From 8/14-8/19 I sat on the AZL Dodgers Mota. Diego Cartaya and Alex De Jesus both project as regulars and have star upside. Cartaya has big power and should stick at catcher. De Jesus is an emerging shortstop prospect with impressive physique for his age. Hyun-il Choi has backend starter potential; he is a pitchability guy with a bevy of pitches and a fastball that touches 95. Jacob Gilliland has an easy delivery, projectable frame and an outside chance to make it as a back end starter. I also ran into AZL Dodgers Losarda three times in cross coverage. Between the two teams there are several players who project as middle relievers or have a shot to get there.
Diego Cartaya (C) – The Dodgers signed Cartaya for $2.5MM as a part of their 2018 J2 class. Many viewed him as the top prospect in the class. He is a well-rounded catcher with a chance to be average or better on both sides. Offensively, his bat projects more favorably in the power than hit department. His swing creates easy loft, and he maintained a high fly ball rate throughout the season. His average fly ball distance increased over the year, suggesting Cartaya improved in his pitch selection or got stronger as the season progressed. Whatever happened, he was able to drive the ball better over time. While he is very strong, Cartaya’s bat speed was around average (to a tick above), and he was occasionally beaten up with pedestrian velocity. Pitchers with decent feel to pitch and below average stuff did not have trouble attacking him with vanilla sequencing; they could go change down, change down, fastball up to make him look off balance. As a 17-year-old in the AZL, Cartaya was among the youngest qualified hitters and should adjust as he gets more reps. Cartaya is very physical for his age. He has solid bat-to-ball skills and makes a reasonable amount of contact. He doesn’t have to sell out to generate power. The swing looks easy; Cartaya pulls his hands back to slot (on time) while slowly striding forward to create separation and lets his strength play. Cartaya is strong enough to make hard contact even when he doesn’t barrel up.
Defensively, Cartaya moves well laterally with good reactions behind home. He isn’t as quick as someone like Randy Florentino, but he positions himself well and has good anticipation which allows him to make blocks players with comparable quickness would miss. I tallied five blocks on balls in the dirt in 8/27’s playoff game vs the Rangers. Cartaya is also comfortable low to the ground and very flexible for his size. His arm was fringe average with a couple pops in the 2.00-2.05 range. He made a nice play on 8/27, blocking a ball and gunning a runner out at second. Judging from only a couple throws Cartaya has decent footwork and transfers. On 8/19, he made an accurate throw with a 2.00 pop to get the runner, but the pitch was up and outside. It was basically in a pitchout location, making the time seem better than it was. The arm itself will get a little stronger with age, and he will settle in around average. He should stick at catcher and projects as average there. The bat will be good enough that you take the defense even if he adds more weight than expected and becomes a fringe-average defender.
Overall: 55 FV – Hit 20/45, Power 30/60, Defense 35/50, Arm 45/50, Speed 20/20
Alex De Jesus (SS) – The Dodgers signed De Jesus for $500k during the 2018 J2 period. He is a bat-first shortstop prospect with an impressive swing. De Jesus has a short leg kick and stride. He keeps his hands back and brings them through the zone as late as possible, letting the ball travel. The leg kick functions as a timing mechanism rather than source of power. De Jesus is plenty strong and does not need to rely on stride length to generate power. Instead, well-timed hip rotation through point of contact and a physically-advanced frame bring the juice to his swing. His approach is pull-heavy, but he has shown the ability to keep his hands in and use the other field with intent as needed.
De Jesus likes to swing the bat and will not take many walks. He can be beaten by spin but recognizes it and is learning to spit on it. He has also shown an ability to adjust to breaking balls and make quality contact when he lands on his front foot early. He does this by keeping his hands back, reacting and ripping them through the zone. De Jesus will also punish mistakes left up. This kid is strong and looks more like a 21-year-old than a 17-year-old. It is easy to forget De Jesus was the second-youngest (3/22/02) qualified hitter in the AZL (behind Oakland Athletics OF Brayan Buelvas - 6/8/02). De Jesus is at times uncoordinated on the base paths and looks to be getting used to his body. His feet are heavy, and he is already a below average runner. He is not done growing and will be a 30 runner at maturity.
Defensively, De Jesus has actions capable of sticking in the infield, but his range is well below average for shortstop. On 8/18 he showed solid body control making a well-coordinated pirouette and throw. The throw was off target, but De Jesus closed on a ball that I did not think he would get to. De Jesus looked most comfortable at short when charging at slow rollers coming forward. His mobility will likely force him over to third base, where he should be an average defender. The arm is about average now (more strong than accurate). Its accuracy may have looked worse than it is because De Jesus’s range forced him into making some difficult throws. Conservatively, it is average and projects to 55 with added strength; it will play at third.
Overall: 50 FV – Hit 20/55, Power 30/55, Defense 20/40, Arm 50/55, Speed 40/30
Hyun-il Choi (RHP) – The Dodgers signed Choi out of South Korea last August for $300k. Choi is a pitchability guy who keeps hitters off balance by changing speeds and working the full zone. He repeats his mechanics and throws a lot of strikes. I liked Choi’s mound presence; he works quickly and confidently, going after opposing hitters. He has an array of pitches that start with his four-seamer. The pitch sits 90-92 and touches 95. Choi is 6’2” and looks fairly filled out; I don’t think there is much projection left in his frame, but he turned 19 on May 27 and may gain a tick or two of sitting velocity through modest weight gain. Choi works from a low slot and gets good run on his fastball as a result. The ball is hard to pick up out of his hand, adding to its effectiveness. You can make a case the pitch plays to major league average due to its movement and deception. Choi also has plus command of the fastball, spotting it around the zone at will.
His best secondary was a low-80s changeup. Much like the fastball, it has good running action as a result of Choi’s armslot. He showed confidence in it, using it against both-sided hitters. Choi has a slew of breaking pitches. The best was a low-80s slider that flashed 55 with darting two-plane break. On 8/17, he also threw a mid-70s breaker, which moved similarly to the slider, and a slow curve (69-71) with 12-6 shape. He also threw a few a 2-seamers in the high 80s with more sink and run than the four-seamer. I think Choi will condense his arsenal over time and focus on his most effective pitches. Cobbling down to a smaller pitch mix will make it easier to hone the remaining breaking pitches, and they would be less liable to blend together. Overall, Choi was not overpowering, but he worked backwards and mixed n’ matched with sequencing to get outs.
Choi reminds me a lot of Jordan Yamamoto. Both are deep arsenal pitchability guys with plus fastball command, strong balance, and deception in their deliveries. Both pitchers also have an upright release that eats into their extension. Choi will throw harder than Yamamoto, but his secondary stuff isn’t as good (even accounting for improvement as he matures). He has legitimate role-40 SP potential though, making him one of the better pitching prospects in the AZL.
Overall: 40 FV – FB 50/60, CHG 40/55, SL 35/55, CB 30/40
Carlos Alejo (RHP) – The Dodgers signed Alejo in April of 2016. He was listed at 6’1” 165 and has added significant weight since signing day. He is now solidly built (guestimate -> 200 lbs) and sits mid 90s with his fastball, touching 98. The fastball has some life to both sides. Alejo’s delivery has little effort considering how hard he throws. His slider (85-88) flashed above average, and he showed a mid-80s change. It is control over command for Alejo and the Rangers knocked him around on 8/14. His walk rate on the season was uninspiring, but I think there is enough here for a role-35 middle reliever.
Overall: 35 FV – FB 55/70, SL 45/55, CHG 30/40
Jacob Gilliland (RHP) – The Dodgers took Gilliland in 32nd round last year out of Next Level Academy in Alabama. Gilliland is interesting because his weaknesses are in areas player dev groups may be able to improve; he does not throw hard (89-91) and has trouble maintaining good shape with his curve. He looks to be around 6’3” and has some physical projection remaining. Gilliland also has a low-effort delivery. Considering his frame, ease of delivery, and the Dodgers’ proclivity to use weighted balls, it would be unsurprising to see Gilliland gain a few ticks on his fastball. It is no guarantee, but Gilliand is the type of player who seems like a good candidate for weighted balls. He is unlikely to become an impact player without embracing the risk.
In addition to weighted balls, it would be equally unsurprising if the Dodgers were to use of high-speed cameras to pinpoint an ideal grip and release point for Gilliland’s curve. They could do this by examining his hand at release when the curve produces the desired shape. In theory, these images could be a valuable training tool to help Gilliland maintain quality shape on the pitch. “See where your hand/fingers/arm are here?”- type of thing. At present, Gilliland’s curve flashed above average with late two-plane break. More often than not Gilliland did not maintain posture (his back collapsed), and he slung the pitch glove side. It was a very inconsistent pitch. Gilliland’s change flashed plus; it dropped off the table with big depth and fade and produced several bad swing and misses. I think there is untapped potential in Gilliland, and he is in a good organization to help him unlock it.
Having said all this, Gilliland did not consistently throw strikes this year and with a 5.1 BB/9. He is a player with the odds stacked against him and needs a few things to go his way. There is a feasible path to a role-40 backend SP ceiling, which is more than you can say for many players in the AZL.
Overall: 35 FV – FB 30/45, CHG 45/60, CB 30/50
Alec Gamboa (LHP) – The Dodgers drafted Gamboa in the ninth round out of Fresno City College. He did what you are supposed to do as a 22-year-old in the AZL: he dominated. Over 25 innings he posted a 2.88 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, with a 33/2 K/BB. On 8/12 Gamboa worked 92-94 from the left. The change and curve flashed 55, and Gamboa has solid command of both pitches. I love his mechanics; he uses his lower half well and has great body control. The delivery is smooth and easy with strong momentum and balance, a combination that can be hard to find. He repeats well. By his third inning the fastball dipped into the high 80s, low 90s; Gamboa is a relief-only guy for that reason. He is too good for the AZL and needs to face better competition. Gamboa has middle-relief potential and a good chance to realize it.
Overall: 35 FV – FB 50/55, CB 40/55, CHG 45/55
Franklin De La Paz (LHP) – De La Paz is an athletic lefty who worked comfortably 93-95 with life. His pitch mix was fastball-heavy, making him a hard guy to write up. But he flashed a low-80s breaking ball. He is a short-strider whose arm and torso whip around late. It creates deception but is also hard to control. He is a control over command guy who got away with in-zone misses because his stuff overpowered most AZL hitters. The command profile is questionable; his follow-through carries his momentum toward third and the delivery is hard to repeat. Lefties who sit 93-95 do not grow on trees, so here we are throwing down a role-35 grade. VIDEO
The Dodgers have a bunch of guys with middle relief ceilings and varying odds at reaching them. They all have flaws, and they all have interesting qualities. They are listed in order of preference:
Jeisson Cabrera (RHP) - Cabrera is a thin but athletic righty. His fastball works 91-94 and touches 95. His curve flashes plus with big 11-5 break in the mid to high 70s with around 2700 rpm. Cabrera controls the tempo, at times working quickly and at times slowing down. He attacks with plus arm speed. Cabrera has good command considering the all-out nature of his mechanics. He was one of the more polished pitchers in the AZL, but to a large degree, he is what he is. He turned 21 in September, has little to no physical projection and lacks a viable third pitch. His changeup (85-88) is firm and needs to improve for Cabrera to be a viable middle reliever. VIDEO
Adolfo Ramirez (RHP) - Ramirez is a Mexican righty with good feel to pitch. He notably led qualified AZL pitchers in K-BB% at 29.5%. Ramirez wasn’t overpowering but showed four pitches and threw a lot of strikes. The fastball topped out at 92, and he could also cut it in the high 80s. Ramirez has a relatively thin frame and at around 6’1” does not look overly projectable. The change was his best secondary with good shape in the 82-85 range. The curve flashed above average in 74-78 range and the slider (82-85) was mixed in as a fourth option. My impression of Ramirez was he is polish over projection, and he put up good AZL numbers largely due that polish. My look was short though, and I did not come away feeling confident with my assessment of the player; some guys require longer looks to fully understand why they succeed, and I think Ramirez falls into that category. He also had zero strikeouts the day I saw him, which isn’t indicative of who he is. That made for a tough evaluation. VIDEO
Daniel Cruz (RHP) - Cruz is a tall, almost 22-year-old Dominican. He is around 6’4”-6’5” and put up good numbers in the AZL while facing younger competition; he struck out 39.5% of opposing hitters. Cruz worked 91-94. It was a fastball-heavy mix, but he also used a mid-70s curve that is around average. He looks projectable due to his height, but considering his age is he really? Much like Cabrera, my feeling is he is largely who he is at this point. Cruz has good body control and throws a lot of strikes. He gets good extension but has a long arm action. How you weight his age for the level vs his strikeout percentage goes a long in way in your assessment of Cruz. For me he is a role-30 but could be a middle reliever. VIDEO
Carlos de los Santos (RHP) – De los Santos is a big arm speed righty. The delivery is violent and uses little lower half, putting a disproportionate burden on his arm. In a one-inning look, he sat 92-95 and also threw a high-80s change, which was around average. De los Santos will be 18 until November, has impressive physique and electric arm speed. He had below average control with 5.3 BB/9 on the season. The high-effort mechanics look hard to repeat and were probably a big part of his walk rate. If his lower half were more involved, I could see him throwing harder and/or throwing more strikes, and he is worth monitoring for that reason. VIDEO
Harold Galindo (RHP) – Brewers Gold roughed up Galindo on 8/17 when he allowed six hits and four earned in two innings. Galindo is thin and has a good amount of physical projection remaining. He worked 91-94 and mixed in a CB 74-78 and a change in the low-80s. There is some effort in his delivery and his release is very upright, eating into his extension. He is one to keep tabs on due to his body and age for the level; this was his age-18 season, and he was one of the younger pitchers in the AZL. VIDEO
Aldry Acosta (RHP) – Acosta is a massive Venezuelan righty. He is listed at 6’4” 200 but looks larger. Having turned 20 on 9/7, 2019 was his age-19 season. Acosta may not be done growing. He spins a 12-6 curve with tight shape when good, but its spin axis was all over the place. Acosta has a stiff landing on his lead leg and a cross body follow through that carries his momentum toward first and makes his delivery difficult to repeat. He worked in the 90-93 range with his fastball and threw one solid-average change at 85. One could look at Acosta and think he has big-man late bloomer potential. VIDEO
Jose Rodulfo (RHP) – Rodulfo was among the youngest qualified pitchers in the AZL this year. He works fast and has quick feet. He works confidently and throws a lot of strikes, but he does not have overpowering stuff. The fastball is high 80s-low 90s. His change flashed above average; Rodulfo used it a lot and got good swing and miss on it. He is notable due to his age, but I do not see skills or body projection likely to translate to results as he climbs to higher levels. VIDEO
You can follow me on Twitter @jasonpennini.