Who’s where? Starting points for 2016 minor leaguers
By Cary Osborne
You could have made the argument at many points during the 2015 season that the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers were the 31st Major league team. And you can start the 2016 season saying the same thing.
The Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate begins the season with 17 players with Major League experience on its roster, including six relief pitchers. That’s just one interesting storyline with rosters set the day before Thursday’s Minor League Opening Day. So let’s go team by team.
Triple-A Oklahoma City
The top left-handed prospect in baseball, Julio Urias, begins 2016 where he ended in 2015. The 19-year-old pitched two games for Oklahoma City at the end of the 2015 season, and despite surrendering nine earned runs in 4 1/3 innings there, he’s been deemed ready for Triple-A.
Urias pitched a simulated game for Oklahoma City on Tuesday and will start on Monday, according to The Oklahoman’s Jacob Unruh.
The team’s No. 2 pitching prospect, Jose De Leon will begin the season on the disabled list, but is expected to join the rotation in the coming weeks.
Dodgers No. 9 prospect Jharel Cotton joins Urias, Zach Lee and Carlos Frias in the starting rotation. Lee is starting Opening Day. Brandon Beachy is also on the roster, but starts on the disabled list.
Five of the six of aforementioned relievers — Ian Thomas, Adam Liberatore, Luis Avilan, Matt West and Chin-hui Tsao — saw action with the Dodgers in 2015. Lisalverto Bonilla, whom the Dodgers signed in October, is the sixth man.
Micah Johnson is the Dodgers’ top position player prospect on the team, rated No. 14 in the organization by MLB.com.
The Drillers have some pop, notably in the infield with Cody Bellinger at first base and Willie Calhoun at second.
Bellinger led the organization with 30 home runs last season — all at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Calhoun, a 2015 fourth-round pick, OPSed .909 combined in 2015, having climbed the ladder quickly from Rookie League to High-A.
Outfielders Alex Verdugo and Jacob Scavuzzo were two of the organization’s best second-half performers last season — Verdugo’s performance helping him to earn the Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year and Scavuzzo’s earning him a spot in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League.
Chris Anderson (No. 17 organizational ranking) and Chase De Jong (No. 20) anchor the pitching staff.
Converted pitcher Jordan Schafer, who has six big league seasons as an outfielder under his belt, starts his journey on the bump in the Drillers’ bullpen.
High-A Rancho Cucamonga
Right-hander Grant Holmes (No. 4) moves up from Low-A Great Lakes, where he spent all of 2015.
Rancho appears to have one of the better pitching staffs in the hitters’ league that is the California League. Joining Holmes is 2015 College World Series most outstanding player Josh Sborz and one of the minors’ top strike throwers in 2015, Trevor Oaks.
Cuban 19-year-old outfielder Yusniel Diaz (No. 11) and 20-year-old outfielder Johan Mieses (No. 29) are impact hitters and defenders who will begin in Rancho. We saw a little of them (nine combined at-bats) in Major League Spring Training.
Low-A Great Lakes
We saw 19-year-old infielder Brendon Davis just once in Spring Training (March 20). In two at-bats, he hit two doubles. Before that, Davis (No. 23) already had some buzz. MLB.com draft and prospect expert Jim Callis mentioned to me in February how he was one of the top gets by the Dodgers in their 2015 draft. Davis was selected in the fifth round.
Cuban infielder Omar Estevez (No. 19) is the only other top-30 Dodger prospect on the Opening Day roster.
Cuban pitchers Yaisel Sierra and Yadier Alvarez are both slated to start the season in extended Spring Training, but it should only be a matter of time before both are contributing for an affiliate.