Starting in October and running through the end of the year, MiLB.com's State of the System series will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlighting prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offering a peek at 2021.
After more than three decades of trying and coming up just short, the Dodgers broke through this year with their first World Series title since 1988. The bad news for the National League: Los Angeles’ well is far from dry.
The Dodgers claimed their first crown in 32 years with star-studded acquisitions like Mookie Betts, yes, but also with a host of homegrown prospects such as shortstop Corey Seager, first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger and left-hander Julio Urias, who threw the final pitch of the World Series.
More future stars are on the way to reinforce baseball’s preeminent organization, which hasn’t lost a division title since Barack Obama’s reelection year and has won three of the last four National League pennants. The rest of baseball is on notice.
System strengths: The strengths of the new champs’ system are plentiful, but one stands out in particular to Los Angeles director of player development Will Rhymes.
“I think if you look at the area where we have a tremendous opportunity over the next couple years, it’s with starting pitching prospects and our ability to develop something that’s really rare to actually develop starting pitching and quantity of it,” he said.
The Dodgers' top prospect, right-hander Josiah Gray, is a pitcher, as are 13 others in the system’s top 30.
“If you look at guys that we have coming from ‘Jojo’, Edwin Sano, Mitchell White, Gerardo Carrillo, Andre Jackson, Michael Grove, Ryan Pepiot, Robinson Ortiz, Clayton Beeter, Bobby Miller, the list goes on,” Rhymes said.
Perhaps the only knock on Los Angeles’ collection of arms is that all but one of its ranked prospects are right-handers. That’s a problem Rhymes and the franchise are happy to have.
“We have a lot of real legitimate projectable starting pitcher prospects, and if a system can produce starting pitchers at a clip that’s kind of above the industry standard … that’s a real separator for an organization and something we have a chance to do,” he said.
Areas for growth: The Dodgers are set in the outfield with Betts, Bellinger, AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor at the big league level. On the farm, that’s perhaps the only position that looks comparatively thin and young. Los Angeles’ highest-ranked outfield prospect is sixth-ranked Luis Rodriguez. The 18-year-old signed in July 2019 and has yet to make his professional debut. DJ Peters (No. 11) still possesses upside after reaching Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2019. Andy Pages (No. 12) defected from Cuba and signed with the club in 2017, but hasn’t made it out of short-season ball. The club’s No. 14 prospect is 19-year-old Jake Vogel, who the Dodgers selected in the third round out of a Southern California high school in June.
What's changed: The Dodgers are thrilled with their 2020 Draft haul, nabbing three collegiate righties to kick off their picks followed by Vogel, switch-hitting Virginia Tech catcher Carson Taylor and another college righty in Gavin Stone. Top selections Miller (Louisville), Landon Knack (East Tennessee State) and Beeter (Texas Tech), who were “all trending up in their Draft year,” according to Rhymes, already have impressed.
“Essentially, we dropped them into Double-A, Triple-A competition right off the bat, which is a unique opportunity,” he said of the pitchers who got work at the club's alternate training site. “They all accepted the challenge. I think they were all surprised to a degree at the level of hitting and surprised at pitches that don’t get swung at and the pitches that they thought were good that do get hit. It’ll be a really interesting experiment. They know exactly where the bar is now, and most players don’t find where the bar is for two or three years. They know exactly where it is, exactly what the standard is from Day 1. It’ll be really interesting for us to follow this over the next couple of years, just to see how beneficial that will be for them.
“They all held their own. They all improved kind of dramatically throughout the summer, and I think they were all as advertised. If anything, we’re more excited about them now than we were in the Draft.”
Alternate site standouts: Drafted 25th overall in 2019, third baseman Kody Hoese already is extremely advanced for a prospect at his stage.
“I think a good analogy would be a lot of guys come in as mid-handicap golfers and we’re trying to get them to scratch,” Rhymes said. “He came in at scratch and we’re trying to get him to plus-handicap. It’s like he’s almost straight into finishing school, and I think his adjustments are nuanced and much more nuanced than others. We’re not knocking big blocks off the marble. We’re kind of chiseling minor details.”
Across 41 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League and with Class A Great Lakes in 2019, Hoese batted .299/.380/.483 with 15 extra-base hits, including five homers. His climb to the Majors could be swift.
“I think there’s some things we’ll be able to layer on over the next year or two to reach the highest possible outcome for him, which is a very high level of production, but it’s an all-around player. He’s got value on both sides of the inning and he’s very mature,” Rhymes said.
A fellow infield prospect also drew a strong review.
“One guy, if you talk to people who were at the alternate site and instructs, who just kind of blew us away with his progress -- and not that it’s surprising because he’s a really good player to begin with -- is Michael Busch,” Rhymes said of the second baseman. “He’s not under the radar in any sense, but he really took enormous strides this year, really exciting development.”
On the mound, Rhymes singled out Pepiot, a 2019 third-rounder.
“Ryan was kind of the talk of Summer Camp and the alt site,” he said. “Amongst a lot of our best pitching prospects, he’s a guy who stood out to our hitters and was really good.”
Impact rookies: Top prospects Gavin Lux and Dustin May made their highly anticipated graduations to the Majors after impressive Minor League careers. Lux hasn’t gotten loads of regular time yet, playing in 42 big league games over the past two seasons, but May starred during the Dodgers' World Series push. The right-hander went 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 12 regular-season outings, including 10 starts, before making seven playoff appearances.
Next big thing: Top prospect Gray is Los Angeles’ next star on the mound. After getting a look in Major League camp in March, the righty made the most of his opportunities the rest of the year.
“Your first Major League camp, there’s a huge learning curve, but for most guys, you end up walking away saying, ‘I belong here. I may not be ready quite yet, but I belong here,’ and you get over those hurdles,” Rhymes said. “Until you reach that level, there’s always some doubt in your head. Going through Major League camp, throwing the ball well, it was awesome so early in his career to get over the hurdle that he belongs. Then to go back to Summer Camp, to be able to pitch at Dodger Stadium, most of the time you’re not going to set foot on the Major League field until you get called up.
"For those guys to go to Summer Camp in L.A., get accustomed to the stadium, pitch against big leaguers in the stadium, I think that was huge for those guys. Jojo did great in Summer Camp, continued at the alternate site and then he was in the bubble in the playoffs. To get to experience all of that, it’s something unique that wouldn’t have happened in a normal year.”
Gray, who was unable to return to his New York home during the early stages of the pandemic, jumped to No. 62 in MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects and may not be waiting long until he’s toeing the rubber at Chavez Ravine.
“I think just exposure and comfort with the Major League staff, with the city of Los Angeles, with Dodger Stadium is going to pay off for him. And just being there, around for the World Series and understanding that’s the goal, that’s what he’s preparing for. Having that end goal right in front of his nose is going to make him even more motivated next year, to be out there or to be on the mound or standing in the dugout when we win,” Rhymes said.
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.