Dodgers preparing another bumper crop

LaRoche, Elbert, Meloan are next wave of LA prospects

(Ted Mase/Getty Images)

By Lisa Winston / | March 16, 2007 6:00 AM

The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.

This is what a farm system is all about.

The Los Angeles Dodgers had received acclaim behind the scenes for developing what appeared to be one of the deepest Minor League talent pools in the game. But if you can't translate that talent to big-league production when needed, what is it good for?

In 2006, it was good for a surprise spot in the postseason as the Dodgers made it to the playoffs for just the second time in a decade. And they did it thanks in large part to contributions from several of their top prospects, including outfielder Andre Ethier, catcher Russ Martin and pitcher Chad Billingsley.

This year, there looks to be even more where that came from as the Dodgers hope to find playing time for first baseman/outfielder James Loney, last year's Minor League batting champion, power-hitting third baseman Andy LaRoche, who was slowed last year by shoulder trouble, and a return from multi-talented outfielder Matt Kemp, who's no longer a rookie but still very much a prospect.

Those are only a few of the names that could dot the Dodgers' roster this season.

General manager Ned Colletti made a great impression in his first year in the post and Grady Little is not only the consummate players' manager and true gentleman but also known for his ability and willingness to work with young players rather than just tolerate them.

Look for the system to provide even more benefits and make postseason play a lot less of a surprise.

Climbing the Ladder

Triple-A Las Vegas

Andy LaRoche, 3B-OF
The younger brother of Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche is one of the top two power prospects in the system (coincidentally, the other, young Josh Bell, also is a third baseman). Only a shoulder injury kept him from joining the ranks of prospects who contributed to the Dodgers' 2006 playoff run as he underwent offseason surgery on a torn labrum that limited to 117 games.

LaRoche hit .315 between Double-A Jacksonville and Las Vegas, adding 19 homers, 81 RBIs and a .410 on-base percentage.

This spring, the Dodgers have been experimenting with him in the outfield in an attempt to get that bat to the Majors a little more quickly and give him a few more options for playing time. At this point, he's still behind Wilson Betemit at the hot corner, but Betemit can project as a utility player and in the long run, LaRoche's offensive upside is significantly higher. So it seems just a matter of time as to when LaRoche will win that job.

"I think knowing his mentality he wants to win the third base job, but Betemit is slotted there," said Chris Haydock, the Dodgers' assistant director of player development.

Haydock doesn't think a little more time at Las Vegas would be a detriment to LaRoche, noting the team would like to see him continue to work on his defense, where his arm is terrific, but his agility is an issue, and to work on trying to go the other way at the plate rather than trying to pull everything.
Video: LaRoche discusses the RCDP

Greg Miller, LHP
A 2002 supplemental first-round pick, Miller was the prized left-handed prospect in the system when he went 11-4 with a 2.49 ERA at Vero Beach in 2003, then moved up to Jacksonville, where he had a 1.01 ERA in four starts. Then his shoulder gave out and, two operations later, he did not return to the mound until late in 2005. Even in '06, he was still somewhat in rehab mode, trying to regain consistency.

In 60 innings between Jacksonville and Las Vegas, he combined to strike out 56 batters, but he also walked 46. He posted an 0.79 ERA in 23 innings in Double-A, where opponents hit just .154 against him, and a 4.38 ERA in 37 more at Vegas. He's still just 22.

"He's healthy and he's amazing, he throws like an octopus," Haydock gushed. "He has sick, filthy stuff and could easily make the big-league roster."

2006 Organizational Record
A (Adv)
Las Vegas
Vero Beach







Others to watch: If 1B James Loney doesn't make the big club with a chance to play on a regular basis, he could be back at Las Vegas for a little while, though after hitting .380 there last year there is not a whole lot more for him to prove in the Minors. Then again, given the shall we say frailty in the past few years of 1B Nomar Garciaparra, his time in Triple-A may be short. The Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, Loney also hit .284 in 102 at-bats with the big league club (when Garciaparra was hurt). A 2002 first-round pick out of high school in Texas, he's also an excellent defensive first baseman. The left-handed hitter added eight homers, 67 RBIs and 33 doubles. ... OF Matt Kemp is no longer a rookie, but he's still very much a multi-talented prospect and, after jumping from Class A in 2005 to the Majors in 2006, he'll likely get some more seasoning at Las Vegas. Overall in the Minors last season, he hit .346 with 25 steals and possesses both speed and huge power. He came to spring with new contact lenses that he hopes will help his vision at the plate.
Video: Loney blasts a two-run jack
Video: Kemp reflects on his time in the Minors

2006 Organizational Leaders
Home Runs
Stolen Bases
James Loney
Sergio Pedroza
Delwyn Young
A. Godwin, R. Rogowski
Spike Lundberg
Spike Lundberg
Scott Elbert
Mark Alexander
Complete MiLB statistics

Double-A Jacksonville

Chin Lung Hu, SS
Though Hu hit just .254 at Jacksonville in 2006, his average hovered around .300 in previous seasons, so the Dodgers aren't too worried about his bat. A former standout for the Taiwanese national team, he is as solid as they come with the glove and adds in the spectacular play.

He is expected to start the season at Jacksonville, but it would be a surprise if he doesn't move up before long to Las Vegas, where he would pair with 2B Tony Abreu for an exciting middle infield combo.
Video: Hu's wired for sound at the Futures Game

Scott Elbert, LHP
It's a toss-up among most folks as to who has the better upside among the club's two stellar southpaws, Elbert and young Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers' top pick last June. Tough dilemma to have -- two outstanding left-handers on their way up. Elbert's proximity to the big leagues probably gets him the nod. He split last season between Class A Advanced Vero Beach, where he posted a 2.37 ERA, and Jacksonville, where that number rose to a still respectable 3.61, combining to lead the organization with 173 strikeouts and 85 walks over 146 innings. Just 21, the 2004 first-rounder returns to anchor the Jacksonville rotation and try to tweak his command working with pitching coach Danny Darwin. He has an outstanding curveball and limited opponents to a .190 average (lefties to a .156).

"Command, as you know, is everything in the big leagues, and that's something he needs to continue to work on. But we think it won't be a problem," Haydock said. "He has the mechanics to throw in the strike zone, it's just learning command of the fastball, and that will tell us when he's ready to come up."

Others to watch: OF Xavier Paul spent the last two seasons at Vero Beach but raised his average 40 points and doubled his power output in his return there in '06, hitting .285 with 13 homers, 49 RBIs and 22 steals. The 2003 fourth-rounder has solid tools, most notably speed. ... RHP Jonathan Meloan, who could start at Las Vegas but more likely projects for Jacksonville, might be in the big-league bullpen in a big hurry. The 2005 fifth-rounder throws a fastball and slider as his out pitches, coupled with a serviceable curveball and changeup. His mechanics are something of a concern, but his stuff is unquestionable. He zoomed through the system in his first full season, starting the year at Class A Columbus and finishing it at Jacksonville, and never missed a beat. In 52 combined innings, he posted a 1.90 ERA with 16 walks and 91 strikeouts, limiting opponents to an .095 average. ... RHP Justin Orenduff was the club's first-round pick in 2004 out of Virginia Commonwealth but was shut down midway through last season following shoulder surgery. At the time, he had a 3.40 ERA in 10 starts and looks to return to the rotation there after he starts the season in the bullpen to get his pitch count up. ... 1B Cory Dunlap hit .261 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs in just 89 games at Vero Beach in 2006. He has great raw power, but the 2004 third-rounder needs to make sure he stays in playing shape (he's listed at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds).

Class A Advanced Inland Empire

Blake DeWitt, 2B/3B
With LaRoche ahead of him at third base and Tony Abreu looking to move into the second base job in L.A. in the not-too-distant future, it's hard to say where DeWitt is going to land, but the 2004 first-rounder's bat is admired enough by the organization that it's likely to find him a spot somewhere. He hit .268 with 18 homers and 61 RBIs at Class A Advanced Vero Beach in '06 before a brief move to Jacksonville, where he batted just .183 in 26 games. He is expected to start the season at the Dodgers' new Advanced A club in San Bernardino and concentrate on third base for the time being.

Javy Guerra, RHP
Just 21, Guerra was limited to seven games at Ogden in 2006 as he came back from Tommy John surgery. He posted a 4.82 ERA, but the Dodgers look past the numbers on paper and see a kid who had a tremendous instructional league and possesses a great arm. He throws a fastball, curveball and change, and they are hoping for big things out of him.

Others to watch: SS Ivan DeJesus Jr., a 2005 supplemental first-round pick, is the son of the long-time Major Leaguer. He brings a live bat, no power (one homer in two seasons) but outstanding defense. At 19, he put up solid numbers last year at Columbus, hitting .277 with 16 steals. ... LHP Cody White rebounded from a lost 2005, when he posted a 6.92 ERA at short-season Ogden, to emerge as a legitimate bullpen contender in 2006 as he lowered that ERA to a 2.68 in 25 games. He struck out 44 batters in as many innings, limiting them to a .190 average as he also made leaps and bounds in terms of maturity. Throwing a fastball, curve and changeup, he makes the leap to Inland Empire. ... Like Guerra, RHP Jesus Castillo underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 that cut short that season and last year. When healthy, his numbers have been dazzling as the 22-year-old has combined for a 2.59 ERA over three partial seasons, including a 2.88 ERA in 14 starts at Ogden last year.

Class A Great Lakes

Josh Bell, 3B
Just 20, the switch-hitting fourth-rounder from 2005 has big-time power potential from both sides of the plate. He also has a plus arm and good makeup and has hit .312 over two short-season campaigns. This year, he makes his full-season debut after batting .308 with 12 homers, 53 RBIs and 17 doubles at Ogden.

Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Kershaw was the seventh player taken in the 2006 draft and showed why when he posted a 1.95 ERA over 37 innings in the Gulf Coast League, scattering 28 hits and five walks to go with 54 strikeouts as opponents hit .201 against him. He has great command of a mid-90s fastball, plus curveball and circle change and could be a quick mover.

"I see no reason why, if he pitches well, he won't be promoted to High A," said Haydock, "but this is his very first Spring Training. And just getting through your first full season is a grind."

Others to watch: RHP Steven Johnson is the son of former Major League pitcher Dave Johnson. The 2005 13th-rounder from Maryland proved he might be equal to the task of jumping to Advanced Class A when he had a successful emergency call-up to Jacksonville, tossing a few scoreless innings before returning to Ogden, where he was 5-5 with a 3.89 ERA. ... RHP Josh Wall, a 2005 second-rounder, had an off-and-on season at Ogden last year, posting a 5.86 ERA over 66 innings. He struggled with control as he fanned 41 but walked 33. But he's still well-regarded and will begin his first full season with the new Class A affiliate. ... C Carlos Santana hit .303 at Ogden and .268 at Vero Beach last year and the former third baseman/outfielder added to his value by starting the conversion to catcher during instructional league. He combined for 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 91 games between his two regular-season stops and doesn't turn 21 until the first week of the season.

Under the Radar

Tony Abreu, 2B
DeWitt may be the Dodgers' top draft pick at this position, but Abreu has quietly put himself very much on the map as the prospect to beat at second base. The switch-hitter won the Florida State League batting title in 2005 when he hit .327, then went to big-league Spring Training and opened a lot of eyes as he saw substantial time due to World Baseball Classic absentees. He hit .287 at Jacksonville and moves up to Las Vegas this year.

"He's a special player who's been a favorite of mine," Haydock said. "He's primarily a second baseman but signed as a shortstop and can play both. He's an exciting young guy, and I could see him in L.A. at the drop of a hat."

Delwyn Young, OF
The converted second baseman, who moved to the outfield last year, has consistently been among the organization's leaders in many offensive categories and just as consistently been under the radar (other than among people who might confuse him with Delmon Young).

In 2006 at Las Vegas, the 5-foot-8 Young led the organization with 42 doubles and 61 extra-base hits, adding 18 homers and 98 RBIs. A 2002 fourth-round pick, he also had a brief Major League debut.

Mark Alexander, RHP
It might be a surprise to some to learn that it was the unheralded Alexander, rather than, say, Elbert, who was the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2006. But the 2004 20th-rounder posted 26 saves and an 0.96 ERA at Jacksonville to help the club reach the playoffs. He may not project as a closer in the Majors, but his 90 mph fastball and plus slider should earn him a shot in the bigs after he starts the year in the Vegas 'pen.

Eric Hull, RHP
The 27-year-old reliever was signed in 2002 as a non-drafted free agent out of Portland. Since then, he's received little fanfare, but he got something better during the offseason: a spot on the 40-man roster. He has a 3.47 ERA over five pro seasons, seeing time as a starter and reliever. And at Las Vegas in 2006, he limited opponents to a .207 average with a 4.19 ERA in 44 games (two starts). Hull struck out 78 batters in 73 innings and returns to the Pacific Coast League to start 2007.

2006 Draft Recap

LHP Clayton Kershaw (first round) has remarkable poise and command for his age and throws a fastball that touches 96. ... RHP Bryan Morris, also taken in the first round, struck out 79 batters in 60 innings at Ogden but underwent Tommy John surgery after the season and will miss all of 2007. When healthy, he threw a mid-90s fastball and excellent curve. ... SS Preston Mattingly, a supplemental first-rounder, has pretty good bloodlines but was still something of a surprise taken that high in the draft. He hit .290 in the Gulf Coast League with 12 steals and is an excellent athlete. Still young and somewhat raw as a baseball player, having concentrated more on basketball in high school, he's likely to spend the '07 season at extended Spring Training/short-season Ogden. ... Also likely to stick around Vero for extended Spring are the Dodgers' next two picks, 1B Kyle Orr and RHP Kyle Smith. Orr is a power-hitter from Canada who will make his pro debut when he takes his first swing this season. Smith is a lanky high schooler who got just a taste of the pro life at the end of the GCL season. ... Keep an eye on RHP Eric Thompson (23rd round), a 6-foot-7 hurler who turned down a basketball scholarship to sign with the Dodgers. ... Switch-hitting CF Matthew Berezay (21st round) hit .296 at Ogden with eight homers and 30 RBIs.
Video: Mattingly at the Winter Meetings


Organizational Player of the Year -- OF Delwyn Young

We'll go off the "obvious" board with this one, as Young heads back to Las Vegas to roam the outfield for a second season. Sure, Loney, Kemp and/or LaRoche could be the ones to put up Player of the Year numbers with a full season at Vegas, but any or all of them could and probably will spend significant time in the Majors. Young, on the other hand, puts up better than legit numbers every year, but there seems to be no spot for him in L.A. yet.

Organizational Pitcher of the Year -- LHP Scott Elbert

He arguably could have gotten the nod last year as he led the system with 173 strikeouts and posted a 2.90 ERA between two stops. This year, he should be equally impressive and is the leading candidate for this honor unless he skips from Jacksonville to the bigs. And that could happen.


"As you know, injuries happen every day, even in Spring Training. All it takes is one inside fastball to change the whole outlook. So James {Loney] will work to get better, he always does. ... His goal coming in is just to make the Major League club and as far as where he plays, let things take care of themselves." -- assistant director of player development Chris Haydock.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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