While the Dodgers no longer have the best record in the Major Leagues, they still do lead the National League in wins. They are currently eight games ahead of the Atlanta Braves, to whom they just lost two-of-three over the weekend.
The Dodgers have taken a lot of flack over the years for being “The Yankees of the West”; buying their talent because they had the means and not being able to win just because of their farm system.
That is simply not the case anymore. While the Dodgers do carry a higher payload than most of the major league teams, they also have one of the top ranked farm systems in the majors. And so this season has followed this suit – the top paid players are earning their keep. $31M man Clayton Kershaw is 12-2 with a 2.63 ERA, and has found a way to work within and around his decreased velocity. The next highest paid player Hyun-Jin Ryu is the leading Cy Young candidate. At $16M Justin Turner is steady as ever. Rich Hill, when not injured has been fantastic. And while Kenley Jansen isn’t what he once was, he’s still one of the best closers in the game.
But perhaps the most fun part about this season has been the play of the rookies, and some newly acquired help that have came and more than held their own on a team already ripe with superstars and highly paid talent.
Alex Verdugo started the year off on an absolute tear, maintaining a batting average higher than .300 through June. He slumped some in July, but was well on his way back before an oblique injury sidelined him on August 9th. His slash line for the season is a cool .294/.342/.475/.817 with 12 homers.
Verdugo was a highly regarded prospect, and had seen some time in the majors in each of the last two seasons. Matt Beaty was not. Currently 29th in the Dodgers farm system, Beaty has been a Jack-Of-all-Trades for the Dodgers this season. Playing first base and the outfield while filling in for some key Dodger injuries, he’s more than earned his keep with his bat and his uncanny ability to get hits with runners on base. In 65 games with Los Angeles this season, he’s amassed a .297 batting average with 16 doubles and 37 RBI.
While he hasn’t had as much time with the team as Beaty, Edwin Rios has impressed with his bat. He hit two homers in a game against the Marlins, and is batting .286 with two doubles. Hitting isn’t easy when you’re constantly shuttling between the majors and Triple-A.
Maybe the most impressive debut overall has been that of rookie catcher Will Smith. He was promoted, and did so well that the starting catcher for the season Austin Barnes was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, and is still there, even though his bat has finally seemed to have turned a corner. Smith was thought to be the lesser of the two top catching prospects for the Dodgers – Keibert Ruiz, while a little further behind, is projected to be the better catcher. The bat of Smith was not yet thought to be ready. He proved that thought wrong, slashing .325/.398/.800/1.198 with 10 homers and eight doubles and a iconic walk-off. He sure looks like the Dodgers’ catcher of the future.
In addition to the prospects, the Dodgers have a knack for finding a diamond in the rough in the trade market. While their move for Tyler White hasn’t seemed to have worked out so well, their trade for Kristopher Negron definitely has. Seemingly another steal from the Seattle Mariners, ala Chris Taylor, Negron has literally given everything to play his hardest for his new team, including almost breaking his nose on a diving attempt in center. While his bat has cooled a little since his Dodger debut, he’s going to make a good case for himself to be included on the roster when Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez return from the injured list.
The contributions from the rookies haven’t only been on the from the position players. Dustin May, the Dodgers’ highest pitching prospect, has had a few bumps, but has impressed more than caused concern. He may very well be a huge piece out of the bullpen in the postseason. If Rich Hill can’t make it back in time to be a starter by October, May will definitely be considered for that fourth starter spot.
For this writer personally, I think the biggest pleasant surprise has been Tony Gonsolin. Injuries have necessitated his debut in the majors, and he’s made the most of it. Not only was he called upon the be a spot starter, he was called upon to make them all against really good teams in hard to pitch places. His first start was in Coors Field, where he went four innings and allowed only one run. He went six innings against the St Louis Cardinals and didn’t allow any runs, and went four innings in Atlanta giving up only one run. While he doesn’t always pitch clean innings, he’s shown that he has the composure to work himself out of jams. He also will be an intriguing bullpen piece in the playoffs.
Injuries and a huge lead have lead these players to be able to showcase their skills, and one can’t help but feel that at least one of these players we as fans either didn’t think about or know about before the season will come up big when the team needs them most.