In a word, the Dodgers off-season so far has been uneventful. In two words, it’s been extremely uneventful. They missed out on all the top free agents and although they’ve been connected to practically every big name available on the trade block, no moves have actually happened just yet.
Me sitting here waiting for the Dodgers to do something this offseason… pic.twitter.com/xpRYK7Tv8T
— Nate Sowers (@nsowers11) December 24, 2019
There’s still plenty of time for all that to change. However, if the Dodgers decide to stick to their past strategy of keeping top prospects instead of trading them away, it may not be as bad of an idea as many believe.
To be clear, this is not a piece advocating for the Dodgers to remain inactive this off-season. If a player like Mookie Betts and/or Francisco Lindor become available for the right price, the Dodgers should, and probably would, seriously consider it. On the flip side, if a deal isn’t feasible for whatever reason, fans shouldn’t dread too much considering the Dodgers success with past prospects and the talent of their current ones.
If there’s one MLB team with a great track record with top prospects, it’s the Dodgers. They have 18 Rookie of the Year (ROY) winners in franchise history, double that of the New York Yankees, who are second with eight. The Dodgers have had ROY streaks of four years in a row (1979-1982) and five years in a row (1992-1996.) They also just had recent back-to-back winners with Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger in 2016 and 2017.
Despite the repeated success, skepticism remains amongst some fans when it comes to prospects. When the idea about the Dodgers possibly wanting to keep their young players, and not make a trade, you’ll often see people point out how “prospects are unknown” and “not all are going to pan out.”
This is true, but when you consider all the success the Dodgers have had with their prospects, it’s a little hard to understand the cynicism.
Over the last five years, practically every prospect that has come up for the Dodgers has excelled. They’ve had others that they traded away who haven’t panned out yet, like Jose DeLeon (Logan Forsythe trade), Willie Calhoun (Yu Darvish trade), and Yusniel Diaz (Manny Machado trade). They’ve also had some who have regressed at the minor league level, like Yadier Alvarez. But if you look at the top prospects who have reached the major league level with the Dodgers, they’ve all either met, or exceeded expectations.
Cody Bellinger is coming off an MVP season. Walker Buehler is one of the best starters in the game now. Along with those two, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, and Corey Seager are all former top prospects who have become All-Stars after making their debut.
Think about that for a moment. Every one of these past prospects came up and played at an All-Star level at some point. Not many teams can claim that kind of consistent production from their young players.
The new core of prospects
The Dodgers have a few top prospects this year that are ready to contribute right away and will play vital roles if the Dodgers decide to keep them. They could be the next crop of youngsters that are future All-Stars, Cy Young winners, and MVPs.
Perhaps the most intriguing prospect for the Dodgers is Gavin Lux. It remains to be seen where he’ll play next year and how much playing time he’d get, but Lux could legitimately put up ROY numbers if given a full-time opportunity. There’s a reason he’s the guy most teams are asking about in any return trade package from the Dodgers. And there’s a reason the Dodgers continue to say, “no thanks,” in response.
The Dodgers also have a couple of potential front-line starters in Dustin May and Julio Urias. May will likely be on an innings limit but he has true number two type potential. He could add a significant boost to the rotation if given a legitimate opportunity in the rotation. He’ll surely go through some rookie growing pains, but the stuff is there.
It seems like Julio Urias has been around for so long that it’s hard to believe he’s still only 23 years old, two years younger than Walker Buehler. There’s no denying that we haven’t yet really seen what Urias is capable of in the big leagues. He missed almost two years with a shoulder injury, and last year he was relegated to a relief role in order to limit his innings. Urias still hasn’t had a full season in the Dodgers rotation but that figures to change next season. He’ll be a big part of their rotation going forward and still retains ace potential.
Alex Verdugo isn’t a prospect anymore and has already showed his value during his rookie campaign last year. He slashed .294/.342/.475 before getting hurt at the end of the season. If healthy, he figures to be a staple in the Dodgers lineup and playing on a full-time basis somewhere in the outfield.
Will Smith came up late last season and contributed immediately, clubbing 12 home runs in his first 28 games, including two walk-offs. He came back to earth in September, but there’s no doubt he’ll be the Dodgers main catcher going into next year. Even with his end-of-year slump, Smith finished 2019 with a .907 OPS, which would be second in baseball for catchers if he had enough plate appearance to qualify.
Again, this is not to advocate for the Dodgers keeping all these prospects instead of trading for an established superstar. It’s just to point out that if they did, it may not be the worst thing in the world for the team. Remember, at one point Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler were just “unproven prospects” with no guarantee.
Imagine a rotation where both Urias and May live up to their potential and team with Buehler to make a solid starting rotation. Also imagine a lineup with someone like Verdugo being a great leadoff hitter, Will Smith being one of the top offensive catchers in the game, and a possible ROY candidate in Gavin Lux. Add those guys to the already talented core of Bellinger, Seager, and Muncy, and that’s a pretty good proposition if you’re a Dodgers fan.
Obviously, not every prospect is going to pan out. But whether it’s because of the player development system in place, or just plain luck, the Dodgers continue to have their prospects flourish. And if the front office remains inactive before next season, they may need that trend to continue.