Jan 25

Ivan DeJesus, Jr.: How close is he?


The fifth in a series of at least five, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Ivan DeJesus, Jr.
Vitals:
SS-2B, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, turns 24 on May Day.

Summary: For the first time in this series, we’re talking about a prospect who is trying to bounce back instead of one who is ascending. Two years ago, the son of 1970s Dodger Ivan DeJesus was coming off a year in which he delivered an impressive .419 on-base percentage to go with a .423 slugging percentage in the Double-A Southern League while still 21. To compare, Dee Gordon had an inferior .332/.355 in the same league at age 22.

But a broken leg suffered on an ill-fated slide in Spring Training wiped out DeJesus’ 2009 season. Then the Dodgers bumped him up to Triple-A as he started his comeback in 2010, and DeJesus only managed to go .335/.405 while in hitter-friendly Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League. DeJesus still is on the young side, but his future is unclear.

For comparison’s sake: Chin-Lung Hu comes to mind, because Hu is the most recent Dodger middle infield prospect to excite with a strong Double-A season (.380/.508 in 2007), then disappoint in subsequent years. Spending the next three seasons in Triple-A, Hu couldn’t break .800 in OPS. (In 191 scattered major-league appearances, Hu’s OPS is .524.) Long after they had given up on him, the Dodgers finally dumped Hu this offseason for Mets minor-league journeyman pitcher Michael Antonini. So yes, Hu got promoted, but it didn’t mean a lot.

For a more off-the-wall comparison, how about James Loney?  Different position, but same track record of having but one minor-league season with an OPS over .800. In his final minor-league action, Loney was reduced to a .345 on-base percentage and .382 slugging percentage with Albuquerque in 261 plate appearances over the first half of the 2007 season. But then Loney was promoted to the majors anyway and produced at a .381/.538 clip the rest of 2007. Say what you will about Loney as a first baseman, but if DeJesus came in at those numbers as a second baseman, people would be quite satisfied.

But as you can gather, the comparisons don’t help much.

X factor: Tales of bad vibes emerged in early September when Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote a short piece about DeJesus failing to earn a callup when rosters expanded. “DeJesus was drafted in the second round in 2005 as a shortstop, but he played second base this year, and scouts say his range and footwork around the bag need improvement, perhaps the after-effects of the injury,” Gurnick said. “Sources also claim that DeJesus … is in the doghouse because he has yet to grasp some of the subtleties of teamwork and game approach.”

Gurnick found more positive words about DeJesus earlier this month from Don Mattingly, who managed DeJesus in the Arizona Fall League: “He swung the bat well,” Mattingly told Gurnick. “I know since the injury, they say he’s a step slower here or there, but he’s prepared to hit at the major-league level. He has a good feel for how pitchers try to handle him. I thought he was really good offensively. Defensively, I didn’t see him as much as I’d like to because of the restrictions on who plays where. Offensively, the kid is ready to hit and produce. Where he fits, who knows?”

How close is he? Keeping in mind the usual caveat that the Ned Colletti Dodgers almost never hand a rookie a starting job in April, there’s a job in Spring Training that can be won. The team has a roster opening for an infielder, and if DeJesus came out like gangbusters, the Dodgers might consider pushing Juan Uribe to third base and Casey Blake to the left field squad.  DeJesus could also contend for a backup infield role.

But much more likely is DeJesus returns to Albuquerque to play the keystone opposite Gordon and work on his game, with an eye toward a midseason promotion if he shows progress. With a year of Triple-A already behind him, DeJesus’ destiny is largely in his hands at this point. Whether he can become more than Hu is up to him.

Did you know? DeJesus’ dad led the National League in runs in 1978 with 104, one more than Pete Rose.

* * *

Some links:

  • The Dodgers are staging a minicamp for pitchers in Arizona, from Clayton Kershaw to Luis Vasquez, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Jerry Sands is interviewed by John Parker for MLB.com.
  • Scott Podsednik’s decision to decline his 2011 option with the Dodgers looks worse and worse, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Former Dodger Andy LaRoche signed a minor-league contract with Oakland.
  • A list of remaining free agents is provided by Hardball Talk.
  • Update: Joe Posnanski has a column on Dodger national crosschecker John Green for SI.com, then discusses the column here. And Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports has a rich feature on the fate of the man who invented defense-independent pitching statistics, Voros McCracken.
Jan 15

Rubby De La Rosa: How close is he?

The fourth in a series of at least four, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Rubby De La Rosa
Vitals:
RHP, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, turns 22 on March 4.

Summary: We’re talking about him because he leapfrogged other Dodger prospects to become the organization’s 2010 minor-league pitcher of the year. De La Rosa impressed in a short rookie-ball stint in 2008 (47 1/3 innings, 51 strikeouts, 1.71 ERA) before a lost 2009 in which he managed only 16 1/3 innings and allowed 11 runs (while still striking out 22).

*Correction: The Dodgers informed me that there was an error in their media guide, and that De La Rosa was never suspended for violating the minor league drug prevention and treatment program. This post has been amended to reflect that.

But the Rubby-bandwagon got rolling again last season. De La Rosa came back strong at the start of 2010 with a 3.19 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings, then shot himself into the stratosphere of Dodger pitching prospects when he moved up to Double-A Chattanooga and had a 1.41 ERA in eight starts covering 51 innings (though his strikeout ratio fell to 6.9 per nine innings). At the two levels combined in 2010, De La Rosa walked 3.1 batters per nine innings. (Note: According to Fangraphs, his Fielding-Independent ERA was virtually the same at both levels: 3.12 vs. 3.22.)

For comparison’s sake: The Dodgers have had no shortage of starting pitchers make a quick impression in Double-A in recent years. Scott Elbert reached it in his age-21 season, but didn’t get a taste of the majors until a brief shot in 2008 and is still looking to lock in even as a reliever. Clayton Kershaw got to Double-A in the middle of his age-19 year, began his age-20 year at the same level before getting promoted to the majors, and hasn’t been back in the minors since he hit drinking age. Age is not be a barrier to a midseason promotion for a Double-A pitcher, but sustained excellence must continue, and that’s easier said than done.

Track record: De La Rosa’s ceiling is high enough for you to stick a flagpole. But with only 180 official innings in his minor-league career, spread out since his mid-2007 pro debut, it’s hard to say with any confidence what De La Rosa can do over an extended period of time. Chattanooga Lookouts radio broadcaster Larry Ward told Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. in August that De La Rosa had a fastball that could smell 100 mph, plus a secondary change and slider, while Keith Law of ESPN.com praised his stuff before the 2009 season. The watchwords, it seems to me, are consistency and endurance.

How close is he? Without the sextet of veteran starting pitchers the Dodgers have, we might have seen De La Rosa by the summer solstice. But with the team’s newfound starting-pitching depth, not to mention alternatives like John Ely and Carlos Monasterios as temporary stopgaps, De La Rosa is probably on track for a mid-2012 arrival if he maintains his current pace. As always, extreme excellence or awfulness could alter that timetable, as could a decision to shift him to the bullpen should the need again arise in Los Angeles this year.

Did you know? De La Rosa did not allow his first professional home run until 2010, his fourth professional season.

Jan 10

Dee Gordon: How close is he?

The third in a series of at least three, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Dee Gordon
Vitals:
SS, bats left, throws right, 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, turns 23 on April 22.

Summary: In 2010, Gordon’s numbers suffered as he moved into Double-A – something that isn’t uncommon among Dodger prospects, as the Southern League represses offense relative to its Single-A counterparts. Gordon’s .332 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage were career lows, as was his 72.6 stolen-base percentage (53 of 73). He was also charged with a career-high 37 errors, albeit in a career-high 133 games.

For comparison’s sake: Good luck finding one in recent times.  The last homegrown product considered to be a blue-chip prospect at shortstop for the Dodgers was … Jose Offerman. And Offerman made his major-league debut at age 21, despite concerns about his fielding, thanks to an OBP at Double-A and Triple-A of nearly .400. Alex Cora, a fringier prospect, reached Double-A in 1997 at age 21, OPSed .596, and reached the majors a year later in 1998, staying for good in 2000.

Mystery train: Gordon invites divided opinion, because his strengths and his flaws are so glaring. The guy can flat out run, as evidenced by his stolen base and triples totals, and there’s batting potential in the Juan Pierre sense. And though his 95 minor-league errors in 319 games are shocking, scouting reports indicate that they are the kinds of miscues can be ironed out over time; meanwhile, his range and arm are highly praised. Although his father Tom played 21 seasons in the majors, Gordon came to the game relatively late in school, encouraging some to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Others don’t see how he’ll grow into a front-line player.

How close is he? In different circumstances, 2012 might seem to be the earliest Gordon would reach the majors, with a starting job not in sight for at least another year after that. However, 2011 likely marks the end of the six-year Rafael Furcal era, and by now it’s safe to expect that that era will include at least one more trip to the disabled list for the otherwise talented Dodger shortstop. While Jamey Carroll has shown he can fill in for Furcal, a prolonged absence conceivably could compel the Dodgers to accelerate Gordon’s timetable, allowing him to reach the majors this summer.

But barring a massive developmental leap, Gordon has at least a solid year in the minors left, save a potential September callup. The Dodgers could be faced with an interesting decision a year from now. Gordon strikes me as someone whose maturation date could be July 2012 – if so, what do the Dodgers do for the first three months of next year? Rush him or find a stopgap?

There’s been some talk that Gordon might eventually move to center field because of his error-filled ways, but with his good buddy Trayvon Robinson looking like a contender, I don’t really see it happening. You just kind of have to hope that Gordon irons out his fielding woes – and if he can, the Dodgers could have their first homegrown shortstop in ages.

Did you know? The Dodgers haven’t had a homegrown five-year starter in the middle infield since Steve Sax.

Jan 05

Trayvon Robinson: How close is he?

The second in a series of at least two, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Trayvon Robinson
Vitals:
CF, switch-hitter, throws right, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, turned 23 on September 1.

Summary: Last year, at age 22, Robinson had a robust .404 on-base percentage to go with a .438 slugging percentage, nine home runs and 38 steals in 53 attempts for Double-A Chattanooga. The year before, in the more power-friendly environment of Single-A Inland Empire, Robinson had a .375/.500 with 15 homers and 43 steals in 61 attempts.

For comparison’s sake: Xavier Paul, considered a borderline contender to start in left in 2011, had a .366/.429 with 11 homers and 17 steals in 26 attempts in Double-A at age 22 in 2007. Paul reached the majors for the first time in mid-2009. And of course, by now you know how quickly Matt Kemp made it to the majors from AA.

Eye on excitement: Not only has Robinson shown speed, occasional power and the ability to hold down a fairly key defensive position, he’s making keen strides with his batting eye. His walk rate and walk/strikeout ratio has improved every year since 2007 according to Fangraphs, and as Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus just wrote, Robinson “turned into a walking machine after the All-Star break, drawing 32 free passes against just 117 at-bats as part of a .308/.464/.453 batting line.”

Sobering: Robinson struck out 125 times in Single-A in 2009 and 125 times in Double-A in 2010.

Quick and dirty conclusion: Jerry Sands, 27 days younger than Robinson, soared to the forefront among Dodger prospects last season, but it’s Robinson who not only might get the first call this year, he also might have the brighter future. Threatening to add a discerning batting eye to his other tools, Robinson is close to becoming the complete package.

Having completed a season and change in Double-A, Robinson should start the season in Albuquerque, and based on the patterns we’ve seen in recent years, a midseason promotion to the majors is a distinct possibility, especially if his walk rate continues to blossom. Dodger manager Don Mattingly described his satisfaction with Robinson during the Arizona Fall League in this interview with Jason Grey of ESPN.com. Though Mattingly said that Robinson would ideally spend all of 2011 in the minors to develop further, Los Angeles should get a taste of him by September, unless he stalls out or a veteran blocks him the way the acquisition of Manny Ramirez helped block Paul in late 2008.

And so although the Dodgers seem to have only two legitimate starting outfielders today, by season’s end, they might have two more ready from the farm system – or at least two a shade better than Paul.

Did you know? Robinson is the only player the Dodgers have ever drafted from Crenshaw High School? The Dodgers picked him in the 10th round in 2005, 25 years after the last Crenshaw grad to make the majors was taken: Darryl Strawberry.

Jan 02

Jerry Sands: How close is he?

One in a series of at least one, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Jerry Sands
Vitals: OF/1B, 6-foot-4, 210-225 pounds, turned 23 on September 28.

Summary: From age 22 1/2 to age 23, Sands had a .395 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage with 35 homers in 590 plate appearances combined at Single-A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga. In Double-A, Sands posted a .360/.529 with 17 homers in 303 plate appearances.

For comparison’s sake: From age 22 to age 22 1/2, Andre Ethier delivered a .383/.442 with seven homers in 471 plate appearances, all in Single-A. Then from age 23 to 23 1/2, Ethier offered .385/.497 with 18 homers in 572 plate appearances in Double-A (not counting a 17-plate appearance cup o’ joe at Triple-A). After starting 2006 strongly with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team, Ethier was promoted to the majors three weeks after turning 24.

Sobering: Sands struck out in about a quarter of his at-bats in the minors last year.

For what it’s worth: A younger Matt Kemp arrived in Los Angeles mere months after going .349/.569 in Single-A, and was in the majors for good less than two years after that Single-A year.

Quick and dirty conclusion: Obviously, Sands and Ethier are not the same player. Ethier had a better OBP but less power in the minors, among other differences. Still, I did find the juxtaposition interesting. It seems entirely plausible that Sands could get a quick promotion to Albuquerque in 2011. That would position him to make his big-league debut before the year is out and leave him a serious contender for a starting role in 2012.

Though there is almost zero chance Sands would start 2011 in the majors after only a half-season in Double-A – because Ned Colletti teams give veterans first crack in April – how Sands develops this year, against the background of how the Dodger major-league outfield shapes up, could speed up his timetable. He is also a potential understudy to James Loney.

Did you know? Sands stole 18 bases in 20 attempts in 2010 and is 24 for 27 in his pro career.