Dodgers 2012 Top Prospects Winter Development Program Underway

Will Dodgers fans see the sweet swing of Scott Van Slyke at the big league level during 2012

The Dodgers continued workouts today at Dodger Stadium with 15 of their top prospects as part of their annual ‘Winter Development Program.’  Manager Don Mattingly was in attendance along with hitting coach Dave Hansen and third-base coach Tim Wallach, as well as several roving instructors and player development personnel.

Along with workouts the players will receive instruction on diet, media relations, and MLB travel. The youngsters will also perform community service by visiting various places around Los Angeles including a youth center called A Place Called Home, and will also attend a Clippers’ game. A total of 15 prospects participated today including:

Pitchers (8) — Steven Ames, Michael Antonini, Rubby De La Rosa, Stephen Fife, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall, Allen Webster and Chris Withrow.

Position Players (7) — Alex Castellanos, Griff Erickson, Tim Federowicz, Tyler Henson, Alfredo Silverio, Scott Van Slyke and Matt Wallach.

The most notable participant is right-handed pitcher Rubby De La Rosa, who is fortunately recovering very well from Tommy John surgery. De La Rosa is healing on schedule, throwing free and easy on flat ground from 60 feet, will begin throwing bullpen sessions in March and is optimistic for a late July return to game action.

Ken Gurnick at MLB.com reported the following from Rubby at today’s workout, “Right now I feel more power than I did before, a lot stronger,” he said, rolling back his sleeve to reveal a six-inch scar. “Beautiful, huh?”

De La Rosa and Mattingly both rejected that his injury was the result of being rushed to the big leagues. The pitcher said he picked the brain of teammate and Tommy John veteran Javy Guerra, so he knows the importance of patience during the recovery and said he expects to remain a starting pitcher, even though Colletti said the pitcher could return to action sooner as a reliever.

Thanks to Ned Colletti’s busy off-season of signing free-agent veterans to multi-year deals the Dodgers have all 5 rotation spots filled for both of the next 2 seasons. Certainly it doesn’t make sense to put Rubby back in the starting rotation anytime during 2012, but for him not to have a shot at a spot in the the starting rotation, aside from injury, during the 2013 season is preposterous. Hopefully he comes back healthy and forces the Dodgers to deal Lilly, Capuano or Harang, as I’m sure I’m not the only Dodgers fan who wants to see Rubby back working his magic on the mound as a starter not a reliever.

Ned & Mattingly also suggested to Gurnick on Monday that the opening day roster is virtually set and there likely isn’t any competition for roster spots. Ned’s direct quote was:

“We really need the players we have to play to their potential. We’re in a decent spot to be competitive and make more decisions in July.”

Mattingly added the following:

“When we talk about the club, it’s a lot like last year. We have to stay healthy and have the guys doing what they’re capable of doing. If they do, we’re going to look like a pretty good offensive club.”

Mattingly may think they “look“ like a pretty good offensive club, but if the guys they acquired do what they are capable of doing then the club will most likely struggle offensively. Outside of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Dee Gordon, the rest of the club is filled with journeymen who are on the wrong side of 30 and who are career.250 to .270 hitters with little to no power. Jerry Sands is the exception and he showed glimpses of a very bright future at the end of last season, but at this point he’s most likely on the outside looking in when it comes to a spot in the starting lineup.

Hopefully the James Loney from the last 2 months of the season returns in 2012 and not the James Loney who was one of the worst offensive first-baseman in all of MLB the prior year and a half. If not then Dodger fans are looking at Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, Juan Rivera, AJ Ellis, Matt Treanor, Adam Kennedy, Tony Gwynn Jr and Jerry Hairston Jr. as the nucleus of “a pretty good offensive club.”

I’m sorry to be the pessimist, but there is nothing about that group of players that suggests “pretty good offensive club” to me. What is offensive is that these guys, aside from Ellis, are going to take playing time away from the invitees to the development program. You can’t tell me that if you gave Sands, Castellanos, Van Slyke and Federowicz the same amount of playing time that you wouldn’t get close to the same offensive production if not better.

There is a chance Dodger fans will see many of the participants of the program playing for the Dodgers this year if things go the way they did in 2011. 7 players from the 2011 development program played in the big leagues that year, including: Jerry Sands, Rubby, Dee Gordon, Nathan Eovaldi, Javy Guerra, Justin Sellers, and Trayvon Robinson. Unfortunately, Robinson’s debut was with the Mariners and not the Dodgers.

So there is a pretty good chance that we will see some of these guys in a Dodgers uniform prior to the September call-ups. Considering that the Dodgers have spent less on the draft and player development than any team in MLB during the McCourt era, it’s remarkable they have the young talent that they do. It just goes to show how good Logan White and his player development staff are at their jobs, that late round picks like Sands and Shawn Tolleson are close to contributing to the Dodgers if given the chance.

Brandon Lennox from the Dodgers Blog True Blue LA, was in attendance at Dodger Stadium for the workouts today and he put together a great piece with his observations. Outside of the Dodgers player development department Brandon knows as much about Dodgers prospects as anyone out there. Below are some highlights from what he saw at Dodger Stadium today.

Alex Castellanos was taking infield drills at 2nd base, although Mattingly said he will still work out mostly as an outfielder. Apparently the team just wants to see what he can do at 2nd base.

Ken Gurnick had this to say about Castellanos:

Working in the infield was Alex Castellanos, a natural power-hitting outfielder acquired from the Cardinals in the Rafael Furcal trade. Castellanos is still primarily an outfielder, but the Dodgers are trying him at second base, which they had to fill with the signing of free agent Mark Ellis because they weren’t willing to turn the position over to Sellers or Ivan DeJesus Jr.

Castellanos is a very intriguing prospect in my humble opinion. I wrote a piece heading into the off-season about the possibility of him playing second base for the Dodgers that analyzed his defense. After he was acquired from the Cardinals all he did was hit. He also got off to a torrid start in the Arizona Fall League, before injuries shut him down. As an outfielder he provides a nice power/speed combo, but move his skill set to second base and suddenly you have the prospects of a fantastic 1-2 punch with AC and Gordon.

Sabermetricians will no doubt blast me arguing that Gordon is currently average defensively, and you cannot succeed without solid defense up the middle and a middle infield of Castellanos and Gordon simply couldn’t cut it defensively. I realize it’s a small sample size but AC was drafted as a second baseman and He has played 55 games in the minors at 2B with 16 errors, a fielding percentage of .969 and a range factor just under 4.4. If you compare that to 2011 MLB second basemen his range factor would compare similarly to the Angels Howie Kendrick, and his fielding percentage would be in the Rickie Weeks range.

Like Gordon he also strikes out a lot and isn’t a high OBP guy (although he finished 2011 with a solid .386 OBP) but he makes up for that with his power and speed. He set a Florida State League record in 2010 with 35 doubles, and in 32 games last year at AA Chattanooga he had a respectable 24-to-15 KO to BB ratio. I realize he needs some work in AAA, against better competition, but if he has another great offensive season wouldn’t you like to at least see what he can do?

Or would you rather have a solid defensive second baseman who hits .250 with little power and no speed, IE Mark Ellis? Considering Ellis just got $9 to play 2B for the next two years it will likely take an injury to see AC playing second base for the Dodgers, and even if Ellis get’s hurt I doubt AC is the first option, after all the Dodgers can just turn to Adam Kennedy, oh joy. Check out this article about the 25 year old from early in the 2011 season by The Cardinal Nation.com and tell me what you think.

Another intriguing prospect is the Dodgers reigning Minor League Hitter of the Year, Scott Van Slyke. Brandon called Van Slyke:

A very big dude, and he really does look like a big league player. He hit some bombs into right field, and during fielding drills he was playing 1st base

Don Mattingly said Van Slyke is “a late bloomer who is now really coming in to his own.” Like Castellanos Van Slyke is 25 and whether it’s at first base or outfield he likely won’t see any action in 2012 in a Dodgers uniform, unless there are multiple injuries. At 6ft 5 inches he definitely is a “big dude” and he definitely has the bloodlines to potentially be a solid big leaguer. He put together a fantastic offensive season in 2011, and he did it in the pitching friendly Southern League, imagine what he’ll do in 2012 hitting at altitude in the Pacific Coast League.

But like Castellanos, the Dodgers invested a lot of $ on veteran outfielders this off-season, and if Jerry Sands is going to have to battle to earn a starting spot, it’s hard to imagine Van Slyke making an impact at the major league level in 2012.

Check out the rest of Brandon’s analysis of his day at Dodger Stadium by clicking here. He provides information about Griff Erickson, Alfredo Silverio, Chris Withrow, Josh Wall and more.

One final player I want to mention is the Dodgers reigning Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Shawn Tolleson. When Mattingly was asked about the plethora of young arms he said they were “stacked” and that it will “help the Dodgers down the road.”  When asked specifically about Tolleson, Mattingly said:

He’s another guy whose name has come up a lot, but there are a lot of guys ahead of him already on the big league club

Ned Colletti did a brief interview on MLB.com, and he mentioned that the Dodgers were basically done for the off-season but were still possibly looking for a versatile utility infielder. I mention this because he discussed the possibility of obtaining someone via trade rather than free-agency. Tolleson is someone that I hope is considered untouchable, unless the Dodgers acquire an elite third baseman. Tolleson actually grew up in Dallas with Clayton Kershaw and they played together in 2005 on the USA Junior National Team.

Kershaw said Tolleson was the best High School pitcher in Texas but he had Tommy John Surgery in high school and then spent 5 seasons at Baylor as a so-so starter. Fortunately, Logan White and his crew stole him in the 30th round of the 2010 MLB draft. He began his pro career just up the highway from me in Ogden Utah and dominated rookie league hitters with a 0.63 ERA and 17 saves in 28 IP. He has continued his dominance at every level. In 2011 he pitched in Low A, High A and AA, finishing with a 1.17 ERA and 25 saves in 69 IP. He posted Kenley Jansen like strikeout totals with 105 while demonstrating great control with only 18 walks.

Also like Jansen his repertoire features a dominant cutter that he developed on his own throwing it in side sessions. He has all of the makings of a closer of the future, and even though the Dodgers re-signed Mike MacDougal to likely round out the bullpen for 2012, Tolleson should be the first name called upon should the injury bug hit the bullpen. He has absolutely electric stuff and hopefully will be part of the Dodgers bullpen sooner than later, giving them another power arm to get big outs late in games.

We are about 6 weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. The Development Camp is a tantalizing glimpse of the Dodgers best up and coming young talent that gives fans the first taste of baseball in the new year. While the “hot stove league” was somewhat of a letdown for most Dodgers fans, due to the huge amount of $ spent on guys on the wrong side of 30, today is exciting because we as fans are reminded that the cupboard is far from bare in terms of young talent.

The Dodgers certainly don’t have the farm system to match Kansas City or Tampa Bay, but Logan White and the rest of the Dodgers player development and scouting personnel have done an amazing job of obtaining and developing prospects, despite the restrictions placed upon them due to the financial mess that is the Dodgers right now. However, with the prospects of a new owner on the horizon, an MVP and CY Young award winner on board, and with several young players knocking on the door, 2012 should be a year Dodgers fans will never forget.

 

Topics: Alex Castellanos, Alfredo Silverio, Allen Webster, Andre Ethier, Chris Withrow, Clayton Kershaw, Dave Hansen, Dee Gordon, Don Mattingly, Griff Erickson, James Loney, Javy Guerra, Jerry Sands, Josh Wall, Logan White, Los Angeles Dodgers, Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Matt Wallach, Michael Antonini, Nathan Eovaldi, Ned Colletti, Rubby De La Rosa, Scott Van Slyke, Shawn Tolleson, Stephen Fife, Steven Ames, Tim Federowicz, Tim Wallach, Trayvon Robinson, Tyler Henson

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