Top Ten Prospects: Los Angeles Dodgers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Josh Boyd
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, 2004.
2. Greg Miller, lhp
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 190.
Background: 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.
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: 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.
The Future: 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.
3. Franklin Gutierrez, of
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170.
Background: 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.
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: 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.
The Future: 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.
4. James Loney, 1b
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Loney led Elkins High to a national championship in 2002 as a two-way 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 and hitting as expected.
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: 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 Future: The Dodgers have been aggressive with Loney. He might be best off with a full season each in Double-A and Triple-A over the next two years before he breaks into the majors.
5. Joel Hanrahan, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210.
Background: Hanrahan doesn’t rival the upside of Edwin Jackson or Greg Miller, but he shouldn’t be overlooked. He threw a pair of no-hitters in high Class A in 2002, then won the Double-A Southern League ERA title last year.
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: 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.
The Future: 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.
6. Chad Billingsley, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215.
Background: 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 taking him 24th overall and signing him for $1.375 million.
Strengths: 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-type curveball, and he also shows a good feel for a changeup. He commands all four pitches well.
Weaknesses: 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, which will come with experience.
The Future: 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.
7. Xavier Paul, of
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200.
Background: 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.
Strengths: 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 plus-plus arm in the outfield. He touched 94 mph as a prep pitcher.
Weaknesses: 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.
The Future: 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.
8. Andy LaRoche, 2b/ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185.
Background: 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.
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: 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.
The Future: 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.
9. Koyie Hill, c
Age: 24. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190.
Background: 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.
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: 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.
The Future: 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.
10. Reggie Abercrombie, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210.
Background: 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.
Strengths: 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.
Weaknesses: 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.
The Future: 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.