A year ago, Dodger fans were wondering whether Adrian Gonzalez had anything left. I stated that if he didn’t, the Dodgers had an option at 1B who was ready to take over – one Cody Bellinger. I had watched Cody and Corey Seager progress and grow through the ranks of the Dodger farm teams, and I knew he was ready. I have only been that sure with two other current Dodgers: Seager and Kershaw!
In 2013 Cody hit .210 in rookie ball, but had a .340 OB%, to go with 1 HR (195 AB’s). Even at a young age, he had an eye like a hawk. In 2014, Cody hit .312 in Rookie ball across two levels of rookie ball but with just 3 HR (233 AB’s). In 2015, he changed his launch angle and hit .264 to go with a .336 OB% and launched 30 bombs (544 AB’s) in High-A Ball.
The next stop in 2016 was Tulsa and OKC, where he hit .271 with a .365 OB% and 26 HR. He followed that up by hitting .314 with a .424 OB% (.981 OPS) in the AFL. I watched him a few times during the course of the season and a couple of times in the AFL and it just seemed to me that he was ready. It turned out that A-Gon had nothing left and Cody was as ready as a player can be.
I’d like to tell you I feel the same way about Alex Verdugo, but I don’t! Alex was lacking just a little “something” that I could not identify… maybe it’s something he learned in his cup of coffee last season. Maybe the word is “hunger” – maybe Alex isn’t as “hungry” as Cody. Maybe he wasn’t as hungry as Cody, but after seeing how it is done at the MLB level, maybe he is developing that “hunger” needed to be great.
This Hot Stove League has seen little movement so far and I think it’s fairly obvious as to why: No one is going going to pay $200 million for JD Martinez. Yu Darvish is not going to get $150 million and Jake Arrietta is not going to get $125 million. So far, GM’s have shown a willingness to overpay for bullpen help only in 2 or 3 year deals. JD Martinez will be lucky to get $120 million. FAZ would probably re-sign Darvish for 4 years/$100 million, which means they might have to jettison some salary. So far, these GM’s have been showing admirable restraint because it has become painfully obvious that signing big-name free agents to exorbitant contracts is a dope-fiend move and not the path to success.
The Dodgers could yet trade Matt Kemp, trade for Yelich or sign Darvish, but none of us are holding our breath. If you don’t comprehend the dynamics, then you might think the Dodgers are cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Dodgers have spent on the Stadium, the minor leagues, coaching , Front Office staff, and have the finest facilities of any team. Their new Dominican Academy shows their level of financial commitment. However, like the Yankees who have paid the luxury tax for 14 years straight, they are re-setting the luxury tax clock.
The long and the short of it is: The Dodgers will not pay the luxury tax in 2018! PERIOD! No way, no how. End of story. That doesn’t mean that they will sign Harper or Machado next off-season, but if they are not under the tax threshold there is no way they can be involved in the process… at least the process of seeing that other teams don’t “steal” one of those players for a song. If the Dodgers don’t sign Harper or Machado, they will make sure that whoever does, feels the wrath of the Luxury Tax Devil.
Who Is Ready in 2018?
While I do not see any “sure things” like Bellinger, Seager or Kershaw in 2018, there are a few players that could be huge assets to the team. Some are rookies, some are not rookies.
Matt Kemp – Unless he is traded, there is no reason not to give him a shot at making team, unless it’s his attitude and I think he had been duly chastened and humbled with all that has happened. I have no expectations or predictions. He’s just a possibility. That’s it!
Andrew Toles – I think it was the end of June in 2016 that I was having dinner with my friend, Scott Andes of LaDodgerReport.com and I told him; “Watch this Toles kid – I think he’s ready and will be called up soon.” Well, he was called up shortly after the 4th of July and it turns out he was ready. His 2017 was derailed with injury, but he is in the mix for 2018. I like him a lot, but he does not have the pedigree of this next guy.
Alex Verdugo – Alex has an incredibly quick bat and amazing ability to almost always make contact. Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger changed their launch angles almost overnight. Who’s to say Alex can’t do the same? According to several sources, Alex Verdugo is working on gaining strength this offseason. Alex said:
“The biggest thing for me is to take my offseason seriously and gain weight. I want to put on muscle and come back bigger and stronger. I think with that, physically, on the field, I think I’m ready. I just want to physically get bigger.”
It’s no secret that Alex may have had a sense of entitlement and has not taken everything as seriously as necessary. Doc Roberts, Rich Hill, Chase Utley, and Cody and Corey have had talks with him. Sometimes, a light just goes on. Alex Verdugo has a Tony Gwynn-esque bat. If he can achieve his potential, the Dodgers don’t need Christian Yelich.
Alex has all the tools. If he has the hunger, then the Dodgers may have found their corner outfielder for the next six years.
Kiebert Ruiz – Most of last season, I had Kay-Bear Ruiz ahead of Will Smith. Ruiz is still only 19 (a switch-hitter) and hit .316 with a .361 OB % across Low-A and High-A last season. Like Cody, he will develop power, but is even more advanced as a hitter than Cody at that age. He will start the season in AA and I expect him to destroy AA pitching. Ditto for AAA. This kid is precocious and could be ready later in 2018. I stop just short of Cody, Corey and Clayton in proclaiming him the next “great Dodger.”
Will Smith – He will be 23 in March and 2017 was largely a waste. He did display some power at High-A while hitting .232 with a .355 OB% but was promptly injured when promoted to AA. He broke out in the AFL and I think he could be a solid backup, as soon as this year. His glove and arm are not in question. If Grandal is traded in a salary dump, he could be the solution.
Brock Stewart – This is short and sweet. He wants to start, but I think he’s a lock-down reliever. He put up “set-up man” numbers in relief last season. He will be 27 next year and has two great pitches. He has “reliever” written all overt him. All someone has to do is change his mindset and the Dodgers have high-leverage arm in the pen. At best he’s a #4 starter. Move him to the pen – do it now!
Dennis Santana – Right now, the Dodgers see him as a starter, but he could be “lights out” in the pen immediately. At some point, the Dodgers have to say “we have enough starters.”
Walker Buehler – He was shelled in his callup. Don’t be fooled. He has filthy stuff – control is what he has to work on. He could make the team out of the box or go to OKC to work on his command. It’s not a question of “if”… only “when.”
Julio Urias – I hear he is re-habbing with a vengeance. This guy is hungry and the doctors say there is no reason the surgery should impact his career – there was no structural damage. I expect to see him in June or July. He’s a force to be reckoned with. As a rookie, he was amazing. Look at his stats.
Yimi Garcia – The “spinmaster” could really lengthen the pen if he is healthy and all indications are that he is.
There are other candidates to step in and step up in 2018: Wilmer Font (98 MPH heat), Tom Koehler (this could be an incredibly bad signing or an amazingly good signing – actually with the price tag, there is almost no risk), Trevor Oaks and Tim Locastro. The electric arms in the system are too numerous to mention, but there are 3 or 4 other pitches who have a shot at making the big team this year if things go south.
I do expect for FAZ to make some moves, but if they don’t, there is no reason to be discouraged. With what in in the hopper, the Dodgers are not standing pat – they are moving forward… even if they do nothing!