The 2011 second-half California League champions should have a strong squad heading into the 2012 season, with the pitching staff highlighting the squad.
Dodgers' top prospect Zach Lee should begin the season with the Quakes. Depending on his performance, he could be there the entire season or move up to Double-A quickly.
Lee had a solid debut season in the Midwest League. I don't think he'll have much difficulty adjusting to advanced hitting. Remember, as the competition level advances, so does Lee's experience. For all intents and purposes, he has great poise on the mound; he just needs to get more experience under his belt. As he continues to mature, he should refine his pitches and become a good starting pitcher.
As a reference, Allen Webster virtually dominated the league in his first nine starts last season. Lee profiles as a better prospect as Lee, so he could just as well. But Lee is a year younger than Webster was, so it remains to be seen what happens.
Like 2011, Lee should be followed by former Loons Garrett Gould and Angel Sanchez. Both had breakout seasons for the Great Lakes' team and both rank in my top five Dodger prospects.
Gould and Lee are similar, with Lee having a better cutter/slider and Gould having a better curveball. Sanchez was a surprise breakout player in his first professional season. It'll be a telling season for both and both could also be promoted to Chattanooga before the season ends.
The Dodgers' 2011 first-round pick Chris Reed should also be in the Quakes' rotation to start the season. He actually went straight to Rancho Cucamonga after he signed with the Dodgers. He didn't exactly pitch well in his limited time (seven innings), but he started for the Quakes in the Cal League playoffs and threw five solid innings.
Another southpaw who could join the Quakes' rotation is Ryan Christenson. He struggled with the Loons last season, posting a 5.05 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and a staggering 11.1 H/9 rate. He's younger than Wilborn but older than the Lee-Gould-Sanchez trio, so there's still a chance for him.
And with the potential overcrowding in Double-A, a guy like Red Patterson or Jon Michael Redding could begin the season back with Rancho.
The bullpen could have 2011 fifth-round pick Scott McGough closing the door. He had a nice debut season, pitching better for the Loons than he did for the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer Rookie League. One thing's for sure: McGough can get a strikeout. His K/9 in his first 26 professional innings is 11.4. His K/BB is even more impressive, sitting at 5.50.
Another fireballer who should see time with the Quakes is Juan Rodriguez. Rodriguez was acquired in the Trayvon Robinson trade. Armed with the system's best fastball, Rodriguez could find himself setting up McGough or even closing at times.
Greg Wilborn, who began 2011 with the Quakes, could also find himself back with the team in the bullpen. He struggled mightily in 43 1/3 innings last season, posting a 6.85 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. His long-term prospects aren't great, but he could be a stabilizing force in a young bullpen.
On paper, the offense doesn't look that intimidating. But some guys should be helped by the hitter-friendly environment -- good or bad as that may be.
The best name the Quakes could have is Leon Landry. He was my No. 9 prospect going into last season, but had a rough 2011 season. He's primed to bounce back. He plays a legitimate center field and has a good approach at the plate. He could be the team's No. 1, 2 or 3 hitter.
Joining him in the outfield will be Jonathan Garcia. Garcia started last season on fire, clubbing seven home runs in April. He had an up-and-down rest of the season, which is to be expected from a streaky, young hitter. He could put up big power numbers at the Epicenter.
A guy who could start the season with the Quakes after ripping through the Pioneer League is Joc Pederson. He's the Dodgers' best offensive prospect. However, there's no reason to rush him. A better bet to start with the Quakes is Noel Cuevas, who saw time with the team last season.
Chris Jacobs, he of the .914 OPS with the Loons last season, could be the team's first baseman. It could be a breakout year for the big slugger.
If the Dodgers want to be aggressive with one of their 2011 drafted catchers, Pratt Maynard might be that guy. He struggled a bit with the Raptors, but as a college player, he has more experience than the high schoolers. If not, expect Steve Domecus to catch most of the time. J.T. Wise could also see some time at first base and catcher, but he's getting awfully old for the Cal League.
The up-the-middle combination could be Casio Grider (2B) and Christian Lara (SS), while Jesse Bosnik mans the hot corner. Both Grider and Lara are much better with the glove than the stick.
My projected lineup (with DH)
This is assuming Pederson starts with the Quakes (which is my own gut feeling).
So, the Quakes' strength in an offensive league could be their pitching. We'll see what happens, but 2012 should be a fun season for Rancho.