Many teams have gone into win-now mode or into rebuild/tanking mode, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have been able to be successful in both MLB and building a loaded farm system.
Dodgers fans may not find their team-building perfect – or even adequate – but both PECOTA and Steamer projection systems agree on one thing to open 2017: The Dodgers are projected to have the best team in baseball in 2017, even better than the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
While Baseball America and MLB Pipeline have not yet released their farm system rankings, when I released my rankings for Call to the Pen and Keith Law released his rankings, the Dodgers found themselves in the top group of teams, #7 on my list and #5 on Law’s list, and this after graduating two of the best prospects in baseball, Corey Seager and Julio Urias, from their prospect list in 2016.
How are they rated so highly in both regards? Let’s take a look…
Major League Level
Lineup – According to Roster Resource, the Dodgers project to run out a lineup that bats their three outfielders in the 6-8 spots in the lineup, which is unique for sure, but that’s not due to poor players in those spots, though guys like Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson certainly are looking toward improved production in 2017.
The Dodgers’ lineup features just one player over 33 years old, and what is interesting is that they have as many under 25 (3) as over 30 (3) in their every day lineup.
Bench – Probably one of the most discussed trade targets on other teams’ message boards is catcher Austin Barnes, who other teams’ fans assume is “trapped” behind Grandal, but the Dodgers are big fans and likely would want a handsome reward for him, especially with Grandal’s injury history.
In the minors, Barnes has backup with Kyle Farmer and Bobby Wilson that could fill in for a short time if he’s bumped to the starting role for a bit.
Per Roster Resource, Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez are the guys listed to be on the bench as infielders, but they will also have recently signed Jose Miguel Fernandez and utility man Chris Taylor likely in the minors that could help with that infield depth.
The outfield depth has been mentioned, but Brett Eibner is another name that is also a guy who could be used. Ike Davis sitting in AAA as insurance for Adrian Gonzalez is very solid as well.
Rotation – In spite of what seemed like a constant revolving door of starters for the Dodgers (they did set a major league record for most pitchers to start a game in a season with 15), the Dodgers finished with statistics that were top-10 across the board for rotations in all of baseball, which says a lot.
Clayton Kershaw may just be the best pitcher of this entire generation, and he missed roughly two and a half months of 2016, which says how well the rotation did to put up those numbers without him for that much of the season.
The amazing thing about their current scheduled rotation is not just the depth, but also the fact that of the five pitchers, four are left-handed. Only Kenta Maeda is penciled in currently to the rotation as a right-handed pitcher.
With lefties Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir and Julio Urias filling in along with Kershaw and Maeda, there’s enough injury risk and youth to have the Dodgers ensuring they have depth, and they certainly have that with long-term DL case Hyun-Jin Ryu, righty Brandon McCarthy and lefty Alex Wood. The latter two should make a strong case for the bullpen if they are not in the opening day rotation.
Bullpen – By multiple metrics, the Dodgers bullpen was the best bullpen in baseball last season, and they could even be better in 2017. Kenley Jansen returns with a big offseason contract to anchor the bullpen as closer.
There are solid reinforcements in AAA if needed as well with Brandon Morrow, Josh Fields, Vidal Nuno and a whole host of others. Of course, there are always guys like Dayton who fire up the system that two years ago were off the radar completely when he was acquired from the Marlins.
Speaking of minor league reinforcements, let’s take a look at that elite farm system…
Baseball America’s John Manuel mentioned that the Dodgers were going to once again rank among the elite farm systems of the game. Last offseason, the Dodgers were considered the #1 or #2 system in the entire game.
To do that while graduating the level of prospects that the Dodgers did in two top-10 overall prospects in Seager and Urias is impressive to say the least, but to do it while the big league club continues to produce elite teams is an incredible thing.
One of the things that does tie the big league club and the minor league system together is the tremendous amount of financial resources that the Dodgers are working with. They can afford to make a mistake on a guy in the Latin market with significant money because they have the finances to continue to go after the next guy, whereas most teams would be crippled by making a mistake on a big-money guy.
Let’s take a look at what continues to make their farm system so good…
Elite Prospects – The Dodgers have six prospects who made the top 100 list of one or all of the Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus top prospect lists for 2017.
Cody Bellinger and Yadier Alvarez are the two elite guys in the system. Bellinger’s father Clay Bellinger was a utility man that ended up on three World Series Yankees teams from 1999-2001. He’s an elite hitter and elite defender at first base.
Alvarez is a Cuban defector that had his first full season in 2016. That first season has led him to be ranked in the top 50 in all three publications mentioned above after an incredible performance that finished in low-A.
Depth Prospects – The Dodgers have been able to do excellent work in the Latin market and in the draft recently, including in 2016, when they had three early picks and a significant amount of draft pool funds.
Those funds have led to solid players that could be big time players down the road. Keibert Ruiz is an up-and-coming catcher out of Venezuela that was signed in 2014. Gavin Lux was considered the top high school shortstop in the 2016 draft out of Wisconsin and hit .296 in his pro debut. This to say nothing of catcher Will Smith, whose defense is incredibly elite.
The Dodgers also saw a guy like Grant Dayton impact the team’s bullpen, and they have similar elite arms that could impact the bullpen like Josh Sborz and Imani Abdullah.
One of the big things the Dodgers seem to continually get is great scouting that finds elite guys late in the draft or in unknown places. De Leon was a late-round pick while Urias was virtually unknown coming out of Mexico.
In the last two drafts, the Dodgers may have snagged two such guys in the fourth and sixth rounds in outfielder D.J. Peters from Western Nevada Community College in the fourth round of the 2016 draft and corner infielder Edwin Rios from Florida International in the sixth round of the 2015 draft.
As long as they can find these under-the-radar guys as well as having their big-money guys hit on a decent rate, they’ll continue to have both the elite prospects and elite major league team to continue a run for quite some time.