Matt Kemp finished as the MVP runner up, Clayton Kershaw won the pitching triple crown and a Cy Young award, and the team's top prospect headed into 2011, Dee Gordon, made his debut. That's essentially where the positives end for the Dodgers. The team is still up for sale, which will put to end the ugly tenure of Frank McCourt. The effects of McCourt will be felt for at least a few years after his departure, as the farm system is lacking both superstar potential at the top, and depth. That's not to say there aren't interesting prospects, but these aren't the days of Kemp, Kershaw and Ethier.
Dodgers top 5 fantasy baseball prospects
1- Zach Lee, SP
In spite of McCourt's financial issues, the Dodgers went over slot to sign high school two sport star Zach Lee to an above slot deal. Of course, there was a loop hole, and the deal is back loaded and split up due to Lee's standing as a two sport athlete in high school. He is a right-handed starter with decent stuff that has projection, and plays because of his pitchability. Lee throws his fastball in the low-90s, commanding it well, two distinct breaking balls (curve and slider), and rounds out the arsenal with a change-up. He spent the entire season in Low-A pitching successfully, but failing to put up numbers that were eye popping. He pounded the zone, 2.64 BB/9, and missed some bats, 7.51 K/9, in 109 innings. What's lost in the numbers is that it was his first season completely focused on baseball. The future is bright for Lee, and his ceiling is that of a number two starter.
2- Nathan Eovaldi, SP
Coming into the season, Nathan Eovaldi's highest level of professional pitching experience came in piling up 85 innings at the High-A level in 2010. By the end of the 2011 season he was a pitcher with 34.2 innings pitched in the majors, and one that barely qualified for this list. Eovaldi opened the year at Double-A where he struck batters out at a healthy rate, 8.65 K/9. However, his control lagged a wee bit behind, 4.02 BB/9. Regardless, the Dodgers were convinced the 21 year old hurler was ready for the challenge of facing major league hitters. That, and they were in need of someone standing in after promising young pitcher Rubby De La Rosa hurt his elbow (an injury that required Tommy John surgery). Eovaldi is primarily a two-pitch power pitcher that throws a mid-90s fastball (94.3 mph average according to FanGraphs) that he can dial up to a velocity reading beginning with a 1 out of the bullpen, and a plus slider. His third pitch is a change-up that rates as below average. That repertoire could eventually lead to him being a late innings relief option. Prospect guru John Sickels suggests he may be better suited coming out of the bullpen for the Dodgers than being sent down to Triple-A if he fails in his bid to claim a rotation spot. As I read it, bullpen duty in 2012 for the Dodgers doesn't mean he's forever destined to remain there. His ceiling isn't crazy high, but the floor is higher than some of his contemporaries and the power arsenal is intriguing.
3- Allen Webster, SP
Webster very nearly settled in ahead of Eovaldi. Ultimately he ranked behind him for a few reasons. The first reason is his lesser performance at the same level (both pitched at Double-A at one point). The second reason is that he's behind Eovaldi on the development arc. The third and final reason is his lack of superstar ceiling to make up for reasons one and two. Webster throws a fastball that sits between 90-95 mph andcan touch a couple ticks higher. His secondary pitches include a curve and slider, both flash plus, and a change-up, which may be better than both breakers. From a statistical stand point, the most promising part of Webster's line is his groundout-to-airout rate of 1.76 split between High-A and Double-A. If he's able to maintain a substantial groundball slant as he moves up levels, and he pairs it with even league average strikeout and walk rates, he'd have fantasy value. If he strikes out more batters repeating Double-A this season, his prospect status will improve.
4- Garrett Gould, SP
Gould was very much the lower level equivalent of Eovaldi. He turned the corner, and a big reason for that was some of his projection coming to fruition. His fastball went from residing in the upper-80s to becoming a low-90s offering. Gould's best pitch is his curveball, and his third pitch is a playable change-up. He mixes all three, and throws them for strikes. Gould doesn't walk many batters, 2.69 BB/9, but his strikeout rate wasn't jaw dropping, 7.57 K/9. Strike throwers aren't the sexiest of prospect profiles, but Scott Baker is a good example of the value they can provide to fantasy gamers.
5- Chris Withrow, SP/RP
Withrow is the anti-Eovaldi/Gould. Since being nabbed in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft he has teased with power stuff, but failed to pitch at a consistent level. His biggest problem is spotty control and command. If he's not able to harness them, his mid-90s fastball and downer curve could be lethal in a late inning capacity. In a perfect world, the light bulb goes on as a starter. Then again, in a perfect world I win the lottery, retire, and live an extravagant life style.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Nathan Eovaldi, SP
If he wins a rotation spot, expect some bumps in the road. If he ends up in the major league bullpen, he could be a dark horse for saves should Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra faulter closing games.
2- Josh Lindblom, RP
Simply put, the Josh Lindblom starter experiment is over. As a full-time reliever, he pitched lights out in Double-A, and followed that up with a strong showing in the majors. Don't be fooled by his 2.73 ERA, he gave up zero home runs as an extreme flyball pitcher (52.8 percent flyball rate), and his xFIP of 3.96 reflects more accurately what his skill level was in 2011. In 29.2 innings he struck out just a bit under a quarter of the batters he faced (24.1 percent strikeout), and did so walking batters at a slightly better than league average rate. He throws mostly fastballs and sliders (combined for 87.8 percent of his usage), rarely turning to his curveball and change-up. Toss Lindblom's hat in the ring as a guy who could save games if the back end of the Dodgers bullpen ends up in shambles.
3- Chris Withrow, SP/RP
If it all clicks, he could reach the show. That's a big if. His ranking of third for the top 2012 prospects speaks more to the other options than my belief that he'll pull it all together.
4- Shawn Tolleson, RP
Tolleson has put up video game numbers at every minor league stop out of the bullpen. His lowest strikeout rate, 11.17 K/9, was achieved in 44.1 innings in Double-A this past season, and is excellent. Tolleson's 2.23 BB/9, when paired with his strikeout rate, resulted in an outstanding 5.00 K/BB rate. His fastball sits at 92-93 mph, and he also throws a cutter, his best pitch, and a slider. Part of the credit for his gaudy strikeout rate can be attributed to a delivery that hides the ball well, creating deception. He didn't rank in the Dodgers 2012 top 10 prospect list on Baseball America, and he only ranked 14th on John Sickels, so color me skeptical of him continuing to dominate as he climbs the ladder and reaches the majors. That said, numbers like these are hard to ignore, and he's not a pitcher that throws a fastball that would struggle to break a pane of glass.
5- Alfredo Silverio, OF
The Dodgers highest ranking positional prospect is Alfredo Silverio. He's an outfielder that slashed .306/.340/.542 at the Double-A level in 572 plate appearances with most of his slugging coming in the form of doubles and triples (just 16 home runs), and an atrocious stolen base success rate (11 stolen bases with 12 caught stealing). There are scenarios that could open the door for Silverio reaching the majors this year that range from Juan Rivera struggling in left field to James Loney struggling at first base creating a roster shuffle where Rivera and/or Jerry Sands take over for Loney. The best endorsement I can give Silverio is that he could be a viable option in NL-only leagues.