Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Garrett Gould is back with a vengeance

When the Dodgers snagged Garrett Gould in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft, I was ecstatic. I wanted the Dodgers to grab him with their first-round pick that year. To get him in the second was quite the steal.

His debut was short and not-so-sweet. He pitched 2 2/3 innings, giving up four hits, five runs (three earned), two walks while striking out four. It was a small sample size, so there wasn't much to worry about.

Last season, he played with Ogden and was not himself. He was battling some minor injuries which led to a drop in velocity. He was in the mid-to-upper-80s for most of 2010. His numbers were pedestrian, but he was still 18 years old.

This season, however, his velocity is back and he is dominating the Midwest League. He has a 5-2 record with a 1.83 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 6.0 H/9, 2.3 BB/9, 8.0 K/9 and a 3.43 K/BB ratio. He's doing all this as a 19-year-old (20 in July). His fastball sits at 90-94 and he has one of the best curveballs in the system. He also has a changeup that could be a decent third pitch. Down the road, I wouldn't be surprised to see him add a consistent slider or cutter.

His control has been excellent this season and is a big factor in his success thus far.

I ranked Gould as the team's 12th-best prospect heading into the season (13th in 2010), but he has the ability and talent to be a top-five prospect in the Dodgers' system, a position for which he's challenging in my midseason rankings, which will come out in a month or so.

A promotion to High-A Rancho Cucamonga is not out of the question, despite his age. The Dodgers historically challenge their young pitches (especially prep pitches with good stuff) and could sniff the California League for a few innings.

With guys like Chris Withrow and Ethan Martin continuing to struggle, Gould is cementing himself as one of the best pitching prospects in the system.


What's gotten into James Loney? He hit his second home run in four games last night while raising his average to .249. Considering he was hitting .202 on May 2, it's quite the improvement. His OBP and OPS are still dismal (.293/.326), but he's had a solid month of May (.295/.354/.420). We all know he's never going to be a 20-home run guy, but at least he was hitting doubles last season (41). He has nine extra base hits in 2011. That isn't nearly enough from a traditional "power" position.

One thing he doesn't get enough credit for is digging throws out of the dirt. He is the best in baseball at that. I bet Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake would agree with me.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dodgers' bullpen hit hard by injuries

Kenley Jansen was placed on the 15-day disabled list today, with the Dodgers calling up Josh Lindblom from Double-A and designating Travis Schlichting for assignment.

The top four (arguably) Dodger bullpen arms are all on the DL: Jansen, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Vicente Padilla.

If you had the Dodger bullpen shaping up like this on May 29...

Rubby De La Rosa, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier, Lindblom, Mike MacDougal, Ramon Troncoso

...I'd like to get the lottery numbers from you.

Lindblom will be the third Dodger pitcher to make his debut this season (De La Rosa, Guerra). With Blake Hawksworth suffering a setback in his rehab, this could be the bullpen for the foreseeable future.

This puts pressure on the starting pitchers with a largely untested bunch of youngsters. Guerrier is the most dependable of the bunch, while De La Rosa has the most upside. So far, Elbert and Guerra have been great. MacDougal's low ERA is quite deceiving and Troncoso is, well, Troncoso (not the 2009 Troncoso either).

We'll see if manager Don Mattingly challenges his starters to throw deeper into games. Clayton Kershaw, who's pitching as I write this, has thrown 84 and 85 pitches (11 IP) in his last two outings. That's not nearly enough for the staff ace (averaging 100.8 per start). Ted Lilly, despite his struggles, has thrown more than 100 pitches just once this season (102 on May 20 at the White Sox). He's averaging 88.1 pitches per start (higher than his career average of 87.7). He could stand to pitch a bit more, if he isn't too busy giving up home runs. Chad Billingsley leads the staff in pitches per start (101.5) and has thrown 100 pitches or more in five consecutive starts and seven of his last eight starts. Hiroki Kuroda is averaging 97.7 pitches per start, while Jon Garland is averaging 92.5 pitches per start.

The rash of injuries this team has suffered is abnormal, but it's the reality of baseball (and all professional sports).


Zach Lee, making his first start today in three weeks, was roughed up. He pitched 2/3 innings, giving up three hits, six runs, one home run, two walks while striking out one. I just hope he's rusty from the time off. The last thing the Dodgers want to do is rush this kid back -- especially from an elbow injury.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What's the future hold for Angelo Songco?

Dodgers' outfield prospect Angelo Songco hit for the cycle on Wednesday in Rancho Cucamonga's 25-9 victory. With the glut of outfield prospects the Dodgers have, what kind of future does Songco have in the organization?

Songco, a fourth-round pick in 2009 out of Loyola Marymount, had a pedestrian debut season, hitting .235/.299/.436 in 69 games between Ogden and Great Lakes. He struggled mightily with the Loons to the tune of .150/.226/.258. He played 2010 at Great Lakes and put up respectable numbers -- .274/.344/.446 with 15 home runs, 30 doubles and six triples. If not for a poor August, he would have ended with better numbers.

So far with Rancho, he's hitting .328/.389/.521 with six home runs and 17 doubles in 46 games.

His strikeout rate has increased this season (from 17.9 percent in 2009 to 20.8 percent), but he's also hitting with more power. Still, 20.8 percent isn't a horrible k-rate. While the California League is notoriously a hitters league, there's reason to think his numbers might not all be a product of the league.

I had Songco ranked as my No. 22 Dodger prospect heading into the season. This is what I had to say about him:
"Songco was actually putting up really good numbers through the the end of July (.301/.371/.485, 13 home runs) before completely collapsing in August and five games in September (.195/.248/.328). He has potential, including power potential. He had one bad month during an otherwise solid season. It'll be interesting to see if he can play solid for an entire season. At best, he could be a solid corner outfielder in the bigs."
The outfield prospects I had ranked ahead of him were Trayvon Robinson (3), Leon Landry (9), Jonathan Garcia (12), Blake Smith (15), Joc Pederson (16) and Brian Cavazos-Galvez (17). Smith, his teammate, isn't fairing as well as Songco (.263/.321/.497), but he's hit more home runs than Songco (11). Robinson is enjoying some success at hitter-friendly Triple-A; Landry started off slow, picked it up a bit and is back to struggling in Low-A; Garcia was red hot in April but has fallen off a bit in May; Pederson has yet to take the field and Cavazos-Galvez is not performing as well at Double-A as expected.

The fact that Songco is tearing up the California League thus far while guys I had ranked above him aren't playing as well bodes well for his chances. But, we're two months into the season. There's still a lot of baseball to be played. If Songco keeps it up, he could get a promotion to Double-A before season's end.

Songco's defensive limitations hamper his chance of making the majors, but if he keeps up the hot hitting, he'll force his way into a Major League lineup. If I had to guess, I'd say it would be with another organization.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rubby De La Rosa's debut a succes, but is that good?

Rubby De La Rosa was recalled on Tuesday and made his Major League debut in the eighth inning of a 5-4 game (the Dodgers were ahead).

He came in and didn't look like a kid making his debut. Despite running the count full to Hunter Pence, he struck him out with a 97 MPH fastball on the outer-half of the plate. He then got Carlos Lee to break his bat on a grounder to short (great pick by James Loney to save an error by Rafael Furcal). Finally, he got Brett Wallace to strike out on a breaking pitch after throwing a nasty changeup to get strike two.

He seemed to throw four pitches: a heavy, sinking fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s; a devastating changeup; a slider (which needs some work) and a curveball (which he got Wallace out on swinging).

To say I'm excited about this is an understatement. De La Rosa was dominant and of course that's a good thing. However, I fear the Dodgers will be enticed to use him primarily out of the bullpen in the future.

Some prospect experts have speculated he could end up at the back of the bullpen because he lacks a true third pitch (right now, at least), but he needs to be tried as a starter before making him a reliever.

It's a similar situation to Neftali Feliz, who was the Rangers' top prospect a year ago. They contemplated trying him in the rotation in the spring, but ultimately ended up keeping him as the closer. While he's great in that role, it makes me wonder, "What might have been?" if they tried him as a starter.

It wouldn't be the first time something like this happened. When Jonathan Papelbon had success as a closer in 2006 (0.92 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 5.77 K/BB), he was still projected to be a starting pitcher. Boston left him in the closer's role in 2007 and, up until last season, he was really good at it.

The difference between Boston and Texas is Boston had starting pitching depth in 2007. It had just added Daisuke Matsuzaka to a rotation that featured Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling. The Red Sox needed help in the bullpen desperately.

The Rangers have gotten surprisingly good contributions from Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando (who was a reliever last year), so keeping Feliz in the bullpen makes a little more sense than it did in Spring Training. After losing Cliff Lee, though, I thought it was a no-doubter that Texas would at least give Feliz a shot at starting.

The Dodgers don't exactly need starting pitching right now, as all five projected starters are healthy. So if De La Rosa pitches out of the 'pen this year, that's fine with me and wouldn't be surprising in the least. But come 2012, he should be given a shot to start. If he can be as good as some think, it'd be foolish to get only 70 innings a year out of him instead of 180-plus.

The Dodgers do have a dire need for bullpen arms, as Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Vicente Padilla are all on the disabled list.

Mike Axisa of FanGraphs wrote an article speculating whether De La Rosa could be the next Dodgers' closer. I have no problem with De La Rosa ending up as the Dodgers' closer -- in the future. The Dodgers need to not fall in love with him out of the 'pen before giving him a legitimate shot as a starter. If he fails in that role, the Dodgers can always move him back to the 'pen. It's not a bad problem to have.

Ultimately, I think Kenley Jansen ends up as the Dodgers' closer -- even if De La Rosa fails as a starter -- as Broxton isn't long for this team.

In 1993, Pedro Martinez pitched 65 games for the Dodgers -- 63 of which came out of the bullpen (2.65 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 10.0 K/9). When he was traded to Montreal, the Expos wasted no time making him a starter. I'd say that was the right move. Here's hoping De La Rosa follows suit, minus the whole being traded for a slappy second baseman.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Dodgers aren't good, but there are still reasons to watch

It's been almost a month since I blogged. A lot has happened in Dodgerland -- mostly bad. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Jerry Sands seems to be finding his groove. While he isn't getting a lot of hits, he's hitting doubles at a solid rate (10 in 88 ABs) and improving his walk rate since his call-up (17.4 percent). That is something to be excited about. Here's hoping Mattingly just lets him play every day.

Kenley Jansen seemed to be close to getting back on track before last night's disaster. Not counting last night, since giving up five runs to the Braves on April 19, Jansen has pitched 10 2/3 innings, giving up three hits, walking five and striking out 18. Here's hoping last night was just a hiccup.

Rubby De La Rosa is apparently going to get the call, writes Ken Gurnick of dodgers.com. He's going to start in the bullpen. His two dominant pitches -- his upper-90s fastball and devastating changeup -- should play well as a reliever. De La Rosa pitched 40 innings for Chattanooga. He has a 2.92 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and an awfully impressive 11.7 K/9 rate.

Matt Kemp is still by far the team's best offensive player despite a poor month of May (.368/.446/.613 in April, .240/.326/.453 in May). He is 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts this month. His walk rate has fallen (15 in 106 ABs in April, 8 in 75 ABs in May) and he's almost matched his strikeout total from April this month (24 in April, 21 in May). Aside from Sands, Kemp is the one player on offense I look forward to watching on a nightly basis (yes, I intentionally did not include Andre Ethier).

Clayton Kershaw has turned it up a notch in May. He's 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10. 2 K/9. He's allowed only one home run this month after giving up five in April. Let's just go ahead and call him an All-Star right now.

Despite going winless this month (0-3 so far), Chad Billingsley has a 2.25 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP this month. His K-Rate and K/BB rate are nearly identical to his April, a month in which he had a 4.46 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. I still don't understand why the "average" fans don't get behind this guy.