Before the airwaves become overloaded with trade deadline news, let’s take a quick look at last week’s highlights from the Dodgers farm system.
OKLAHOMA CITY DODGERS (Pacific Coast League-AAA): Not much has jumped out this past week from one of the parent club’s better minor-league affiliates other than former Top 30 system prospect/2016 Dodger Minor-League Pitcher Of The Year Brock Stewart taking a no-hitter into the 7th of his start last Thursday, finishing up with just two hits allowed, one run (earned), two walks, and seven strikeouts in seven strong innings of work. For his efforts, he earned PCL Player of the Week honors. The 26-year old 2014 6th round pick of the Dodgers has had to deal with diminished fastball velocity dating back to early last year, but has seemed to work his way around that issue this season for OKC so far. He’s currently 2-2 with a very good 2.83 ERA, a decent 1.19 WHIP, and a nice 17/50 BB/K ratio in just over 57 IP (12 starts).
Following closely on his heels is fellow teammate and “reclamation project” Manny Banuelos, who also looked extremely sharp in his start this past Saturday (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 92 pitches-66 strikes). The 27-year old Mexican southpaw who was among the New York Yankees’ more highly touted pitching prospects before being dealt to the Atlanta Braves back in 2014 has endured several injury-related setbacks over the last several years, but finally seems to be enjoying a healthy campaign this season for OKC. As of today, the 2018 PCL Mid-Season All-Star’s sporting an excellent 8-3 record with a nice 3.46 ERA and a whopping 115 strikeouts (36 walks) in just under 96 IP (18 starts). More telling are his numbers against lefties (1.05 ERA and a .221 avg against through 25.2 IP with a dominant 8/35 BB/K ratio). Perhaps the Dodger management should seriously consider him for their bullpen mix down the stretch for a change?
Aside from the “usual suspects” that were mentioned in my previous report last week (Andrew Toles, Edwin Rios, Kyle Farmer, Connor Joe, and top Dodger OF prospect Alex Verdugo), there’s been nobody else who has taken the next step forward in their current development, except for maybe 26-year old hard-throwing RHP Ariel Hernandez. Another relatively low-risk/high-reward acquisition by the Dodger front office from the Cincinnati Reds organization earlier this year, Hernandez is a gifted arm with well-documented command issues since entering pro-ball as a Dominican free agent signing by the San Francisco Giants back in 2009. This month, however, he appears to have finally turned a corner for OKC upon his recent return from Double-A Tulsa (2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 13 IP) on account of the Dodger coaching staff down there instructing him to use his 2-seam fastball more. He’s still walking roughly a batter an inning, but not to the extent where it’s a potential red flag down the road compared to years past. Could be another viable contender for the ongoing bullpen shake-up on the parent club if he continues to trend in the right direction…
TULSA DRILLERS (Texas League-AA): Recent Texas League Hitter Of The Week Jacob Scavuzzo has cooled off some, but is still hitting a sizzling .357/.387/.714 in the month of July. Won’t be long before Triple-A OKC has him back by season’s end at this rate. Tulsa staff ace Tony Gonsolin has been a revelation of late, going seven dominant innings and allowing only three hits, two earned runs and tying a career high with 11 strikeouts in his start last Thursday. His fastball was routinely topping out at 98 mph late in that game and his slider has made significant strides as yet another legit swing-and-miss offering for him. Now I’m beginning to understand why the Dodger front office included RHP Dean Kremer in the Manny Machado trade package instead of him. Should the Dodgers decide to transition Gonsolin into a relief role soon, he could also factor into the current bullpen mix as a potential September call-up later this season, if there’s room for spots on the 40-man roster.
Other prospects making waves this past week at this level have been young Cuban RHP Yadier Alvarez (currently ranked 10th in the system), in addition to recently promoted right-handed reliever Marshall Kasowski. The 22-year old flame-throwing Alvarez continued to struggle with overall command to begin this season as part of Tulsa’s starting staff, even leading to a prolonged stint with the AZL Dodgers at one point. Since returning from that rehab assignment a few weeks ago, he has finally made the transition from starter to reliever. First outing didn’t go so well for him in his new role (0.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R (earned), 3 BB), but since then he has steadily picked it up (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K in his last four appearances, including two this past week). Here’s hoping the bullpen experiment works out for him in the long run. As for Kasowski, his official Tulsa debut last Wednesday was a bit of a grind against a white-hot Springfield ballclub (Cardinals affiliate) yet still managed to put up two hitless innings of scoreless relief in the process. Not sure what Drillers manager Scott Hennessey ultimately plans to do with him, but it would be in his absolute best interest to have him placed in a late-inning relief role either setting up or closing. Also congrats to Kasowski for finally cracking the Top 30 Dodger prospect list (ranked 24th as of Monday). Took him long enough to get noticed for what he’s done so far this year.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA QUAKES (California League-High-A Advanced): The Quakes continue to remain one of the hottest ballclubs in the minors since the beginning of the second half despite many of their key prospects having moved on of late. Speaking of which, current staff ace Dustin May was the latest to be promoted. The lanky ginger-haired 20-year old RHP has done nothing to tarnish his prospect status this season and is now ranked 4th overall in the Dodger farm system as well as the top pitching prospect on the list for that matter. Not to be outdone is fellow teammate Leo Crawford, who also continues to pitch like a new man since his recent promotion from Great Lakes. All the crafty 21-year old Nicaraguan southpaw did was put up five shutout innings of four-hit ball with 4 strikeouts and no walks in his start last Thursday. He’s now 4-0 with a 2.38 ERA in 34 IP for Rancho, talk about a complete turnaround from where he was at the Low-A level previously. RHP Andre Scrubb also continues to embrace the late-inning relief role recently vacated by Zach Pop (included in the Machado trade package) and Kasowski. The burly 23-year old has not been scored upon in his last four appearances, including a pair of two-inning/two-strikeout performances just this past week. He’s now 3-0 with a microscopic 0.46 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in just under 20 innings pitched since his promotion from Great Lakes as well.
As far as position players go, middle-infielder Gavin Lux continues to be at the head of the pack despite a slight cooldown of late (.351/.397/.532 in July) with Jared Walker (.328/.405/.734 during the same stretch) not far behind. However, a couple more “under-the-radar” guys have begun to make themselves known this past week in 23-year old OF/2016 13th rounder Cody Thomas and 20-year old Cuban middle-infielder Omar Estevez. Thomas’ bat has really come alive during that span (.357 avg with 4 HR and 15 RBI) and he continues to punish lefties as well this season (.305/.397/.576 in 59 ABs so far). Not sure why he’s still down at this level, but I pray he follows fellow teammate May to Tulsa fairly soon. Estevez for a moment appeared as if he plateaued in his development since reaching High-A Rancho at only 19 last year. Since former Quakes infielder/Top 30 Dodger prospect Rylan Bannon‘s recent departure (also included in that blockbuster Machado deal), he has finally started to move forward offensively. Dating back to the beginning of the second half, Estevez has posted a very good .293/.351/.489 line along with five HR and 11 doubles through 34 games-roughly doubling his output through the same amount of games in the first half. He’s also second on the club in XBH between Thomas (43) and Lux (39) with 41.
GREAT LAKES LOONS (Midwest League-Low A): The Loons have begun to pick up their overall play last week, but they still have a ways to go before they can finally start feeling good about themselves for once. By far, the one player that has stood out during that stretch regardless is 20-year old Dominican RHP Edwin Uceta. This past Saturday, the 2016 international free agent signing had by far his best outing in pro-ball to date when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and leaving the game with a dominant line (7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 11 K, 90 pitches-61 strikes). The 11 strikeouts also set a new career high for him. For the season, he’s 4-6 yet sports a decent 3.46 ERA and a very solid 27/99 BB/K ratio in just under 94 IP (19 starts). He’ll definitely be in High-A Rancho to start next season at his current pace. Fellow teammate Gerardo Carrillo finally got touched up in his most recent start (4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K last Thursday), but still carries a nifty 1.80 ERA and a WHIP still under 1 (0.87) in 15 IP (3 starts) as of today. Also of note is LHP/2018 3rd rounder John Rooney recently being promoted to Great Lakes from the AZL Dodgers. He has yet to make his official debut at this level, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up moving quickly over the next year or so on account of his excellent college track record as well as possessing what may be the best pick-off move in the entire Dodger farm system.
Good news is that some of this year’s MLB draft signings have finally made some noise. 21-year old 10th round pick/middle-infielder Deacon Liput is batting .293 with an outstanding .860 OPS through his first 13 games for the Loons, while 22-year old OF/33rd rounder Drew Avans has started his first year of pro-ball on fire hitting .375 with an .849 OPS through 5 games since being promoted from Ogden (where he was wearing out the opposition to the tune of .350/481/.667 through 16 games). On a side note, struggling yet tool-heavy 20-year old Dominican OF Carlos Rincon was also promoted (more like liberated at this point) to High-A Rancho from Low-A Great Lakes just the other day and had one heck of a Quakes debut by going 3-4 with a double and two runs scored. Almost went a perfect 4-4 save for a huge defensive play by the opposing team’s second baseman to rob him of what would’ve been a line-drive single late in that game. Guess for some prospects, all it really does take is a fresh change of scenery to get them going again.
OGDEN RAPTORS (Pioneer League-Rookie Level): The Raptors are having quite a season to remember after setting a new franchise record for wins in the first half with 26 and boasting arguably the most offensively explosive lineup in the low minors right now. Young Cuban prodigy Miguel Vargas finally experienced his first real slump in pro-ball last week (hitless through four games, five total) before snapping out of it with a 6-10 performance over this past weekend, including his second long ball of the year. He’s still batting an INSANE .402/.452/.605 through 20 games for Ogden as of today, unbelievable. Why he’s not currently on the Dodger Top 30 prospect list (if not Top 10, for that matter) is anybody’s guess at this point. In addition to 2018 MLB signings Dillon Paulson (.307/.427/.596, tied for the team lead with seven HR through 30 games) and Daniel Robinson (.339/.435/.523 with 6 SB/1 CS and an incredible 20/14 BB/K rate in 31 games so far), another one has decided to join the lumberjack club in 21-year old power-hitting OF/18th rounder Niko Hulsizer (.318/.453/.588 with 8 2B, 5 HR, 15 RBI, and 6 SB/1 CS in 25 games). All four players could possibly see time at Low-A Great Lakes before season’s end with numbers like those, my goodness.
As if that wasn’t enough, turns out that middle-infield prospects Jacob Amaya and Ronny Brito both had career-defining performances last week as well. Amaya (.353/.469/.546 over 30 games for Ogden) wound up batting .350 with two HR (including a game-breaking grand slam with 2-out in the 8th inning of Thursday’s Raptor victory), seven RBI, and a 5/6 BB/K rate during that stretch, while Brito (.322/.378/.574, also tied for the team lead with seven HR and leading the Raptor pack with 34 RBI through 27 games) easily had his best offensive outing in pro-ball during Sunday’sflat-out slugfest which ultimately ended in a walk-off 20-19 victory in favor of Ogden. In that game Brito merely went 3-4 with three runs scored, a three-run HR, and a career-high eight RBI for good measure. For those scouts who questioned Brito’s bat upon finally arriving stateside this year, it’s probably safe to say that it’s no longer in question anymore.
AZL DODGERS (Arizona League-Instructional Level): With this year’s third round pick Rooney finally sent off to Low-A Great Lakes, the two standouts at this level of late have been 20-year old power-hitting 1B/22nd rounder Meaux Landry and 18-year old LHP/2017 international free agent signing Robinson Ortiz. Didn’t take long for Landry to start driving the ball with authority down there with five of his six hits going for extra bases through his first six games (including the first HR of his pro-ball career, an opposite-field shot back in Saturday’s game). He’s also shown very solid plate discipline with a 5/8 BB/K rate, largely translating to a .407 OBP. Sooner he gets promoted to Ogden before season’s end, the sooner Paulson finally gets sent off to one of the Class A-level affiliates as well. As for Ortiz, he is no longer flying under radar, as he’s been recently ranked No. 29 on MLB’s Top 30 Dodger prospect rankings. He possesses a lively fastball/changeup combo which he has effectively put to good use this season. He currently sports a 2-1 record with a respectable 3.20 ERA, a whopping 35 strikeouts, and an outstanding 1.03 WHIP in just over 25 IP. If his curveball continues to make strides in the meantime, there could be a possible No. 3/4 starter role in his big-league future.