Dodgers Top 10 Prospects
By Josh Boyd
Perennial malcontent Gary Sheffield demanded a trade last winter and claimed he had been lied to by the rookie GM. Evans dealt Sheffield to Atlanta in January for Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and pitching prospect Andrew Brown. Jordan emerged as one of the teams emotional leaders. Perez completed his comeback from Tommy John surgery in 1999 to become Los Angeles ace. Brown, who also has recovered from Tommy John surgery, had a breakthrough season in high Class A.
Former GM Kevin Malone saddled the Dodgers with several bad contracts. Kevin Brown (seven years, $105 million) was hurt for the second straight season, while Darren Dreifort (five years, $55 million) never took the mound. Evans traded Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek to the Cubs in December, though the deal was a financial wash because he had to take Todd Hundley in return.
More significant, Evans bolstered the front office and shifted the focus in Los Angeles back to scouting and player development. His braintrust of veterans includes assistant GM Kim Ng, farm director Bill Bavasi, scouting director Logan White, senior adviser John Boles, minor league field coordinator Terry Collins, international scouting director Rene Francisco and longtime scout Al LaMacchia.
The farm system withered in recent years, but the new regime started to rebuild the depth in the lower minors. There were positive developments at the top as well. Homegrown closer Eric Gagne emerged in his first season in the bullpen with 52 saves. The Dodgers outbid other clubs for Japanese big leaguer Kazuhisa Ishii, a solid addition to the rotation.
Second baseman Joey Thurston led Triple-A Las Vegas to the best record in the Pacific Coast League. Thurston topped all minor leaguers in hits (196) and total bases (297) to win his second organization minor league player of the year award in three years, and he has a clear opening to a starting job in L.A. thanks to Grudzielaneks departure.
Evans used the farm system to bolster the club with role players Tyler Houston and Paul Shuey. But neither was effective, and the Dodgers may rue giving up four pitching prospects (Ricardo Rodriguez and Francisco Cruceta to Cleveland, Ben Diggins and Shane Nance to Milwaukee) for them.
Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSMissouri City, Texas, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Chris Smith/Logan White.
Background: Early last spring, James Loneys name jumped up the follow lists of Houston area scouts. Most teams were enticed by his left arm, rather than his pure lefthanded stroke, but the Dodgers drafted him as a first baseman. After passing up a Baylor scholarship to sign for $1.5 million, he tore up the Rookie-level Pioneer League, where managers rated him the No. 1 prospect. He had no trouble making a late-season jump to high Class A Vero Beach. The only glitch came when he was hit by a pitch, breaking his left wrist. Demonstrating his passion for the game, Loney was back swinging a bat with one hand within two weeks. He won a gold medal with the U.S. national 16-and-under team at the 2000 Pan American Youth Games and the national high school title with Elkins High last spring. Loney was a high school All-American as a two-way player, batting .509-8-58 and going 12-1, 1.51 with 120 strikeouts in 69 innings.
Strengths: Loney possesses outstanding bat control, and his picturesque stroke reminds scouts of Shawn Greens. He uses a pronounced leg lift as a timing mechanism, drawing comparisons to David Justice. Loney stays inside the ball well and his swing path keeps the bat head in the zone for a long time. Hes still growing, having added four inches since his junior year, and projects to hit 35-plus home runs in the majors. He generates natural loft and raw power already. Hes also a future Gold Glover as a first baseman. His instincts for the position make up for average range, and his soft hands will help save wild throws. On the mound, he reached 93 mph.
Weaknesses: Some scouts worried about Loneys durability as a position player because he had arthroscopic knee surgery after his junior season. His injury last year was a freak occurrence, but anytime the wrist is involved, there are concerns over how it will affect swing mechanics. Loney is an aggressive baserunner but will have below-average speed as he fills out.
The Future: Loney jumped on the fast track and only injury can slow him. Hell play first at high Class A this yearif the Dodgers can resist promoting him.
Click here for prospects 2-10.