Our 2021 Dodgers Prospect List, Revisited

Back in December, Eric Longenhagen compiled FanGraphs’ annual Dodgers Top Prospects List, identifying 51 noteworthy players in Los Angeles’ system. What follows is an update on the top-ranked players and best performers from that list, along with some previously unlisted prospects who’ve made a case for themselves to be included in prospect lists to come. (Note: The stats in this article are updated through Monday, June 28).

Updates on the Top Five

Josiah Gray, the Dodgers’ top-ranked prospect who they acquired in the Yasiel Puig trade, seemed to be a likely option to replace Dustin May on the big-league roster when May was sidelined by Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the year. But just a few days later, Gray made his first start at Triple-A and has been sidelined ever since with an arm injury of his own (shoulder impingement). He hasn’t pitched since then, and according to team personnel, they’re wisely taking their time with his rehabilitation. Whenever Gray is deemed healthy enough to pitch, he’ll still likely be on a fast track to the major league roster.

Eric’s December write-up made note of Keibert Ruiz’s penchant for swinging at pitches out of the zone, which he makes up for with his ability to make contact on those pitches. As such, we’d expect to see a low K-rate paired with a low walk-rate. After the first couple months of the minor league season, this has proven to be true, but the degree to which it’s true is what is of note. Ruiz has an 11.7% walk rate, which is right around league average. His strikeout rate, however, is extremely low – only 12.4%, compared to the league average of 23.4%, which is the sixth best in all of Triple-A this year. If this can be read as Ruiz improving his strike recognition and laying off pitches that his past self may have swung at for soft contact, then this is an important improvement, as it speaks to a more mature approach at the plate.

Michael Busch’s season started out strong. In his first 20 games at Double-A, he hit six home runs and six doubles while walking 14.3% of the time, lending credence to his profile as a patient hitter with power potential. Unfortunately, in the 20 games since that peak, he’s only gotten two extra-base (both doubles), which has knocked his wRC+ down from 146 on May 27 to its current 112. Most troubling has been his strikeout rate, which is at 31.4%, well above the Double-A league average of 25.5%. In his last seven games, Busch has struck out 15 times, including four three-strikeout games. That his wRC+ is still above 100 can likely be credited to his walk rate, which is still a very impressive 15.5% (compared to a league-average of 10.1%). His numbers at the dish are surely cause for concern, but more encouraging is his usage in the field; he’s spent most of the season at second base. The fact that Busch is holding down the keystone should be reassuring to the organization, as they prepare to potentially shuffle their middle-infield pieces around with Corey Seager’s impending free agency.

Meanwhile, Andy Pages leads all of High-A with 15 home runs (the most of anyone in the Dodgers minor league system, and second-most in all of the minor leagues), and has the seventh highest wRC+ (141) for anyone in the league with at least 200 PA. His 26% strikeout rate and 11% walk rate may seem unsavory, but both are in fact right around league-average (25.7% and 10.3%, respectively). Combine the upside Pages has demonstrated in 2021 with the fact that he doesn’t turn 21 until December, and we’re looking at some very impressive numbers from a very young player who looks poised to make an impact on the Dodgers system.

Similar to Pages, Jacob Amaya’s walk and strikeout rates are both right around league-average for Double-A, but without the power that Pages has been producing, Amaya’s season has been notably less impressive and has inspired significantly less fanfare. And while it’s true that Amaya’s production has been worse this year than may have been expected from a top-five prospect, it’s helpful to compare those numbers to Amaya’s own production in past seasons to get a better sense for where they fit in his overall development. Amaya’s strikeout rate is currently sits at 27.3%, which is just slightly above the Double-A league average of 25.5% but is significantly higher than what he has posted during any previous season. His BABIP has also taken a notable dip this year compared to previous seasons. It’s quite possible that his dip in production in 2021 is a combination of growing pains from his Double-A promotion at the beginning of the season and a simple streak of bad luck on the balls he does put in play. Overall, it’s too soon to panic about Amaya’s numbers.

Other High-Performing Ranked Prospects

Diego Cartaya (No. 11) and Brandon Lewis (No. 34) have both been 2021 standouts at Low-A so far. Lewis has the second most home runs (10) and fourth most doubles in the league. Cartaya joined Low-A Rancho Cucamonga on May 25 and has done nothing but produce since then, putting up a 176 wRC+ and a 1.077 OPS with 23 hits and seven home runs in just 20 games there. Jorbit Vivas (No. 23) hasn’t put on quite the same show as Cartaya or Lewis, his Low-A teammates, but his 13.8% strikeout rate is lower than any other player’s in the Dodgers system at any level other than Kiebert Ruiz.

The impressive numbers at Low-A are not limited to offense. Carlos Duran (No. 30) is still only 19 years old and has 43 strikeouts on the season over just 29.1 innings of work. He’s also only issued 12 walks, which makes for a 31.9% K-rate and a walk-rate of 8.9%. Hyun-il Choi has also fanned 43 batters this year (31.4% of the batters he’s faced) while only allowing five free passes (six, if you include a HBP) over 35.1 innings on the mound, mostly in relief. Choi has only given up 28 hits this season, which combines with a minuscule 3.6% walk rate for a WHIP of just 0.93.

At High-A Great Lakes, James Outman (No. 31) and Carson Taylor (No. 38) have both gotten off to hot starts, albeit in different ways. Outman has been impressive on the base paths with five triples and 17 stolen bases already this season. His 14% walk rate is well above league-average (10.3%), which is encouraging in terms of allowing him to take advantage of his speed, but it’s negated somewhat by a strikeout rate that is inching towards 30%. Taylor, meanwhile, has walked more often than he’s struck out so far (18.2% and 14%, respectively), which is always encouraging for a prospect’s first taste of pro-ball, especially one who skipped Low-A.

Miguel Vargas started the season at High-A, where he hit seven home runs while maintaining a below league-average strikeout rate of 18.6% over 37 games (good for a 142 wRC+). He was promoted to Double-A in mid-June, where he has maintained roughly that same level of performance. He has already hit three home runs in his first 10 games, and his walk- and strikeout-rates are roughly the same as they were at High-A, for a 121 wRC post-promotion.

On the hill, both Ryan Pepiot (No. 6), and Andre Jackson (No. 14) have started the season strong, both posting strikeout rates above 35%, along with WHIPs under 1.00. The concerns about Pepiot’s precision remain, as his walk rate is still higher than is ideal (12.9%), but he is still mostly upside this season; in five of his first eight starts, he’s held opposing teams to one hit or fewer for a combined opponents’ batting average of .130 in 30.2 innings. Jackson, meanwhile, has pitched 43 innings so far and has only walked 6.5% of the batters he’s faced. That said, Jackson has the fifth-highest home run rate of all qualified pitchers in Double-A, so there’s still obvious work to be done before he’s ready to advance toward the bigs.

Zach Reks (No. 33) made his major-league debut on June 21 to round out the roster while the Dodgers awaited Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger’s respective returns from the Injured List. He went 0-for-2 in that debut, though it should be noted that he was tasked with facing Yu Darvish for his first taste of big-league ball. He struck out in his first at-bat, but his line out in his second plate appearance came off his bat at 103.3 mph, which is promising in terms of his ability to adjust to and barrel up big-league stuff. After that one appearance, he was sent back to Triple-A, which isn’t surprising or concerning considering his role as a stop-gap while the roster was depleted by injury. He homered in his first game back at Triple-A, continuing to add to an impressive 2021 campaign thus far. His 31.3% strikeout rate will need to come down before he’s truly considered big-league ready, but his 13.1% walk rate and .991 OPS are good for a 143 wRC+ at Triple-A on the season.

Unranked Attention Grabbers

Jonny Deluca has a 130 wRC+ with eight home runs and 12 stolen bases in 39 games at Low-A. His walk- and strikeout-rates are both better than league-average (12.9% and 20.6%, compared to 26.6% and 12.1% respectively), and leads Low-A Rancho Cucamonga with three triples on the season.

One level up, Leonel Valera has more extra-base hits (nine doubles, five triples, and 10 home runs), than anyone at High-A Great Lakes not named Andy Pages, while teammate Ryan Ward leads the team in both OPS (.921) and wRC+ (149), marks that place him in the top 20 in all of High-A in both metrics. Ryan Noda’s swing has undergone a makeover during his time in the Dodgers system, and it seems to be paying off; his 10 home runs at Double-A are the most of anyone at Double-A Tulsa this season, and second most of any Dodgers prospect. The 25-year-old is on the older side for Double-A, but this season he’s continued to add to an already-impressive minor league statistical career.

Tess is a contributor at FanGraphs. When she's not watching college or professional baseball, she works as a sports video editor, creating highlight reels for high school athletes. She can be found on Twitter at @tesstass.

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kick me in the GO NATSmember
1 year ago

Here were are reading a very cool Dodgers prospect list revisited while Cubs and Brewers fans have no prospect list at all.

The Ancient Mariner
1 year ago

So Tess can’t do her work until Eric does his? That makes no sense.

1 year ago

At this point I’m more concerned about the health of Eric’s source than anything else. This was from his June 11th chat….

Normen Yost: any ETA on the Brewers list? not trying to rush just jonesin to find out more about the pitching in the system
Eric A Longenhagen: Monday or Tuesday. One of my sources had a medical emergency otherwise it would have released yesterday or today.

1 year ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

Yeah it makes me wonder, what is that one piece of information that the source has that completes the list? If the source doesn’t know something borderline supernatural why not just release what you have? Is this in some way connected to the ghost of Captain Pabst?

1 year ago

I understand that it might be frustrating, but this post was done by Tess, not Eric, so it’s not like he pushed those two lists aside to update an existing one.