While most of our regular readers already know that we’re huge on prospect insight here at TBPC, we’re not big on rankings at all, as we don’t get many opportunities to evaluate all the organizational prospects in person. However, once every winter I do my own version of player rankings by position, which oftentimes gives us a good idea of the general depth of the Dodgers across the minor league board.
When we assembled this list last year, we saw four of the 11 players named make some type of contribution to the big league squad during the 2019 campaign. The same can be said of our 2016 and 2017 rankings when another four players made some kind of impact in the bigs. In 2015, a whopping six of the 11 players we named were called up to the majors at some point during the 2016 season.
As far as our parameters go, we define a prospect as a player who is under the age of 25 years and who hasn’t played more than a half a season in the majors. The final determination is based on which prospects have the highest ceilings and which players were the most MLB-ready among each position’s groupings. This is by no means a list of the best prospects in the entire system, but rather an opinionated list of the players who are among the best at their respective positions. Admittedly, these rankings seem to be getting tougher with each passing season, primarily because of the versatility philosophy the Dodgers preach—too many players simply play too many positions.
One other change we decided to make this year was to include just one starting pitcher rather than naming both a lefty and righty starting pitcher.
There are a few returning players this year, but there are also quite a few departures. Cody Thomas and Edwin Rios have graduated due to their respective ages. Omar Estevez, Leo Crawford and Dennis Santana were simply left off because of the emergence of better players.
All that said, these opinions are mostly subjective and original and aren’t sanctioned or endorsed by any group or entity other than us at this site. Without any further rambling, here is an overview of our top Dodgers prospects by position:
C – Keibert Ruiz
1B – Cristian Santana
2B – Gavin Lux
SS – Jeter Downs
3B – Kody Hoese
OF – DJ Peters
OF – Jeren Kendall
OF – Donovan Casey
SP – Dustin May
RP – Marshall Kasowski
Since Will Smith has elevated himself out of prospect status, there really isn’t anyone even close on the farm to Keibert Ruiz. That said, some pundits still believe that Ruiz has a higher ceiling than Smith. 2020 may finally be the year that Ruiz makes his long-awaited MLB debut, as he was hampered by a broken finger for the latter part of last season when a handful of other prospects were recalled. If the 21-year-old switch-hitter proves he’s ready to consistently produce at the big league level, it could signal the end of days for Austin Barnes, who currently finds himself out of contract options.
First base is getting tougher to choose mainly because of the team’s propensity to move players into this position from other crowded spots on the diamond. After beginning his minor league career playing mainly third base, Cristian Santana has spent a significant amount of time at first the past few years, perhaps taking a page out of the book on Rios. Last year, Santana hit .301/.320/.436 with 10 homers, 22 doubles and 57 RBI over 102 games exclusively at Double-A Tulsa.
While Gavin Lux is right on the fringe of prospect status because of his service time, he’s still ranked first in the Dodgers’ system and second in the entire MLB. We had him listed as the organization’s best shortstop last year, but it made sense to move him to the keystone this year to allow for the inclusion of Downs. The 2020 season could conceivably be a significant indicator of how much impact Lux will be to the franchise many years down the road.
Obviously, Jeter Downs isn’t MLB-ready at the moment, but it wouldn’t be foolish to think a 2021 ETA is realistic—at either shortstop or second base. Last year, Downs hit .277/.362/.526 with an impressive 35 doubles, 24 homers and 86 RBI over 119 games. Most of those appearances were with High-A Rancho, but he was promoted to Double-A Tulsa in time to see action in 12 contests.
One of the reasons we slotted Santana at first base was to make room for Kody Hoese at the hot corner. Like Dodger front-office boss Andrew Friedman, Hoese attended Tulane University in New Orleans. Immediately after the 2019 draft, the Dodgers ushered Hoese to rookie ball in Arizona, where he hit .357/.456/.643 with five doubles and three homers in 56 AB over 19 games. From there, he went straight to Low-A Great Lakes, bypassing Ogden in the Pioneer League. For the Loons, he slashed .264/.330/.385 with three long balls in 22 games.
DJ Peters joined the Dodgers 40-man roster in November after splitting the 2019 season with Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City. In 68 games for the Drillers, he hit .241 (60-for-249) with 10 doubles, 11 homers and 42 RBI while batting .260 (54-for-208) with 10 doubles, 12 homers and 39 RBI in 57 games for Oklahoma City. In his career on the Los Angeles farm, he has appeared in all three outfield spots, recording 25 games in left field, 94 games in right field and 311 in center field. The Southern California native was originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Western Nevada Community College. In four seasons with the organization, he has hit a combined .269 (461-for-1714) with 92 homers and 271 RBI.
After Peters, the outfield rankings begin to get a little rough. Gone from our list is Alex Verdugo, obviously because of the amount of his MLB service time. Kyle Garlick, Cody Thomas and Zach Reks are all past the age of 25. So, we decided to include both Jeren Kendall and Donovan Casey. Kendall is still struggling with his contact skills, but his increase in power production—coupled with his superior defensive prowess—could be the main reasons the Los Angeles farm still values him so highly. Casey was snagged in the 2017 draft by the Dodgers and slashed .260/.322/.479 with 23 homers and 22 stolen bases after contributing in all three outfield spots across two levels of the farm last year.
As both Tony Gonsolin and Mitchell White have eclipsed the 25-year mark, Dustin May is far and away the best remaining starting pitching prospect. Last season, May went 6-5 with a 3.38 ERA and 110 punchouts over 106-2/3 innings of work between Tulsa and OKC before making his MLB debut in August. Because of his elite velocity and diverse repertoire, some pundits believe that may could have the highest ceiling among all the pitching prospects in the system.
Finally, Marshall Kasowski has perennially been a favorite here at TBPC for a number of years. Having emerged pretty much out of nowhere, he threw to the tune of a 2.09 ERA and a monstrous 15.4 K/9 over 41 games in 2018 and posted a 2.27 ERA and a 14.5 K/9 at Tulsa last season.