mechanics got out of whack and his velocity and command suffered. It didn't help when Figueroa showed up out of shape last spring. He lost his fluid arm action trying to compensate for his shoulder soreness, and only after extensive work with South Georgia pitching coach Roger McDowell did Figueroa begin to show flashes of past form. His fastball didn't approach the 93-94 mph range he's capable of, but rather sat at 86-88 and topped out at 91. His breaking ball is a plus pitch and a devastating sight for lefthanders, coming out of Figueroa's low three-quarters slot. He's still developing a changeup. Rated the No. 2 prospect in the system a year ago, Figueroa has seen his stock drop. While he has a chance to bounce back, most scouts are projecting him as a reliever now. If he looks like his old self in spring training, Figueroa could open 2004 in high Class A.
Martin led the Canadian junior national team with a .414 average and two home runs in 29 at-bats at the 2000 World Junior Championship. Drafted as a third baseman, that's where he spent his first summer in pro ball, but the Dodgers shifted him behind the plate in instructional league 2002 at the suggestion of area scout Clarence Johns. Martin's athleticism, soft hands and well above-average arm strength originally prompted his conversion. Under the tutelage of minor league catching instructor Jon Debus, Martin has made tremendous strides receiving and blocking balls. He still lacks polish, as indicated by his 27 passed balls and 23 percent success rate throwing out basestealers in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. The Dodgers love the Canadian's hockey mentality and believe it has helped him with the transition. At the plate, Martin has a fluid line-drive stroke with raw power potential. He needs to stay behind the ball more consistently, though, as he tends to get overly pull-conscious. He has done an excellent job thus far of controlling the strike zone. The Dodgers plan on keeping Martin and fellow catching conversion prospect Mike Nixon at separate levels. They'll compete for a chance to move up to high Class A in 2004.
Dodgers scouting director Logan White calls Megrew a poster boy for projectable lefties. As with Greg Miller, Megrew's velocity steadily has increased since high school. Area scout Jon Kosciak did a tremendous job evaluating Megrew when he clocked him in the mid-80s as a senior. While Megrew hasn't reached Miller's mid-90s levels yet, he's topping out at 92 mph. At a lanky 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Megrew isn't done growing and the Dodgers project him to sit at 90-93 before long. He'll flash a plus curveball at times and changes speeds masterfully. He demonstrates excellent feel for throwing a power changeup, which is occasionally a plus-plus pitch and helps play his fastball up. The Dodgers were conservative with Megrew last year, but after finishing second in the Pioneer League in strikeouts, he won't be held back this season. He'll start 2004 in South Georgia.
Injuries to top pitching prospects Jonathan Figueroa (shoulder), Brown and Alfredo Gonzalez (shoulder) were among the few Dodgers disappointments in the minor leagues in 2003. Brown, an afterthought in the Gary Sheffield trade with the Braves before the 2002 season, looked ready to assert himself as one of the brightest pitching prospects in the minors. Three years removed from Tommy John surgery in 2000, he opened eyes in big league camp last spring. He was throwing an effortless 93-96 mph fastball, along with a pair of plus breaking balls and an average changeup. Then Brown was pulled from his only regular season start after one inning because of a twinge in his elbow. He had surgery to remove bone chips in June and didn't resurface until instructional league. Even then, he threw only 45-50 pitch bullpen sessions. His delivery is clean and his arm works well, though his command has been inconsistent in the past. First and foremost, Brown must prove his durability. He could put himself in the Dodgers' big league plans after starting back in Double-A.
The Braves failed to sign Young as a 29th-round draft-and-follow before the 2002 draft, and his stock soared after an impressive predraft workout at Dodger Stadium with GM Dan Evans looking on. He has had no problem making the transition to wood bats, leading the South Atlantic League in extra-base hits (60) and slugging percentage last season. He worked hard to shorten his swing and became more compact and direct to the ball in 2003. Young might have the best bat speed in the organization. He's an aggressive hitter who shows the ability to crush the ball to all fields from both sides of the plate. Strong and stocky at 5-foot-10, Young lacks quickness at second base and might eventually have to move to third base or left field. He has an above-average arm, but the Dodgers would like to see him take his defense more seriously. Young's advanced hitting approach could help him skip high Class A and start 2004 in Double-A. His presence enabled the Dodgers to include second-base prospect Victor Diaz in a midseason trade for Jeromy Burnitz.
The Dodgers have a long history of success in the Far East and continue to be one of the more active major league clubs in that region. They're still waiting on returns from their Taiwanese investments in Chin-Feng Chen and oft-injured Hong-Chih Kuo, and Hu is their latest signee. He signed after special assistant to the GM Jeff Schugel scouted the 2002 World Junior Championship, where Hu hit .474 with four home runs in 38 at-bats as Taiwan's leadoff man. The Dodgers' 2003 draft brought an influx of potential middle infielders, but none of them can match Hu's athleticism and natural shortstop actions. He already has garnered comparisons to Rey Ordonez for his acrobatic defensive plays and strong arm. Despite his small stature, Hu doesn't get the bat knocked out of his hands. He's deceptively strong, capable of driving the ball with his line-drive swing and plus bat speed. He's also an above-average runner. Hu is fairly selective at the plate but needs to learn how to better cover the plate, use the whole field and draw more walks. He'll hit near the top of the lineup in low Class A this year.
The Yankees were down on Brazoban when they sent him along with righthanders Jeff Weaver, Brandon Weeden and $2.6 million to the Dodgers for Kevin Brown. But some clubs viewed the fireballing Brazoban as one of New York's brightest prospects. His off-the-field behavior and lazy work ethic have been issues since before he converted from outfielder to reliever in mid-2002. A toolsy outfielder, he never showed the ability to make adjustments at the plate and was easy prey for pitchers in the lower levels. But his arm graded out as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, prompting former Yankees farm director Rob Thomson to suggest a position change. After moving to the mound, Brazoban consistently has dialed up 92-97 mph heat, topping out at 99 on occasion. He also throws a good power slider for strikes. He's still raw and more of a thrower than pitcher at this point, but the Dodgers hope he can emerge along the lines of another former position player, Guillermo Mota. Brazoban needs to mature and improve his mound demeanor before achieving those type of expectations. He's easily rattled when things don't go his way on the mound. He's likely to kick his Dodgers career off in Double-A.
Thurston headed into last spring with little competition for the Dodgers' second-base job opened by the trade of Mark Grudzielanek. But after leading the minors in hits and total bases in 2002, Thurston hit a soft .241 and played lackluster defense in big league camp. The rookie-of-the-year candidate got just 10 big league at-bats all season and wasn't nearly as productive in his second tour of the Pacific Coast League. While there are still some scouts who view him as an everyday second baseman, he might be better suited for a utility role in the Mark McLemore mold. Thurston's makeup is off the charts and his overachieving ways made him an organization favorite long ago. He was Los Angeles' minor league player of the year in 2001 and 2002. The question is whether his tools will measure up in the big leagues. Thurston dives into the plate and didn't drive the ball well last season. He might encounter the same problem against power stuff in the majors. He's aggressive and draws few walks, but he has a knack for putting the bat on the ball. Thurston added some weight before 2003 and it seemed to affect his agility in the field and on the bases. He's an average runner yet was thrown out 12 times in 13 attempts after averaging 21 steals the previous two years. He lacks soft hands but gets the job done defensively. Even after Alex Cora's injury, the Dodgers are more likely to look outside the organization than to hand the position to Thurston.
The Dodgers boast a deep crop of power lefthanders lefthanders, including Greg Miller, Steve Colyer, Chuck Tiffany, Jonathan Figueroa, Mike Megrew, Rodriguez and Chad Bailey. Though he has battled injuries in each of the last two seasons, Rodriguez was a steal as a throw-in to the Antonio Osuna deal with the White Sox in 2001. Elbow tendinitis sidelined him for half of the 2002 season, but he didn't allow a run in 27 outings in Class A. Another bout with tendinitis in 2003 prevented him from pitching until August. He was impressive enough to earn a spot on the Dodgers' 40-man roster after the season, as his lively 91-93 mph fastball and downer curveball surely would have attracted interest in the major league Rule 5 draft. Rodriguez shows a changeup but mainly leans on his two plus pitches. His arm works well out of his compact delivery, and he generates good sink on his fastball. He must improve his control and, more important, he desperately needs to stay healthy for a full season. If he does, he could jump to the majors in 2004 if Tom Martin or Steve Colyer needs backup.
It took a $950,000 bonus to sign Nixon away from a football commitment at UCLA, where he was slated to play safety. Notre Dame and Arizona State also recruited him as a quarterback. Named Arizona's 2001 prep football player of the year, he still holds the state 4-A passing record with 8,091 career yards. Nixon also was a menace on defense, recording over 100 tackles as a senior, and he led Sunnyslope High to a state title in basketball. Considering he used to play baseball just three months out of the year, Nixon has made a relatively smooth transition to wood bats and pro pitching. He has established himself as a line-drive hitter with a good idea at the plate. His short, quick stroke and bat control aid him with two strikes. He'll need to make more quality contact to generate more power, and he occasionally cuts himself off at the plate. He also could stand to draw more walks. Nixon has plenty of work to do behind the plate, too. While he shows solid fundamentals in receiving and pitchers like the way he calls a game, Nixon proved to be easy prey for South Atlantic League basestealers in 2003. He threw out just 12 percent and allowed a league-high 163 thefts. His raw arm strength is solid average, but because of inconsistent throwing mechanics his release point varies and his pop times are slow. Not everyone in the organization is convinced he'll make enough improvement defensively, but his bat should be able to carry him as a third baseman or left fielder. The Dodgers love his makeup and work ethic. With Russell Martin's emergence, a promotion to high Class A isn't a lock for Nixon. Given his inexperience, a return to low Class A shouldn't be viewed as a setback.
McDonald's father James spent four years in the NFL as a tight end for the Rams and Lions, and his cousins Donzell and Darnell McDonald are minor league outfielders. McDonald's Long Beach Poly High lost to Delmon Young and Camarillo High in the California state semifinals in 2002. He caught the attention of Dodgers scouts by ripping a ball of the wall against Young (the No. 1 overall pick in 2003), who was throwing 93-94 mph. After Los Angeles took him in the 11th round, McDonald elected to attend Golden West (Calif.) JC in hopes of improving his draft status. He did just that, signing for $300,000 as a draft-and-follow. The Dodgers initially were split on whether to develop McDonald as a pitcher or outfielder, but the extra year helped convince them his future is on the mound. Compared to Edwin Jackson for his two-way athleticism, McDonald needs polish but already flashes plus velocity on his fastball. It normally sits in the 87-92 mph range, while his curveball has tight bite and depth. His changeup is a work in progress. The Dodgers think he could follow a similar path to Jackson's and will start him on the fast track at one of their Class A affiliates in 2004.
Rivera could be the first significant contribution to the system made by Dominican scout Rene Francisco. Francisco, who signed Rafael Furcal, came over from the Braves in 2002. Under Francisco's watch, the Dodgers aren't as likely to spend wildly as they have done in the past on Joel Guzman and Willy Aybar. First identified by Dominican scout Angel Santana, Rivera signed for $100,000. A switch-hitter with a more advanced approach from the left side, Rivera reminds some scouts of former all-star Tony Fernandez. Though Rivera ran a 7.25 60-yard dash when he signed, he has improved and projects as an above-average runner. He has natural shortstop actions, with good footwork and a strong arm. He worked out at the Dodgers' complex in Vero Beach, Fla., after signing and was treated to a tour of Dodger Stadium before returning to the Dominican for the winter. Rivera should make his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League this year.
A nephew of 287-game winner Bert Blyleven, Pilkington isn't overpowering but has moved swiftly up the ladder by filling up the strike zone. Pilkington, who had arthroscopic shoulder surgery after the Dodgers took him with their first pick (second round) in 2001, reached Double-A before turning 21. Though his stuff is just average across the board--88- 91 mph sinker, solid three-quarters-breaking curveball, fading changeup--he has pinpoint command that can make his offerings a grade better. Pilkington is around the strike zone too frequently, however. The Dodgers are trying to encourage him to try to make hitters chase more pitches out of the zone because his control is good enough that he can work behind in the count. He profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter with John Burkett upside. Pilkington attracts a lot of attention in trade talks and is slated for a return to Double-A in 2004.
When it comes to drafting pitchers, the Dodgers like tall, projectable lefties a la Greg Miller and big, strong righthanders along the lines of Jonathan Broxton. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Hammes falls into the latter category. Scouting director Logan White blew out his elbow as a minor league pitchers, and two of his main points of emphasis for pitchers are good mechanics and clean arm action. Hammes has the arm action part down but has spent most of his first two seasons trying to get his delivery ironed out. He has made strides yet still needs to continue improving his flexibility. Hammes has trouble finishing his delivery because he has a short stride and often cuts his pitches off, thus taking some of the natural power away from his stuff. He tops out at 92-93 mph and sits at 88-91 with his fastball. He has a power curveball but is inconsistent, occasionally hanging it. He has a feel for a straight changeup. Once Hammes learns to repeat his delivery, he'll benefit from additional velocity and command and start to move fast. He could return to low Class A to begin 2004.
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