All-Stars Van Slyke, Songco love LA

Pair of sluggers lead way as Dodgers affiliates enjoy success

Scott Van Slyke won the Southern League batting title with a .348 average. (Tony Farlow/

By David Heck / Special to | November 16, 2011 5:00 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Though the Dodgers have had a year of turmoil on and off the field, their Minor League affiliates continued to operate smoothly in 2011. The organization's seven Minor League teams put together a combined .543 winning percentage, with only the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes (70-74) posting a losing record.

The Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and short-season Ogden Raptors all made the playoffs, with the latter making it to the Pioneer League Championship Series. The Dodgers also saw bounce-back years from a number of players in their system, while others took notable steps forward.

Catcher -- J.T. Wise, Rancho Cucamonga (97 games): A fifth-round pick in 2009, Wise batted .284 with 37 extra-base hits for the Quakes to make this list for the second year in a row. He was easily the most productive offensive catcher in the Dodgers' system, leading the group in home runs (17), RBIs (73), runs (61) and OPS (.887). The 25-year-old also controlled the running game well enough, catching 36 percent of would-be base stealers.

"I think he showed more consistency in his approach offensively," said Dodgers assistant general manager De Jon Watson, who is in charge of player development. "We saw power that we knew was there. He and [Minor League hitting coordinator] Eric Owens worked on some things, getting his strike and pitch selection a little better. We saw the results this year."

First baseman -- Angelo Songco, Rancho Cucamonga (131 games): After hitting .274 with 15 homers at Class A in 2010, the 23-year-old made a name for himself in 2011. Splitting time between first and the outfield, Songco batted .313 (seventh in the system) with 29 homers (tied for first), 114 RBIs (first) and 110 runs scored (first). He also topped the organization with 48 doubles and 310 total bases overall. His success earned him a spot on the California League midseason and postseason All-Star teams.

"We had to shorten the path of his swing," Watson said. "He put in a ton of work with Eric Owens and [Quakes hitting coach Michael] Boughton. He got himself a better setup and stride direction. He understood what to do with his hands and how to get them to work in his swing.

"He's a guy that we converted from outfield to first base and will be playing primarily first base going forward. He continued to work on his defense, and I look forward to seeing what he brings in 2012."

Second baseman -- Justin Sellers, Albuquerque (89 games), Los Angeles (36 games): Sellers led Dodgers second basemen with 14 Minor League homers, driving in 49 runs and scoring 57 himself. He also topped the group with a .537 slugging percentage and a .937 OPS. One of his stronger points was his eye at the plate, as he took 41 walks while striking out 57 times in 322 plate appearances.

"Justin Sellers is an above-average defender," Watson said. "He can play second, shortstop and third base. I like him better for the middle, but he can play third as well.

"His hands are well above average. His arm is above average as well, and he's got overall body control and can make the throws from multiple angles. He's a sound guy offensively, a line-drive gap guy with occasional pull power. He executed and moved the ball around the ballpark."

Shortstop -- Dee Gordon, Rancho Cucamonga (three games), Albuquerque (70 games), Los Angeles (56 games): Speed is the name of the game with Gordon, who placed second in the Dodgers' Minor League system with 32 steals despite spending such a large chunk of the year with the big league club. Overall, he swiped 56 bags on the year while getting caught 13 times. His .331 average in the Minors would have ranked fourth in the system if he had enough at-bats to qualify. After batting .372 with 12 steals for the Dodgers in September, he took home the National League Rookie of the Month award.

"The numbers, the foot speed, the defensive range -- he's a table setter," Watson said. "The only thing he lacks is power. But the other things are there, the leadership ability is there. He's a fun guy to watch play. This guy's our No. 1 prospect. He's gotten better and he's making adjustments."

Third baseman -- Travis Denker, Rancho Cucamonga (55 games), Chattanooga (66 games): The transient 26-year-old had a season that is likely to keep him in the Dodgers system for a while, batting .274 with an .879 OPS. He placed fourth in the organization with 25 homers and sixth with 220 total bases and 81 RBIs. While not a burner, he was able to pick his spots successfully on the basepaths, swiping nine bags in 10 attempts.

"I thought he kind of resurrected himself this year," Watson said. "Coming out of camp, he didn't take a step back, we were just forced to send him back. Once he moved to Double-A, he continued to produce. If you look age-wise, he's not far off from being able to help the club. He's back in system now and doing well for us. He's a good piece to have."


Scott Van Slyke, Chattanooga (130 games): After excelling in the hitter-friendly California League, Van Slyke initially struggled upon his promotion to Double-A in 2010, hitting .235 in 65 games. This past season, he certainly gained his bearings. The 25-year-old posted a system-leading 1.022 OPS, tying for first with a .348 average and checking in at second with 92 RBIs. The outfielder/first baseman also recorded 20 homers (tied for sixth), 45 doubles (second) and 272 total bases (third) en route to being named the Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Year.

"He took tremendous steps forward," Watson said. "From an offensive standpoint, he was a lot more consistent from the first to the last pitch of season. His overall approach was better, and he utilized the right-center field gap. He started taking his hits to right field and had the ballpark for it."

Jerry Sands, Albuquerque (94 games), Los Angeles (61 games): Like Gordon, he played a large part of the year in the Majors, but put up some of the best Minor League numbers in the Dodgers system. He tied Songco with 29 homers despite playing in 37 fewer games, while placing third with 88 RBIs and seventh with 78 runs. Though his .278 average and .344 on-base percentage were far from spectacular, his whopping .586 slugging percentage (behind only Van Slyke) carried him to a .931 OPS. Combining his performances across both levels, Sands hit 33 homers with 114 RBIs and 98 runs scored.

"I think he has upside, he's still growing and evolving as a player," Watson said. "Some adjustments were made in his approach this year and in his swing during the year, which is really difficult to do. When he came down and went back up, he was a lot better. The key for him is going to be able to stay short and direct to the ball. We're going to see some power production there."

Alfredo Silverio, Chattanooga (132 games): The highlight of Silverio's season came on Aug. 18, when he hit for the cycle. He smacked two triples in that game, which would be surprising for almost any player besides him. The 24-year-old tied for the Minor League lead with 18 three-baggers, while also tallying 16 homers and 42 doubles. Overall, his 289 total bases ranked second in the organization, trailing only Songco. He was chosen as a Southern League postseason All-Star and represented the Dodgers at the All-Star Futures Game in Arizona.

"He had a really good year for us, kind of a breakout season for him," Watson said. "He really got off to a quality start. The biggest thing for him was understanding the strike zone and downing his overall strike zone. Once he made the box a little bit smaller for him and started swinging at quality strikes, he put better swings on the ball. His extra-base hits went up and he drove the ball to all parts of the field."

Utility -- Jamie Hoffmann, Albuquerque (133 games), Los Angeles (two games): A Rule 5 Draft pick by the Yankees prior to the 2010 season, Hoffmann was returned to the Dodgers and batted .310 with eight homers for the Isotopes that year, leading the Pacific Coast League with 169 hits. He added more power to his game in 2011, launching 22 dingers to finish fifth in the organization and top his previous career high by 12. He also hit .297, drove in 84 runs, scored 91 times and stole 14 bases.

"I thought he had a really good year," Watson said. "He led the league in hits last year, and he wanted to drive the ball a bit more this year. That's something he addressed this offseason with Eric Owen. He needs to make sure his strike zone discipline grows and improves in order to contribute at the highest level."

Right-handed pitcher -- Red Patterson, Great Lakes (14 games), Rancho Cucamonga (14 games): The 24-year-old topped the system with 172 strikeouts and 173 1/3 innings pitched, posting a third-best ERA of 3.69 despite spending half the year in the hitter-friendly California League. He also tied for the organization lead in wins, going 12-5 on the year, and his 1.13 WHIP was the best of any pitcher with 16 or more starts. Though it was his first full professional season, he was still pitching successfully at the end, tossing his first career shutout on Aug. 25.

"Red had a good year," Watson said. "He's a college guy and for him, the key was attacking the strike zone and being more aggressive. Rafael Chavez, our Minor League pitching coordinator, tried to focus in on him commanding his fastball and attacking. He's a tremendous competitor, a hard worker, and we'll look for him to take another jump forward in 2012."

Left-handed pitcher -- Michael Antonini, Chattanooga (27 games): Acquired from the Mets in exchange for infielder Chin-lung Hu in December, Antonini ranked third in the system with 131 strikeouts and fifth with a 4.01 ERA. He was a horse for the Lookouts, leading the team with 27 starts and 148 innings pitched. His .272 batting average against was unremarkable, but he was able to enjoy success by throwing strikes -- he issued just 42 unintentional walks on the year.

"This guy was steady basically all year," Watson said. "One area we're really trying to establish is a quality secondary pitch, whether that's his curve or slider. He's still developing as a pitcher. His fastball was solid, 88-93, and his change-up is fringe to average. The key is going to be developing a curve or slider and finishing off hitters. Once he finishes those off, he can be a back-of-the-rotation starter or someone who can work out of the 'pen."

Reliever -- Shawn Tolleson, Great Lakes (14 games), Rancho Cucamonga (five games), Chattanooga (38 games): The 23-year-old right-hander recorded saves at every level at which he played, tallying 25 to place second in the organization. He struck out substantially more batters than he had innings pitched at each stop, fanning 105 total batters in 69 frames. He also kept the walks in check, issuing only 18 free passes, while allowing just a .206 opponents' batting average. Despite being a reliever, he was honored as Los Angeles' Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

"The interesting thing about Tolle is that we got him last year and he was [throwing his fastball] 88-91," Watson said. "He came into Spring Training with rest, and his fastball jumped about five feet. He was 93-96, 97 on a good night. That was the biggest thing, watching how his velocity jumped and spiked. He always had a good slider. He's one of those guys that has a chance to pitch in the seventh or eighth of a game. He could even close some day."

David Heck is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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