Jan 21

More Dodger prospect ponderings

I’m growing increasingly numb to the various lists ranking Dodger prospects. My interest in the prospects themselves hasn’t waned, but more and more, the ordering of them seems to have been generated like letter-number combinations from a Bingo tumbler.

Here are two more lists, from Baseball America and from Fangraphs. As if to thumb their nose at my state of mind, both rank Dee Gordon and Zach Lee first and second, but for example, BA has Trayvon Robinson 10th, while Fangraphs has him third.

I think I just enjoy getting information about the players rather than worrying about what order they should be in. In that spirit, here’s one excerpt: BA’s Best Tools in the Dodger farm system. You can see why BA likes Gordon – errors aside, they rank him as the team’s best defensive infielder.

Best Hitter for Average: Dee Gordon
Best Power Hitter: Jerry Sands
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Justin Sellers
Fastest Baserunner: Dee Gordon
Best Athlete: Dee Gordon
Best Fastball: Kenley Jansen
Best Curveball: Chris Withrow
Best Slider: Scott Elbert
Best Changeup: Allen Webster
Best Control: Zach Lee
Best Defensive Catcher: Gorman Erickson
Best Defensive Infielder: Dee Gordon
Best Infield Arm: Pedro Baez
Best Defensive Outfielder: James Baldwin
Best Outfield Arm: Blake Smith

* * *

I’m finding the transformation of Dodger Stadium into a supercross arena fascinating, if not a little frightening. I really would be curious to see it for myself. In any case, Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News gives us a look and talks to Dodger Stadium head groundskeeper Eric Hansen about his fears.

Sep 02

The 2010 Dodgers and the reinvention of lying

White lies, little and giant, have always been part of baseball — even the creation of the game is rooted in myth. But I can’t remember a year since I’ve been following the Dodgers that seems as defined by misinformation as 2010.

The tone was set last fall by Frank and Jamie McCourt as they prepared to do battle for ownership of the franchise, with the he said/she said battle positions flowering during numerous public revelations this year, leaving us with the bouquet of stinkweed at the trial that began this week. I’m not saying that someone’s been trying to pull a lot of wool over someone’s eyes, but lambs across the country are shivering in 90-degree heat.

It hasn’t only been the McCourts. Matt Kemp is held out of the starting lineup for days at a time, and the explanations richochet like bumper cars. He’s tired, he needs to get his head together, he’s in a battle with a coach, he needs to go talk to Joe Torre, Joe Torre needs to talk to him.

Manny Ramirez is finally ready to play after a painfully long absence, and yet he’s not playing. It’s matchups against the pitcher, it’s the square footage of the opposing outfield, it’s Torre playing a hunch, it’s to protect Ramirez for his waiver sendoff to the American League, it’s Ramirez’s own pigheadedness.

And then there are the media columnists who will bend and even break the truth to suit the stories they are determined to write, heedless of the facts.

This all comes on top of the game’s typical lies, such as a player hiding an injury (often to the detriment of the team), that are so familiar and yet so tedious.

It has bred a cynicism so rampant in many of us that even when a Dodger executive of unimpugned integrity like Logan White said in June with complete honesty that he drafted Zach Lee with the full intention of trying to sign him, few believed him – and most of the few who did simply believed he was lying to himself.

Baseball in general, and the Dodgers in particular, don’t necessarily owe us the truth, and I understand little white lies will always be part of the game. Baseball is a business, a culture and a family, and in all three fib to protect themselves. But this year, the cumulative effect of the lying has had a punishing effect. Last week, when Ramirez missed his final four chances to start after reaching base in his final four plate appearances as a starter, I rolled my eyes so much that they bowled a 270. It would be a bit much to pull the “have you no decency” card, but surely there doesn’t need to be such contempt for the truth to operate a baseball team in Los Angeles.

The grievances of Dodger fans are many, perhaps too many and perhaps sometimes too petty. But the feeling is almost unshakable that the Dodger organization has gone too far in insulting the intelligence of the fans. If our expectations are sometimes too high, that doesn’t mean the Dodger players, coaches, manager, executives and ownership don’t need to aim higher. In the end, winning is all that matters, but integrity goes a long way toward soothing the spirit when you’re losing.

Let’s put it this way: If you as an organization choose to espouse the heart and hustle and grit and gristle of players like Scott Podsednik and Jamey Carroll, then maybe you need to apply those values to your own, you know, values. Character in a baseball team is defined by more than how fast you run down the line. You’re telling me character matters, yet you’re not acting like it.

Aug 18

Dodgers get Zach Lee … will they lose Logan White?

Larry Goren/Icon SMI
Logan White has supervised Dodger drafts since 2002.

Pretty nice 28 hours that Logan White just had.

Monday evening, White 2003 draftee Chad Billingsley finished his sixth consecutive quality start, with an ERA of 1.33 in that span.

Tuesday evening, White 2006 draftee Clayton Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in the Dodgers’ 6-0 victory over Colorado and moved up to third in the National League in strikeouts.

And in between, White converted his bold first-round selection of Zach Lee into what might be the coup of the 2010 draft.

Lee’s reported $5.25 million deal was more than twice the size of Kershaw’s draft-year signing, in part because of the leverage that college football provided Lee, but it also reflects the belief that Lee could make the kind of remarkable impact for the Dodgers that Kershaw already has.

We might not get to see all three of these pitchers in the same Dodger rotation – Billingsley becomes eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, while it might be a rush to get the teenage Lee to the bigs by then – but there is that tantalizing possibility. And even if it doesn’t happen, you can be pretty sure the past two nights haven’t gone unnoticed inside baseball.

Put another way, even if there comes a weekend series in the September 2012 stretch run with Kershaw, Billingsley and Lee on the mound for the Dodgers, will White be around to see it?

White has long been an attractive candidate for other front offices in baseball, certainly from a scouting viewpoint but also in terms of general manager openings.  Getting Lee to the Dodgers – convincing both parties to get on board – when almost no one thought he could, adds a new layer of appeal.

The signing arguably turned around a year in which, aside from Kershaw and Billingsley, things went a little south for White’s other prodigies. There was Blake DeWitt’s and James Loney’s lack of home-run power, Russell Martin’s ongoing fade and Matt Kemp’s backward steps. There was James McDonald once more not seizing the day (though he seems to be thriving in Pittsburgh), and Scott Elbert’s disappearing act. And there was a mixed bag of results on the development front in the low minors – some remarkable advances like that of Jerry Sands, some retreats by others.

But Kershaw, Billingsley and Lee serve as a reminder that betting on White is about as safe a gamble as you can make in – this can’t be over-emphasized – an inherently risky field. I have no idea what specific interest other teams will show in White, but as the Dodgers make their lengthy to-do list for the 2010-11 offseason, one item that needs to be on it is “Keep Logan White happy.” Unless you subscribe to the philosophy of, “If you love someone, set him free.”

Aug 17

If you want to get more excited about Zach Lee, read this …

In case you missed it, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has much more from Dodger assistant general manager for amateur scouting Logan White about newly signed draft choice Zach Lee:

White said Lee’s contract won’t allow him to play football on the side.

“He is absolutely 100 percent dedicated to baseball,” White said.

However, in the unlikely event Lee changes his mind down the road and goes back to football, White said there are provisions in the contract that will limit the Dodgers’ financial losses, although he wouldn’t go into detail as to what those provisions are.

As a pitcher, White said Lee is a better all-around athlete than either Kershaw or Chad Billingsley, two recent first-round picks (2006 and 2004, respectively) who are now mainstays in the Dodgers’ starting rotation.

“He has an absolutely picture-perfect delivery and excellent arm action,” White said. “He is as pure as any pitcher I have ever seen. He has power stuff like Kershaw and Billingsley, but when those guys were younger, they would almost fight through a wall sometimes and try to overpower somebody, but they have grown and learned how to pitch more than just throw and be more effective with their pitch counts.

“I think Lee at the same age has a better feel for how to pitch than Chad or Clayton, and I don’t mean that to disparage them at all.”

White said Lee’s fastball touches 95 mph, but that he normally pitches in the 89-90 range, has a good breaking ball and a great changeup. …

Aug 16

Dodgers get their pony: Zach Lee signs

First the Dodgers Joc the world, and now they shock the world.

Confounding skeptics from coast to baseball coast, the Dodgers made good on their word and successfully delivered an offer to first-round draft choice Zach Lee reportedly at $5.25 million over five years, luring him from Louisiana State, where he had been about to embark on a quarterbacking career. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Back in October, I suggested that the divorce might bring about “a time when you buy the kids a nice pony to take their mind off the ugliness.” It took a while, but Lee is that pony, at least for the hardcore Dodger fan. It’s a remarkable turn of events and expectations.

Aug 15

Deadline for Dodgers to sign top draftee: 9 p.m. Monday

With little for me to talk about regarding today’s 13-1 defenestration of the Dodgers – Tony Jackson has everything you could possibly want to know, including the tidbit that the Dodgers have gone three straight games without a run-scoring hit – I can finally turn my attention to Monday’s 9 p.m. deadline to sign 2010 draft choices, including No. 1 pick Zach Lee.

Bullet points:

  • The Dodgers aren’t the only team going down to the wire on their first-round draftee, as the chart accompanying Ken Gurnick’s MLB.com article indicates.
  • Kevin Baxter of the Times details how little the Dodgers have been spending on amateur talent lately.
  • Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports bucks the conventional wisdom and suggests that the Dodgers will make Lee a legitimate bid, with lots of explanation why. Henson has a quote from Lee saying, “I know I’m going to have to make a decision if they make an offer.”

No single draft pick is a referendum on the Dodgers’ amateur talent strategy. The cupboard isn’t barren. But let’s just say that a team that spends its past year not signing its first-round pick, not offering salary arbitration to free agents and thereby forfeiting more first-round picks, not investing in international signings and not stopping from trading away handfuls of prospects each year is checking off a lot of boxes on the negative side of the ledger.

Let’s see what the news is at 9 p.m. Monday.

Jun 09

Controversy remains over Dodger draft

The controversy over the Dodgers’ top draft choice continued Tuesday.

Dodger assistant general manager Logan White insists that the Dodgers think they can sign Zach Lee, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, despite speculation that the Dodgers purposely chose a player whose salary demands would be unreachable, in order to save money.

Louisiana State football coach Les Miles said Tuesday that he met with Lee and his parents and that Lee intends to go to college to play football and baseball. White addressed that statement directly.

“He might go to school,” White said. “That is always a possibility. We certainly knew that was a possibility when we drafted him.”

Even so, White adamantly denied that the Dodgers would ever draft a player knowing they couldn’t sign him.

“I can understand why people might think that,” he said. “But that is one of those things where people create what they want to create, and it is just so far from the truth. I certainly want to sign Zach Lee, as much as any player I have ever drafted.”

White also dismissed a suggestion that he was under orders from McCourt to tank this year’s first-round pick.

A similar (though perhaps less intense) drama brewed around the Dodgers’ sixth-round pick, pitcher Kevin Gausman, who is also an LSU recruit. Writes Evan Drellich of MLB.com:

Gausman told The Denver Post he too was leaning toward going to college.

“Because of the amount of money that I want, they are going to follow me and see if I’m actually worth that,” Gausman told The Post.

“Being drafted in the sixth round, I think I have a chance to next year come out and really be a big influence at LSU and maybe even be their No. 1 guy on the mound,” Gausman said. “As of right now, I’m set on [LSU].”

White called Gausman’s statement “a normal part of the process.”

“He would’ve been a potential late first-round sandwich pick, but he’s got significant signing demands as well,” White said. “And he may not sign. We’ll see what happens.”

If Lee doesn’t sign with the Dodgers, the team will get a compensatory pick in the 2011 draft. Some believe this might be a smart move, because that draft is expected to be deeper in talent – so that even if the Dodgers acknowledge (to themselves, if no one else) that Lee isn’t coming, it doesn’t mean that they are avoiding paying amateur talent. We’ll see.

On a brighter note, Drellich writes that second-round pick Ralston Cash said he is interested in signing with the Dodgers despite having a scholarship to Georgia. Cash flew out last weekend for a last-minute workout with the Dodgers, and he and White bonded.

* * *

  • Vicente Padilla went 4 2/3 innings with one run allowed in a rehab start for Inland Empire on Tuesday. Padilla gave up three hits, walked one and struck out four.
  • Kyle Russell singled and tripled in his AA debut for Chattanooga on Tuesday, while Chris Withrow threw seven innings without allowing an earned run, striking out six.
  • Elisaul Pimentel allowed one run over six innings in Great Lakes’ victory. Brian Cavazos-Galvez had three hits.

* * *

Stat of the Day has a fun list of pitchers who have thrown at least five consecutive starts of eight innings or more, without allowing more than one run – fun because the list of course includes the Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale scoreless inning streaks, as well as Fernando Valenzuela’s beginning to the 1981 season. You’ll also find Don Sutton and Don Newcombe there.

Jun 07

And the Dodgers’ first-round pick is …

… Zach Lee, 6-foot-4, 195-pound right handed high school pitcher from McKinney, Texas.

He’s a high-school quarterback committed to Louisiana State, so there are immediate signability issues. This draft choice sets up a new referendum on the McCourt ownership.

Here’s a scouting report with video from MLB.com. An excerpt:

Summary: With above-average to plus stuff across the board — fastball, slider, changeup — good command and tremendous athleticsm, Lee should be one of the high school arms being mentioned up close to the top of the Draft, or at least on a short list of top high school arms. If he’s not, it’s largely because of one thing: signability. As a quarterback recruit, he’s committed to play two sports at LSU next year, and many think he’s unsignable as a result. That said, there’s bound to be a team with deep pockets that will take a shot at luring him away from the gridiron and life as a collegiate athlete.

Here’s what Marc Hulet of Fangraphs has to say:

A top quarterback prospect from Texas, it will clearly take a lot ($$$) to sway Lee away from his commitment to Louisiana State University. A team drafting Lee in the first round will have to have a pretty good feel on his signability. Lee has a three pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball, slider, and change-up. His arm slot tends to wander at times. Thanks to his focus on the football field, the right-hander is still raw but he does display solid control for his age.

From ESPN.com:

Lee is a star quarterback who has committed to LSU to play both football and baseball, but if he put word out tomorrow that he was willing to sign and focus exclusively on the world’s greatest sport, he’d go off the board in the top 50 picks next month.

Lee will show three pitches, with the changeup already flashing plus, and his fastball velocity is likely to increase as he fills out and if he dedicates himself to baseball.

He has a really bright future if and when he chooses baseball, but if he’s not interested in a pro career now, doesn’t that say something about the kid’s commitment to football and/or school? Buying him out of LSU isn’t the solution, and I think he’ll be a top-20 guy in 2013.

From Baseball America:

Lee’s status as one of the best quarterback recruits in the nation and a top student will make him one of the most difficult signing decisions in this draft. The perception among area scouts is that Lee might require as much as $3 million—and even that might not be enough to steer him away from playing two sports at Louisiana State. He passed for 2,565 yards and 31 touchdowns last fall, and his arm is just as potent on the mound. He already has a 90-93 mph fastball with room for more projection in his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame. He also throws a sharp slider and a changeup that needs work but shows promise. Unlike many two-sport stars, he has a lot of polish. Lee has a clean delivery that he repeats, enabling him to throw strikes with ease.

Here’s some video of Lee playing football at YouTube. And here he is on the mound last summer at the Area Code Games.

Jim Callis of Baseball America called the Dodgers “the last team” he expected to go after Lee.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that football is leverage, rather than the top priority for Lee. And it’s not as if the Dodgers have no draft budget – they could always have made a conservative pick that would sign relatively inexpensively. But hardcore fans will be watching carefully to see if the Dodgers punted this pick, or if they will complete the Hail Mary. Certainly, there is going to be tons of skepticism.

The draft continues Tuesday.

Update: From Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

“People can think what they want, he was the best talent available and I want to sign him, absolutely,” said Logan White, assistant general manager of scouting. “I didn’t take Zach to not sign him. You’ll see as the summer goes along we’ll make every effort to sign him, and I want to sign him. I know it won’t be easy, but hopefully we’ll get it done.” …

“If he focuses on baseball, I think he can move quickly, like Kershaw and Billingsley,” said White. “A lot will be made of the two sports, but as a pitcher, he has a real good arm and delivery, a plus breaking ball, he has a feel for a changeup, and when I saw him he was 90-92 [mph] with the fastball and up to 95. The ball comes out of his hand easily.

“The guy’s a competitor, he’s smart. Put it all together and we really couldn’t pass him up. He’s worth the risk of not signing. I like him that much.”

Unlike many recent Dodgers top picks, the club did not hold a special workout for Lee. According to White, Lee was surprised to get the call.

“He certainly was surprised,” White said. “They didn’t have a feel for what we were going to do. It’s part of the gamesmanship of the Draft.”

Update 2: From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“These are unusual circumstances,” White said. “I can only say that I am optimistic we will sign him. … [But] I can’t sit here and tell you that we’re going to sign him. It will really be Zach’s decision and his family’s decision. But we feel confident that once he and his family are able to get a good look at what this organization is all about, we’ll have a good chance to get him.”

White said Lee’s fastball has been clocked anywhere between 89-95 mph and routinely hits 93 and that he already has a plus changeup and curveball to go with it.

“One thing I will tell you is that he is quite an athlete,” White said. “One thing we liked was his athleticism, his size and his strength. He is tall and has a very good delivery, just easy, easy arm action. He is a strike thrower, and he knows how to change speeds. He has a great feel for pitching. He doesn’t just try to blow it by everybody, even though he has that ability. It’s a chess game for him because he is very competitive.”

White said Lee plans to follow through with his plans to participate in LSU’s summer football workouts, so an agreement with the Dodgers probably isn’t imminent. White wouldn’t rule out an agreement that would allow Lee to play football at LSU while playing baseball professionally in the Dodgers’ system, but it also didn’t sound like the kind of agreement White is eager to enter into.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out, but I just feel like if we can get him into our organization, he is going to be [in the majors] pretty fast,” White said.