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December 4, 2008

Future Shock

Dodgers Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Four-Star Prospects
1. Ethan Martin, RHP
2. Ivan De Jesus Jr., SS/2B
3. James McDonald, RHP
4. Scott Elbert, LHP
5. Andrew Lambo, LF
Three-Star Prospects
6. Josh Lindblom, RHP
7. Devaris Gordon, SS
8. Josh Bell, 3B
Two-Star Prospects
9. Pedro Baez, 3B
10. Kyle Russell, RF
11. Xavier Paul, CF

Just Missed: Tony Delmonico, 2B; Steve Johnson, RHP; Chris Withrow, RHP

Ranking Challenges: While the Dodgers lack a truly elite prospect, the first five on this list are all worthy of Top 100 consideration, and could be moved around liberally without too much argument. The system drops off considerably from there, though their group of toolsy left-side infielders do provide plenty of ceiling.

1. Ethan Martin, RHP
DOB: 6/6/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Stephens County HS (GA)
2008 Stats: No Stats
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: While he entered the year as a third baseman who could also pitch a little, by the time the draft came, this first-round talent was generally seen as the best high school pitcher in the country. He was unable to make his debut due to a minor knee injury suffered during a fielding drill.
The Good: Martin has everything one looks for in a young pitching prospect. He has smooth mechanics, and effortlessly pitches at 92-94 mph while touching 96, and many believe there is projection for much more. Unlike most teenagers, he already has solid secondary offerings, with a hard-breaking power curve and a surprisingly deceptive change. He's a fantastic athlete with a strong durable build, and scouts rave about his makeup.
The Bad: Martin is still developing as a pitcher. He is still learning how to mix his pitches more effectively, as well as the difference between throwing strikes and throwing good strikes. Despite the advanced arsenal for his age, Martin has a tendency to overthrow all of his pitches, costing him command and movement.
Fun Fact: He was loosely involved with the most controversial play in high school baseball this year. One inning after Ethan had argued a called third strike, his younger brother threw a fastball at an umpire's head (intentionally or not) in a state playoff game.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a star-level and possibly high-impact big-league starter.
Glass Half Empty: The gap between what he is now and what he can be is about as wide as the Grand Canyon, and there is plenty of time for things to go wrong.
Path to the Big Leagues: What path? The guy has yet to throw a pitch as a pro.
Timetable: Despite being unable to make his pro debut last summer, the Dodgers still hope that Martin can prove that he's ready this spring for a full-season assignment at Low-A Great Lakes.

2. Ivan De Jesus Jr., SS
DOB: 5/1/87
Height/Weight: 5-11/182
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2005, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
2008 Stats: .324/.419/.423, .280 EqA at Double-A (128 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: The son of former big leaguer was selected to the Futures Game, put up a .438/.508/.629 line in 27 August games to lead the Southern League in on-base percentage, and finished the year among the circuit's top five in batting, hits, and runs.
The Good: De Jesus understands his offensive abilities, and focuses on what he does well: working the count, lacing line drives to all fields, and occasionally driving one into the gap. He has fantastic defensive instincts, with plus range to both sides, and a solid arm. His basic baseball intelligence raises every aspect of his game.
The Bad: De Jesus is not especially big or toolsy. He has slightly above-average speed, but there is some concern that he'll play his way off of shortstop if he loses a step or two, which would downgrade his projection dramatically; he also rushes his throws at times. He has almost zero power when facing lefties and focuses solely on making contact.
Fun Fact: From the seventh inning on for Double-A Jacksonville, De Jesus hit .378 (48-for-127).
Perfect World Projection: Above-average defense at short and on-base ability can be pretty valuable things...
Glass Half Empty: ...but they're not as valuable at second base.
Path to the Big Leagues: With Rafael Furcal moving on, there is a hole to be filled, though there's still the free-agent market to sort out.
Timetable: Chin-Lung Hu's miserable 2008 season may have created an opportunity for De Jesus, who will begin the year at the Dodgers' new (or old, depending on how you look at it) Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque.

3. James McDonald, RHP
DOB: 10/19/84
Height/Weight: 6-5/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 19th round, 2002, Poly HS (CA)
2008 Stats: 3.19 ERA at Double-A (118.2-98-46-113), 4.64 DERA; 3.63 ERA at Triple-A (22.1-17-7-28), 3.52 DERA; 0.00 ERA at MLB (6-5-1-2)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: Last year's breakout player proved he was for real with a very good showing at Double-A, then finished the year with six shutout innings out of the big-league bullpen to earn a spot on the post-season roster.
The Good: McDonald is all about deception and changing speeds. His natural mechanics hide the ball from hitters, and he fills the strike zone with an upper-80s fastball that can touch 92 mph. His go-to pitches are his secondary offerings, which include a good curveball and one of the best changes in the system, notable for both its deception and drop. He's a very good athlete, and he fields his position well.
The Bad: McDonald's lack of power gives some cause for concern. He does pitch backwards at times, often setting up the fastball as a fool-me pitch when batters are expecting something off-speed. He's a fly-ball pitcher who lives in the upper half of the strike zone.
Fun Fact: Beyond graduating a number of baseball players, including Chase Utley, Milton Bradley, and Tony Gwynn, Poly High in Long Beach also graduated Cameron Diaz and hip-hop impresario Snoop Dogg.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become a solid mid-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: He was so good in the bullpen that maybe he should just stay there; he provides a real change of pace when he replaces a power arm.
Path to the Big Leagues: McDonald has likely earned his way onto the big-league roster for good.
Timetable: McDonald's role for 2009 is yet to be determined. He could compete for a rotation job if the Dodgers fail to land enough arms in the free-agent market.

4. Scott Elbert, LHP
DOB: 8/13/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2004, Seneca HS (MO)
2008 Stats: 2.40 ERA at Double-A (41.1-22-20-46), 4.64 DERA; 12.00 ERA at MLB (6-9-4-8), 8.10 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: The top left-hander in the system returned from a series of shoulder issues to flourish as a reliever, reaching the big leagues after limiting minor league hitters to a .157 batting average.
The Good: Elbert's fastball sat at 89-92 mph this year, which is two to three ticks below his pre-injury days, but Dodgers officials are confident that it will come back as he rebuilds his arm strength. He did keep his plus-plus curveball, a true power breaking pitch that has such heavy spiraling action that it even made big-league hitters look foolish at times.
The Bad: Elbert's mechanics still have a lot of moving parts, and he has trouble staying in sync and in the strike zone. He never really developed much of a changeup before being hurt, and almost never threw one in 2008, leaving most to think his move to the pen is permanent, though the Dodgers refuse to say so.
Fun Fact: Double-A batters facing Elbert with runners on and two outs went 1-for-25 with no walks and nine strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Some still think he could start, but there are just too many issues involved. If the velocity comes back and Elbert learns to throw more strikes, he might even be able to close.
Glass Half Empty: He does not throw enough strikes to be dependable in a late-inning role, and he's still an injury risk.
Path to the Big Leagues: Teams can always use power left-handers.
Timetable: Like McDonald, Elbert will need to wait and see what off-season moves the Dodgers make in order to know what the future holds. At the very least he'll be given a shot to earn a job in spring training.

5. Andrew Lambo, LF
DOB: 8/11/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2007, Newbury Park HS (CA)
2008 Stats: .288/.346/.462, .227 EqA at Low-A (123 G); .389/.421/.750, .335 EqA at Double-A (8 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This 2007 fourth-round pick followed up an outstanding pro debut by leading the Low-A Great Lakes team in numerous offensive categories, then held his own in the Arizona Fall League playing with more advanced prospects just months after his 20th birthday.
The Good: Lambo is the best pure hitter in the Dodgers system, with a beautiful swing and a combination of bat speed and raw strength that projects for at least average power down the road, and possibly more. He showed improved plate discipline throughout the year, and despite it being his full-season debut, he did not seem at all overmatched against far more advanced players.
The Bad: Lambo's bat has to be his ticket to the big leagues, as his other tools lag well behind. He's stiff, nonathletic, a below-average runner, and merely passable in left field. For a player with this profile, scouts want to see an elite-level bat, and they're not quite sold that he has it yet.
Fun Fact: In the eighth or ninth inning of games for Jacksonville during his late-season stint there, Lambo went 7-for-10 with a double, a triple, and three home runs.
Perfect World Projection: He should become an above-average hitter in the middle of the order.
Glass Half Empty: He'll be limited to first base or left field defensively, and he'll be a good hitter, but not good enough to make an impact at those offense-oriented positions.
Path to the Big Leagues: Even if the club re-signs Manny, if won't be to the kind of deal with the length to block Lambo.
Timetable: The way the Dodgers moved Lambo at the end of the year may indicate that they believe he's ready for a quick jump to their new Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga.

6. Josh Lindblom, RHP
DOB: 6/15/87
Height/Weight: 6-5/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, Purdue University
2008 Stats: 1.86 ERA at Low-A (29-14-4-33), 3.95 DERA; 3.60 ERA at Double-A (5-5-1-4), 3.86 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: A middling college starter who took a giant step forward as a reliever, Lindblom worked his way into the second round and had a sizzling pro debut.
The Good: He combines a power frame with above-average stuff and command. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph, can touch 96, and features heavy sink. He throws two breaking balls: a power curve, and a splitter that he uses as a changeup and likes to mix in against left-handers. Unlike many big-framed pitchers, he has simple mechanics and a consistent release point from a high three-quarters arm slot, which allows him to throw all of his pitches for strikes.
The Bad: Lindblom is likely to end up as a reliever, as that's where his only consistent success has come, and he still lacks a real out pitch. His fastball can be a little too true at times, and he needs to work on throwing chase pitches and setting up hitters, as opposed to just filling up the strike zone.
Fun Fact: While he began his college career at Tennessee, it's fitting that Lindblom transferred to Purdue; he was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, and was a third-round pick out of Harrison High School.
Perfect World Projection: He's a late-inning reliever, or a borderline second-division closer.
Glass Half Empty: He's good, but no more than a set-up man.
Path to the Big Leagues: There's some talk within the organization about trying Lindblom as a starter again, but most feel that if it's not broke, don't fix it, and pitching out of the bullpen is what he has done well.
Timetable: He can move quickly, and should begin his first full season at Double-A, with a good shot at being a full-time big-leaguer by 2010.

7. Devaris Gordon, SS
DOB: 4/22/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/150
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2008, Seminole CC (FL)
2008 Stats: .331/.371/.430 at Rookie-level (60 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Unable to play this spring due to academic issues, Tom Gordon's son blew away amateur scouts well enough to nevertheless make him a fourth-round pick. He then dazzled pro scouts during a shockingly successful pro debut.
The Good: Like his father, Gordon packs a ton of talent into a small frame. He has an innate feel for contact, with excellent plate coverage and surprising pop for his size. He's a plus-plus runner, which serves him well both on the basepaths and at shortstop, where he has fantastic range, a solid arm, and a flair for the dramatic.
The Bad: Nearly everything about his game is raw, if not downright crude. He needs to greatly improve his plate discipline if he wants to hit at the top of the order. Defensively, he makes too many errors due to improper footwork and rushed throws.
Fun Fact: While Gordon didn't begin playing baseball until high school and projects as only a position player, his dad did teach him his signature curveball, and it's a plus pitch.
Perfect World Projection: He has star potential, both as a shortstop or a center fielder.
Glass Half Empty: No player in the system has a greater distance between what he is and his potential. He's far too messy defensively to stay in the infield, and will need to find some secondary offensive skills if he moves to the outfield.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's too early to worry about.
Timetable: The Dodgers believe that, despite the holes in his game, he'll be ready for a full-season assignment at Low-A Great Lakes in 2009. More attention will be paid to the refinements in his game than to his actual production.

8. Josh Bell, 3B
DOB: 11/13/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/235
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2005, Santaluces HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .273/.373/.455, .250 EqA at High-A (51 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: The slugging third baseman was off to a solid start in the California League before doctors discovered a condition in his knee that required season-ending surgery.
The Good: Bell is a prototypical big-bat third baseman with well above-average raw power from both sides of the plate. He made solid strides last year in developing a more patient approach, and he also improved his defensive fundamentals, which are supplemented by an outstanding arm.
The Bad: Bell's size has become a bit of a problem, as he's put on more than 40 pounds over the last two years, and it's not all muscle. This has cost him some range, and there is some fear that he'll have to move over to first base. He was almost too patient at times last season, putting himself in poor hitter's counts, and his power-only swing will always lead to high strikeout totals.
Fun Fact: When leading off an inning in the California League, he went 16-for-40 with three home runs, six walks, and a batting line of .400/.478/.775.
Perfect World Projection: He should become an average third baseman with enough power to hit fifth in a good lineup.
Glass Half Empty: He ends up as a low average/big power guy who is limited to first base. Not a good combination.
Path to the Big Leagues: If Blake DeWitt is really a second baseman, then third base for the Dodgers is wide open well into the future.
Timetable: Bell is expected to be 100 percent for spring training, but he may start the year back in the California League to regain his timing, before moving to Double-A for the second half of the season.

9. Pedro Baez, 3B
DOB: 3/11/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2008 Stats: .178/.244/.259, .133 EqA at Low-A (59 G); .267/.317/.502 at Rookie-level (61 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: Baez is a high-ceiling third baseman who was overmatched in full-season ball before regaining his prospect status by making some good adjustments in the Pioneer League.
The Good: He has two tools that are better than those of anyone else in the system. First, he has incredible raw power, and puts on a show-stopping batting practice. Second, he has an absolute cannon for an arm that some scouts rate as a pure 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also has an athletic build, and the talent to develop into a solid third baseman.
The Bad: Baez is a total hacker; he was tortured by Midwest League pitchers who fed him a steady diet of breaking balls out of the zone. Despite his defensive tools, he still needs to refine his positioning and footwork at the hot corner.
Fun Fact: Baez hit just .139/.209/.230 against Midwest League right-handers, but in the Pioneer League he improved significantly, slugging .276/.335/.526 against them.
Perfect World Projection: He's similar to Bell: a big-time power-hitting third baseman with too many strikeouts and not enough batting average.
Glass Half Empty: There may be so many holes in his game that he just doesn't develop enough in time to take advantage of his toolset.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's behind Bell for now on the organizational depth chart, and in terms of development as well. These are two high-risk prospects, so the chances of them both panning out are pretty slim.
Timetable: Baez will get another shot at Great Lakes to begin the 2009 season, and the Dodgers hope to have him in High-A by the end of the year.

10. Kyle Russell, RF
DOB: 6/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, University of Texas
2008 Stats: .279/.365/.534 at Rookie-level (61 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: After not signing with St. Louis as a sophomore-eligible in 2007, Russell failed to build on that year's record-breaking season, and while he was drafted one round higher, he signed for less than half of what the Cardinals had offered him 12 months earlier.
The Good: Power is Russell's calling card, and he generates tremendous torque through his hips and thighs, with the ability to hit the ball out of any park when he gets enough extension. He's not your classic plodding slugger either; he's a very good athlete with average speed and a very good outfield arm.
The Bad: His power comes at a price. His swing is both long and hitch-heavy, and he struck out once every 2.7 at-bats while posting an utterly unsustainable BABIP of .445 in his pro debut. Some think that he'll never hit for anything close to an acceptable average down the road-it's that big of a concern.
Fun Fact: One of the most successful programs in college baseball, the University of Texas has already produced 76 draft picks in this decade.
Perfect World Projection: There are some big-time holes in his game, but 35-plus home runs annually could make anyone forget about a lot of them.
Glass Half Empty: He'll end up being remembered for striking out 212 times at Double-A two years from now.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's too early to tell.
Timetable: Russell will focus for now on putting more bats on more balls at Great Lakes in 2009.

11. Xavier Paul, CF
DOB: 2/25/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2003, Slidell HS (LA)
2008 Stats: .316/.378/.463, .244 EqA at Triple-A (115 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This slow-but-steady riser kept on keeping on with another move up the ladder and delivering another solid showing statistically.
The Good: Paul has solid tools across the board. He has solid hitting abilities, having consistently hit for good batting averages at the upper levels while adding gap power. His speed is above average, he made great strides defensively in center field, and he has one of the better arms in the system.
The Bad: He is less than the sum of his parts, lacking any one tool that might enable him to project as an everyday player. He'll never have much power, and he struggles against good left-handers. He still has issues at times with his breaks on fly balls in the outfield.
Fun Fact: Slidell High School in Louisiana is the same school that graduated Chicago Bears rookie star Matt Forte.
Perfect World Projection: He's a second-division starter, or more likely a fourth outfielder.
Glass Half Empty: He'll top out as an up-and-down player who spends the next five years bouncing back and forth between the majors and Triple-A.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Dodgers have a full outfield, especially if they bring Manny back.
Timetable: Paul is most likely destined for a return to the Pacific Coast League in 2009, but he should make his big-league debut at some point during the season.

The Sleeper: Justin Miller is a raw right-hander with control issues who had a pedestrian 3.99 ERA in the Midwest League, but he also has the best sinker in the organization and is a ground-ball machine who had a G/F ratio of nearly 3-to-1 this year.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Chad Billingsley, RHP
2. Clayton Kershaw, LHP
3. Matt Kemp, OF
4. James Loney, 1B
5. Jonathan Broxton, RHP
6. Ethan Martin, RHP
7. Blake DeWitt, 2B/3B
8. Ivan De Jesus Jr., SS/2B
9. James McDonald, RHP
10. Scott Elbert, LHP

Now that's a list of talent. Billingsley began to pitch like an ace at times last year, and Kershaw should join him at that level soon. Kershaw still has the higher ceiling, but Billingsley is already established as a stud big-league starter. On a pure tools and ability level, Kemp is equally capable of a breakout campaign if he can tone done his aggressiveness at the plate. Loney could win a batting title, and Broxton has closer stuff. That's a mother lode of good stuff, folks. Scouts still aren't totally sold on Blake DeWitt's bat.

Summary: The Dodgers system ain't what it used to be, but as the list above shows, it's already provided the major league club with plenty of young stars to make up for what looks to be a coming lull for the farm.

Up next: the Milwaukee Brewers


Today on BP Radio, Ethan Martin joins Brad Wochomurka to discuss his first taste of pro ball and his future on this edition of BP Radio.

Click to download mp3

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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