5. Alex Verdugo, OF
The Dodgers were linked to Verdugo prior to the 2014 draft, as the club covets athletic prep pitchers, so it was no surprise when they took him in the second round. The surprise, however, came when they announced they had drafted him as an outfielder. Some questioned the decision, but a few months later, everyone was praising it.
Verdugo began his career with the Arizona League Dodgers, where he hit .347/.423/.518 with 20 walks and just 14 strikeouts. After a promotion to Ogden, he got to the ballpark after batting practice had ended, started in right field and went 3-for-5 with a double.
Verdugo generates excellent bat speed, leading to gap power now and it should lead to home run power as he matures physically. He displays excellent pitch recognition, as evidenced by him walking more than striking out as an 18 year old in his pro debut. He has enough foot speed to play center field now and should settle in nicely in right with his strong arm.
He should start 2015 in Great Lakes, along with top hitting prospect Julian Leon, giving the Loons an exciting middle of the lineup. His advanced approach could see him climb the Minor League ladder quickly, but the Dodgers aren’t exactly in need of another outfielder.
4. Grant Holmes, RHP
Holmes was widely considered to be a top-10 talent in the 2014 draft. Had he been a few inches taller, that likely would have been the case. However, other teams reservations led to the Dodgers getting a great value pick at No. 22.
The right-hander came out of the gates strong in his debut, regularly throwing his fastball in the mid 90s after touching 100 mph earlier that spring. His slider is another potentially plus-plus offering, with hard, late, two-plane break. He’s made strides with his changeup, giving him the potential for three major league quality offerings.
The Dodgers will likely closely monitor Holmes’ outings, making sure he’s not overworked, and he should begin the season with Great Lakes. He reminds me of Chad Billingsley, for his build, delivery, and overpowering stuff as a teen and could advance quickly, depending on how his changeup and command develop.
3. Joc Pederson, OF
Pederson was signed for $600,000 as an 11th-rounder in 2010 and struggled in his debut, failing to record a hit in 12 plate appearances with the AZL Dodgers. The following season, he OPSd .997 with Ogden before a late season promotion to Great Lakes.
He continued to progress, hitting 18 home runs in 2012 and 22 in 2013 before his historic 2014 campaign in the PCL, in which he became the first player in 80 years to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases. Pederson offers five tool ability, with his power standing out.
He keeps his hands back well in his swing, generating more than ample bat speed. He’s made adjustments over the past few months that led to a team-high six home runs and 13 RBIs in Spring Training. He’ll also have his fair share of walks and strikeouts this season.
Pederson is the best defensive option in center field for the Dodgers, with good range and enough arm for the position. Named the Opening-Day starter in center, Pederson has the potential to patrol the outfield for years to come with the Dodgers.
Pederson may experience his ups and downs in his rookie campaign, but should be the team’s second most valuable outfielder behind Yasiel Puig.
2. Corey Seager, SS
2012 was an outlier for the Dodgers. It saw the organization inject more talent from the amateur ranks than any other year in the past decade or two. It began with international talent like Yasiel Puig, Hyun-jin Ryu and Julio Urias and continued with the draft.
The Dodgers had spent their last nine top picks on pitching, but when the big shortstop from North Carolina fell to No. 18, the club couldn’t pass him up. Seager hit well in his debut with Ogden but moved to Great Lakes in 2013.
A severe drop-off in performance was expected, but Seager ended up hitting .309/.389/.529 with 12 home runs and 18 doubles for the Loons. He struggled after being promoted to Rancho and the struggle continued in the Arizona Fall League.
The length and grind of a full season caught up with the 19 year old, but he bounced back in extraordinary fashion in 2014, batting .349/.402/.602 between High-A and Double-A, earning All-Star and MVP honors, as well as being named Minor League Hitter of the Year along with Pederson.
Seager’s calling card is his bat, as he employs a mature, all-fields approach, spraying line drives to the gaps with regularity. At 6’4 and 210 lbs., he projects to have plenty of home run power as he gets older. The biggest question has been whether his size is an impediment to playing shortstop.
After a rough defensive season in 2013, Seager improved drastically in 2014 and now looks like he could handle the position for a few years in the pros. If/when he eventually moves to third, he should offer excellent value on both sides of the ball.
Seager won’t turn 21 until later this month, yet should return to Double-A to start the year and could end his season with a September call-up. Unless things go horribly wrong, Seager is slated to inherit the starting shortstop job in the big leagues in 2016.
1. Julio Urias, LHP
I’ve been following the Dodgers’ Minor League system since 2004 and I can’t remember a prospect quite like Urias. Signed out of Mexico in August of 2012, he was said to have a fastball in the low 90s and a promising changeup.
So, when the Dodgers started him in full season ball the following year, as a 16 year old, many people were shocked. Then they saw him pitch and understood why that decision was made. Urias has been up to 98 with his fastball and sits in the 92-94 range with good life.
He throws two versions of a slider — one with a shorter, more conventional break, and another that looks more like a curveball. His changeup gives him yet another weapon to keep hitters off balance, with late, tumbling action.
What really sets Urias apart is his poise. Last year, the Dodgers brought him over to big league camp as a 17 year old and all he did was strike out two of the three Major League batters he faced. After his outing, he talked to reporters like he’d been doing it for 10 years.
Urias is unflappable on the mound and takes bad outings as learning opportunities. He is mature well beyond his years and is a great teammate. Still just 18, he figures to begin the year in Double=A with an emphasis on building up his endurance.
Urias rarely went more than five innings at a time last season and needs to show he can get deep into games before he’s ready for the show. A September call-up may not be out of the question, and expect him to compete for a rotation spot next spring, as a 19 year old.