Verdugo, Bellinger on the rise for Dodgers

Seager, Urias continue to impress as others take big steps forward

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | November 16, 2015 10:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is 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.

For the last couple years, the rest of the Dodgers system occasionally has been overshadowed by three blue-chip prospects. In 2015, Joc Pederson made himself a National League Rookie of the Year candidate, Corey Seager finished the season in the big leagues and Julio Urias reached Triple-A the month he turned 19.

As that trio continues to move up the ranks, Los Angeles fans will have no problem getting excited for other prospects in the system, which posted a collective .513 winning percentage and had four of seven affiliates put together winning seasons. Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga won the California League championship.

Next year, the Dodgers will bring in at least nine new members of their Minor League coaching staffs.

"We have three main pillars in player development: flexibility, communication and trust. We want to identify flexible, communicative, trustworthy people," for those roles, Dodgers director of player development Gabe Kapler said.

As evidenced by the performances highlighted below, the new coaches will have plenty of talent with which to work.

Dodgers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Kyle Farmer, Rancho Cucamonga (44 games), Tulsa (76 games): After setting a fielding percentage record as a shortstop at the University of Georgia, Farmer was taken by the Dodgers in the eighth round of the 2013 Draft and immediately converted to catcher.

This year, he put up a .996 fielding percentage in 33 games behind the plate for the Quakes, throwing out 13 of 31 (42 percent) would-be California League thieves, then logged a .997 mark in 51 games for the Drillers while matching his efficiency rate by cutting down 15 of 36 basestealers. He also played 27 games at third base, stepping out from behind the dish for the first time as a pro.

"He's a guy who had the hands to play shortstop and he really got a hold on third base, and he blossomed behind the plate," Kapler said.

Offensively, Farmer slashed .296/.342/.437 with 40 doubles and 66 RBIs between two levels, facing Double-A pitching for the first time.

Honorable mention: Austin Barnes, who came from the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade, may not have matched Farmer's defensive numbers, but he was better offensively and reached the big leagues.

First baseman -- Cody Bellinger, Rancho Cucamonga (128 games): In what was effectively his first full pro season, Bellinger tied for fifth in the Minor Leagues with 30 homers, led the California League with 103 RBIs and led Dodgers Minor Leaguers in both categories.

"He's got a loose, athletic, flexible, whippy swing that generates bat speed and he identifies he pitches he can drive and attacks them," Kapler said.

The 2013 fourth-rounder wound up batting .264 with a .336 on-base percentage and 10 stolen bases in 12 tries.

Second baseman -- Brandon Dixon, Rancho Cucamonga (45 games), Tulsa (83 games): Dixon played 93 games at second base, more than any Dodgers Minor Leaguer, and saw time in the outfield, but it was what he did in the box and on the basepaths that really made this a breakout year for the 2013 third-rounder. The University of Arizona product hit 19 homers, stole 26 bags and scored 70 runs.

"Dixon's been really explosive [to the] left and right on defense. He takes great turns around the bases -- his angles are exceptional," Kapler said.

Honorable mention: Brandon Trinkwon saw time all over the infield at the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels and, although he's listed as a third baseman, spent the most time at second. He batted .278, stole 12 bases in 19 tries and scored 73 runs.

Third baseman -- Paul Hoenecke, Rancho Cucamonga (107 games), Tulsa (six games): Players usually see their homer totals tick upward when they get to the Cal League, but Hoenecke went from slugging 15 in 128 Midwest League games in 2014 to nine for the Quakes and one for the Drillers. He did, however, hit with much more consistency, slashing .288./.327/.450 across the two levels for his highest numbers since Rookie ball in 2012.

"Pauly's done a really good job making decisions early," Kapler said. "He gets into hitting position and holds that position early, which enables him to drive the baseball with more frequency."

Shortstop -- Corey Seager, Tulsa (20 games), Oklahoma City (105 games), Los Angeles (27 games): Seager finished his season in the National League playoffs after tearing through the Texas League and mashing his way through the Pacific Coast League. Through April, he batted .375 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 20 Double-A games, prompting the Dodgers to bump him up to the PCL.

"We never have a doubt in our mind about challenging Corey because he has such an exceptionally calm motor. We know there's not any situation we're going to throw him into where he's not going to thrive," Kapler said.

Thrive, he did. In his first crack at Triple-A pitching, Seager hit .271 with a .332 on-base percentage, 13 homers and 30 doubles. His 76 RBIs across the two levels ranked second among Dodgers Minor Leaguers.

"You saw a very similar swing and action at Double-A, Triple-A and in the NLDS, and really similar athleticism [in the Majors] that we saw at the affiliates," Kapler added. "We have ultimate faith in Corey's ability in any situation."

As for Seager's defense, Kapler said, "We're really happy with the way he's handled shortstop and we have no doubt about his ability to dominate the position."

Outfielders

Alex Verdugo, Great Lakes (101 games), Rancho Cucamonga (23 games): After being drafted last year, Verdugo led Dodgers full-season Minor Leaguers with a .311 batting average, swatted 32 doubles and stole 14 bases. The performance was enough to earn the 19-year-old center fielder the organization's Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year award.

"With Alex, it's cut and dry. He took huge steps forward -- his ability to be a good teammate and control his emotions on the field and to prepare his body and mind every single night on and off the field," Kapler said. "He has a strong arm and the ability to play all three outfield positions.

"When we watched him walk around our complex [in Arizona], with his shoulders back and his head high, he looked like a guy who believed in himself. His energy affected people across the organization. He turned into a guy who had a positive impact on the guy standing next to him, and we really appreciated that."

Jacob Scavuzzo, Great Lakes (58 games), Rancho Cucamonga (61 games): Like Verdugo, Scavuzzo contributes more than numbers can show.

"He's another example of a tremendous teammate," Kapler said. "Infectious smile -- that might be his best tool."

That's some smile, considering the 21-year-old Southern California native slashed .286/.337/.500 with 18 homers, 32 doubles and seven steals across two levels, helping the Quakes to the title. He's wrapping up his year in the Arizona Fall League, where he won the Bowman Hitting Challenge in October.

Kyle Jensen, Oklahoma City (128 games): Like Barnes a component of the Dee Gordon deal with Miami, Jensen tied for second in the system with 20 homers and ranked fourth with 71 RBIs. He also slashed .259/.314/.484 with 28 doubles while cutting his strikeouts (110) to the fewest he's had in any of his five full seasons of pro ball.

Honorable mention: Ariel Sandoval led the system with a .325 average in 50 games while repeating the Rookie-level Arizona League.

Utility player -- Tyler Ogle, Rancho Cucamonga (111 games) Seeing time behind the plate and at the corner infield positions, Ogle matched Jensen's 20 homers while collecting 20 doubles. Only Bellinger and Seager had more RBIs than the 25-year-old, who hit seven homers and had 26 RBIs in 2014 for the Quakes.

Right-handed starter -- Zach Lee, AZL Dodgers (one game, one start), Rancho Cucamonga (one game, one start), Oklahoma City (19 games, 19 starts), Los Angeles (one game, one start): After Lee went 7-13 with a 5.38 over a full season in the PCL in 2014, the 24-year-old silenced doubters by returning to Triple-A and going 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA over 113 1/3 innings for Oklahoma City. He led the system in ERA and earned Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors.

"First and foremost, the cutter came along beautifully," Kapler said. "That started in Spring Training. He used it against righties and lefties. I stood behind home plate quite a bit and watched the movement of that pitch. I watched it start at the hip on right-handed batters and land on the plate or start on the plate and dart off while the batter chases it."

Left-handed starter -- Julio Urias, AZL Dodgers (two games, two starts), Rancho Cucamonga (one game, one start), Tulsa (13 games, 13 starts), Oklahoma City (two games, two starts): Urias was 18 years old for all but five of his starts, and he'd already put together such an amazing start to his career that he surprised nobody by compiling a 2.77 ERA and 74 strikeouts against 15 walks over 68 1/3 innings at Double-A.

The southpaw from Mexico underwent elective surgery to remove a defect on his left eye in late May that put him out of action until the beginning of July and limited him to 80 1/3 innings on the season, 7 1/3 fewer than he threw in 2014.

"One of our main intentions -- independent of the procedure -- was to protect Julio's health and limit his workload," Kapler said. "We're always considerate of how many reps our pitchers take down. Our goal with Julio is to prepare him to be the healthiest, strongest version of himself so he can get after it on the mound."

More Organization All-Stars

Reliever -- Juan Gonzalez, Tulsa (13 games), Oklahoma City (31 games): A 25-year-old right-hander, Gonzalez converted 12 of 14 save opportunities for the Triple-A Dodgers but was just as good in non-save situations. He held opponents to a .198 average over 50 innings, striking out 51 and walking 16 en route to a 2-1 record and 1.62 ERA. He allowed just one run over 17 innings at the start of the year in the Texas League, and it happened to come in his final appearance there.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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