One question that has not been raised about Dodgers catching prospect Will Smith is whether or not he can stick behind the plate. He has a plus arm and plenty of agility behind the plate to make him an above average if not plus as a catcher. The Dodgers love to get their catchers playing other positions, and Smith has turned himself into a serviceable defender at the hot corner and has seen some time at second in the past.
The big question (after he replies “no, not that Will Smith, no not the football player Will Smith…”) is how much will he hit? I am in the minority that feels he can hit enough to be an everyday option behind the plate. He has some leg kick and can get out on his front foot too far and his bat speed is far from elite, but the bat plane allows him to really drive the ball. With the defense he brings to the table and the power he can provide, he only needs to hit .225+ to be a valuable player. I expect him to hit between that .225-.230 with 18-20 home runs should he get an everyday player’s workload.
Depending on how long Austin Barnes is on the shelf, Smith should get every opportunity to take over as the primary backstop ahead of Russell Martin, but the Dodgers do have arguably the best catching prospect in the game, Keibert Ruiz, who could find himself in the mix before too long. Ruiz is still just 20 and at AA so that may be somewhat aggressive, meaning Smith has every opportunity to hold down a job in the big leagues for the rest of the season even after Barnes comes back as he and Barnes both have the ability to play the infield, reducing the roster concerns often created by carrying three catchers.
Before I even got this posted Alex Reyes exhausted his rookie eligibility (needed a single out to do so and pitched an inning on Friday) so I updated my top 150 before it went live. Reyes was at 22 but is now removed making room for Ryan Weathers, giving the Padres two more than any other team with 12 players making the top 150. 15 players on the list open the season in the big leagues, with 14 of those in the top 80 and the Padres and Mariners both starting with two players in the big leagues.
Quick Report: While the Dodgers weakest position at the big league level is catcher, they need to be patient and allow Ruiz to get a full season at AAA under his belt before taking over behind the dish in LA. He is a switch-hitting catcher that has a big leg kick from both sides of the plate, but the hit tool is truly plus and could be the best contact bat from behind the plate since Buster Posey. The power is average at best, but he could easily run into 15 or so home runs while hitting .290. I was once down on Ruiz behind the plate but I saw a lot of improvement with the glove last season with less of a jab approach and he did a better job blocking the ball although he sometimes still goes for the flash snag rather than smothering the ball. He has the potential to be a multiple time All-Star at a position most teams sacrifice offense for the defense, he can be a star bat and solid average defender.
Quick Report: Coming out of high school, there was real debate as to whether Verdugo should be a pitcher or hitter, but the Dodgers sent him to the outfield from day one and never looked back. The arm he had as a pitcher plays well in the outfield where he can play very good right field, but also has the instincts and first step to potentially stick in center despite below average speed. He has always had plus raw power but hasn’t been able to fully tap into it and I am starting to wonder if he ever will. Even if the power never truly comes to fruition, the bat skill is very good as demonstrated by his career minor league average sitting above .300. He is a long term starting option for the Dodgers, likely in right field, and could be a quality bat near the top of the lineup.
Quick Report: There is little doubt May has the best hair in the system, and he just might have the best stuff too. He is incredibly lean although he has started to fill out recently and it has resulted in an uptick in fastball velocity. That fastball now sits in the mid-90s with plenty of downhill plane and sink to go with a lot of run out of the lower 3/4 slot. His breaking ball is slurvy in shape but not effectiveness as it has a two plane shape with late break that some call a curve, while other call it a slider, I just call it pure filth. His change shows good late fade and he has started mixing in a cutter. He has a big leg kick that typically gets away from pitchers of his length, but he repeats it well with very good command. His upside is as a number two starter, although mid-rotation is more likely.
Quick Report: Lux really struggled in his first full season in 2017 but the Dodgers pushed him to High A to open 2018 and he performed well enough to earn himself a late season promotion to AA at the age of 20. He is a difficult player to evaluate as he doesn’t really have any plus tools, or even above average, outside of his athleticism, but he just may be a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. His speed and quickness makes him a high quality base runner and translates to range up the middle where he can play short or second, although the arm gets tested when going to backhand at short. He has a pull happy swing that does create good pop, but there is a late twitch in the hands that leads to inconsistencies in his bat positioning and can leave him late on good velo. Ultimately he is probably a streaky everyday player or high quality defensive utility player with good pop.
Quick Report: Have I mentioned before I have a bit of a defensive catcher fetish? Smith might be the best defensive catcher in the minors with plus feet, glove work, and arm, he has a very high floor thanks to the D. He is sneaky athletic that has allowed him to see time at both third and second, although he will only see time at second in the big leagues in a pinch while he is solid at third. At the plate he has an advanced approach has his OBP as a pro more than 100 points higher than his average, the problem is that average is .236. The bat will never improve to even grade out as average as it is a long swing that has led to a lot of strikeouts since being drafted, but he has enough power that he could run into 20 or so a season if he makes enough contact.
Quick Report: Peters has silly raw power and has seen the majority of his action in center as a pro, although his future is likely as a right fielder. The bat is all power and no contact as he is a guy who will flirt with the Mendoza Line at times, but the plus plus power potential is a profile that fits in today’s game. The bat is long that does leave him vulnerable to elite velo, but he is athletic enough to fight off more pitches than his strikeout rate would suggest. On the bases he is an average to better runner which is surprising given his size, although he will likely slow a good amount as he ages. In an organization with less outfield talent, I would say Peters could impact the big league lineup this season, but the Dodgers will be in no rush to get him to the big leagues but he still may find himself at Chavez Ravine come late summer.
Quick Report: A guy with three pitches that flash plus and the mechanics and build to be a true innings eater shouldn’t be this low, but the results haven’t matched the stuff thus far in White’s pro career. His fastball runs up to 97 with movement and he has a curve that is already plus to go with a cutter/slider look that has the makings of a plus pitch. The changeup is well behind the rest of the pitches as is the command. It is hard to explain why he doesn’t have more success with the stuff and ability he has but I have noticed he dips the glove below the top of the letters on his shirt when throwing a breaking ball while staying even with the top of the letters when throwing a fastball. I am sure this tipping of his pitches has been picked up on by the Dodgers brass, but he also shows the ball early in his delivery and that combo keeps him lower on the Dodgers list but he could rocket up the ranks with some minor adjustments this season.
Quick Report: Santana left his big league debut with a shoulder injury and missed the remainder of the season. The fastball sits in the mid-90s and has late run from a stiff postured low 3/4 slot that limits the amount of downhill plane he is able to put on the ball. His slider is big and sharp making it a potential plus pitch. The Dodgers will likely give him a chance to stick as a starter as he opens the season at just 22-years old, he turns 23 in April. The probably long term role for Santana is as a high leverage reliever that will allow the fastball and slider to both play as plus and he can fully cut ties with a change that is well below average currently. I hope to see him transitioned to the bullpen full time right from the jump, but I do expect him to get one last chance to prove he can stick as a starter.
Quick Report: With a fastball that can hit triple digits and a splitter second to only Casey Mize in Minor League Baseball, Gonsolin has incredible upside but turns 25 this season and has some mechanical concerns that would be tough to see going away. He lands with a stiff front leg that makes him really fight against his lower half to get that plus velocity. He has a slider that is ok and a curve that is above average, although he gets his hand outside the ball when throwing both making them easy to read out of the hand. The command is fringy, so he has a realistic upside of a number four starter, but the Dodgers could opt to move him back to the bullpen where the splitter/power fastball combo would play really well in the late innings.
Quick Report: The Dodgers pulled one of the more surprising moves this offseason when they dealt Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, and Yasiel Puig to Cincinnati for Homer Bailey, who they released the next day, and prospects Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs. I think the Dodgers came away winners in the deal as they dealt away guys that were at positions of depth and got a pair of viable prospects, the best being Downs. He has smooth actions in the field that will allow him to play both middle infield positions well, although he is better as a second baseman than at short where his arm plays about average. He isn’t one who will ever hit for much power, but he does a good job driving the ball into the pull gap and can end up with a lot of doubles. The bat is quick and well controlled with little wasted movement which allows him to adjust to off-speed offerings well. I think he ends up as an everyday second baseman, but he could end up settling as a utility player who can fill in at a number of positions.