From 2005-2008, the Dodgers' minor league talent pool ranked among baseball's elite. But looking at the team's projected 2011 lineup, the team has very little to show for those former farm riches.
Team ace Clayton Kershaw(notes) is the prized hog from that group, and his talents can be argued against any arm in the league – he's that good. Matt Kemp(notes) also was a product of the system during that stretch in time and, despite a bump in the road last season, he's an established All-Star caliber performer and a fixture in the middle of the lineup. Beyond those two, however, things start to get much more dicey.
The offense will likely run out five opening day starters of at least 32 years of age. The rotation will boast two starters over the age of 35. In terms of youthful promise, this is a team that is sorely lacking. Keith Law, ESPN's minor league talent evaluator, recently ranked the Dodgers farm system No. 22 overall. And very few of the team's top talents are close to being major league ready.
If this team is going to compete this year in the NL West, the veterans will have to stay healthy and the prime-aged performers, like Kemp, Chad Billingsley(notes) and Andre Ethier(notes), are going to have to put together at least something close to their career years. With that in mind, let's start with, perhaps, the team's most important piece of the puzzle:
Should we be concerned about Matt Kemp's regression in '10?
In our mid-January Roto Arcade mock draft, you might say I showed complete disregard for Kemp's downturn in 2010, taking the Dodgers centerfielder with the No. 18 pick overall. In my analysis, I noted that his BABIP (.295) was at least 35 points lower than any of his previous seasons and that former manager Joe Torre was notorious for shuffling him around in the lineup – we should hope new skipper Don Mattingly doesn't show his Torre influences in the same manner. But I failed to mention Kemp's alarming struggle with fastballs last season, one that FanGraph's Albert Lyu covers in alarming detail. To summarize, even average fastballs were giving Kemp fits in '10.
Obviously, you can't ignore Kemp's fastball issues, but you also have to consider that, at 26, he's only now entering his prime and that he was a fastball-crushing .290-plus machine in previous seasons. And let's not ignore the fact that he was dating pop tart Rihanna last season, a relationship that dissolved this offseason. Perhaps, with the "broad out of his head" (to paraphrase Crash Davis), Kemp's fastball focus will clear up. The one positive takeaway from '10 is that Kemp's floor still looked pretty good – 28 home runs and 19 steals is not too shabby. It won't take much of a rebound to see his fantasy value return to elite levels.
Is Matt Kemp the only Dodger with fastball issues that we should be concerned about?
I'm afraid not. Closer Jonathan Broxton(notes) saw a decrease of roughly two miles per hour on his fastball from '09 to '10. As many of you might painfully recall, Broxton posted a 7.13 post-break ERA and lost his job as the team's closer in August. Again we turn to FanGraph's Albert Lyu for the gory details of Broxton's velocity demise.
The word out of LA is that Broxton will have the month of April to prove that he is still capable of handling the end game. But if the troubles from '10 carry over, it's very likely we'll be watching somebody else close out games in May and beyond. Hong-Chi Kuo, who is already a cherished fantasy commodity in middle relief, would likely replace Broxton, as he did late in '10. But he's long been a durability question mark and the Dodgers may also give looks to veteran Vicente Padilla(notes) and youngster Kenley Jansen(notes), who struck out 41, and saved four games, in his 27-inning Dodgers debut last season.
Simply put, Los Angeles is not short on replacement options for Broxton, and you can't comfortably take Broxton among the top 15-20 closers on draft day.
Any chance we see the team's top prospect, Dee Gordon, this season?
Tom Gordon's(notes) son flashes the potential to be the type of player he'll eventually replace in LA, Rafael Furcal(notes). Like a young Furcal, Gordon has blazing speed and has the contact skills to hit for average (with mostly gap power). Injuries have taken their toll on Furcal in recent years and he's a shadow of what he once was. But if his health holds, Furcal will likely keep Gordon at bay until late in the season. After spending '10 at Double-A, where he stole 53 bases but got on base at only a .332 clip, Gordon needs a good dose of Triple-A experience before making his way to LA. He'll be an interesting discussion point for '12 drafts, but he's not worth much of our time in standard mixers at this point in time. Of course, that changes if/when Furcal lands on the DL.
Can we expect anything to come out of left field, literally??
Among MLB teams, you could make a very compelling argument that the Dodgers employ the least desirable left fielders. Jay Gibbons(notes) certainly can vouch for just how undesirable he was to the baseball establishment in the fallout from being an admitted steroids user. He had to bounce around the independent leagues and then pay to play in Venezuela before he was given a second chance. It's a good story, in reality, but will it have a happy ending for fantasy owners, as well?
As the expected left-side platoon leader in left, Gibbons could see close to 400 ABs. Based on his rate of home runs last season (5 HR in 75 AB), that would equate to 25 home runs. Of course, Gibbons has only once before in his career produced an OPS equal to his .819 mark of last season, and that was back in '05 (.833), in the midst of his PED usage. And that '10 HR rate, in a very small sample size, was 9.0 percent higher than his career rate, the majority of that career being spent in a much friendlier hitting environment in Baltimore. Despite his born again attitude about being given his dream opportunity in LA, Gibbons isn't worth more than NL-only consideration. Marcus Thames(notes) (as the right-side platoon partner) and Xavier Paul(notes) will also factor into the left-field equation and, at some point in the second half, intriguing power prospect Jerry Sands (35 HRs in 502 ABs combined at Single- and Double-A in '10) could get an opportunity.
Note: The '78 Topps Ron Cey card was a no-brainer nomination. As a young kid, my best friend's mom had dated Cey while in high school in Tacoma, Washington. I was able to exploit that connection, dealing my '78 Cey for my best friend's entire collection of Yankees cards, including a few Reggie Jacksons – my favorite player at that point in my life. Cey represented the greatest swindle of my card trading career – at least until Beckett magazine became a prominent fixture in the industry and forever tainted how I judged a card's value.
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