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2009 Prospect Mine: Los Angeles Dodgers

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once the champion of in-house talent development, the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system has crumbled to become one of the 10 worst in the Majors entering 2009. According to Baseball America, the system was sixth overall in both 2007 and 2008, as well as second overall in 2004-2006. Now the publication ranks them 23rd, while Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus ranks the minor league system 21st overall. Personally, I would probably have them ranked around the 23rd-25th best system in the Majors.

James McDonald doesn’t have the highest ceiling (probably a No. 3 starter) but the right-hander is ready for the Majors and could break in as either a reliever or starter – depending on the big club’s needs. He had a solid 2008 season in Double-A with 98 hits allowed in 118.2 innings of work. He also posted rates of 3.49 BB/9 and 8.57 K/9. Those numbers were good enough to earn McDonald, 24, a promotion to Triple-A where he allowed 17 hits in 22.1 innings with 28 strikeouts and seven walks. He also appeared in four regular season games with Los Angeles and did not allow a run in six innings. McDonald features an 88-93 mph fastball, a plus curveball and a change-up.

The club’s 17th overall selection from the 2004 draft, Scott Elbert‘s career has been slowed by injuries. The 23-year-old made just three starts in 2007 and underwent labrum surgery. The southpaw had solid minor league numbers prior to that, although control has always been an issue (career 5.0 BB/9). He spent 2008 as a reliever and allowed just 22 hits in 41.1 Double-A innings. Elbert also posted rates of 4.35 BB/9 and 10.02 K/9. He received a late-season call-up to Los Angeles and posted a 12.00 ERA in 10 games (six innings). Elbert features a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 95 mph, as well as a curveball and good change-up.

Josh Lindblom was the club’s second-round pick in the 2008 draft and he finished the season with a start in Double-A. In eight A-ball starts, Lindblom posted a 1.86 ERA and allowed 14 hits in 29 innings, along with 33 strikeouts and just four walks. A college closer, the right-hander was shifted to the starting rotation in pro ball and is expected to remain there in 2009, although his future MLB role is up in the air. Lindblom features an 88-94 mph fastball, as well as a slider, splitter and change-up.

The club’s top hitting prospect, Andrew Lambo climbed to Double-A late in 2008 after a solid showing in A-ball, where he hit .288/.346/.462 in 472 at-bats. He also posted rates of 8.0 BB% and 23.3 K%. In eight Double-A games, the left-handed outfielder hit .389. Only 20, Lambo appeared in the Arizona Fall League after the 2008 season and hit .313. Defensively, he is average as an outfielder with an arm that restricts him to left field. Lambo played first base in high school, but the presence of James Loney at the Major League level will probably keep him from manning that position for the Dodgers. He’ll likely open 2009 back in Double-A and could be a middle-of-the-order threat in Los Angeles by 2010.

Shortstop Ivan DeJesus looked poised to spend some time in Los Angeles in 2009 – even with the resigning of veteran Rafael Furcal. However, the Puerto Rican received even more bad news when he broke his leg this spring. DeJesus is expected to miss the entire season. On the plus side, DeJesus is just 21 years old so he has plenty of time to re-establish himself. In 2008, the right-handed hitter had a line of .324/.419/.423 with 16 stolen bases in 463 at-bats. DeJesus is an above-average defender, although he can make silly errors at time.

Chris Withrow, 19, was the club’s No. 1 draft pick in 2008 out of high school. Unfortunately, he appeared in just four games in 2008 due to a bad elbow. It did not require surgery and he is expected to be back at full health in 2009 after pitching during the off-season. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touched 98 mph in his debut. Withrow also has a curveball and change-up.

Josh Bell was yet another prospect in the system whose 2008 season was cut short due to injury. The third baseman hit .273/.373/.455 with six home runs in 187 at-bats in High-A ball. He also posted rates of 14.2 BB% and 29.9 K% before a knee injury knocked him out for the remainder of the season. Bell has massive power potential, although that has yet to fully develop in-game. The 22-year-old switch hitter is expected to be healthy in 2009 and should returned to High-A ball.

Drafted 15th overall out of high school in 2008, Ethan Martin was bitten by the injury bug affecting many of the top prospects in the system last season. Before making his first pro appearance, he injured his knee but is expected to be healthy in 2009. The right-handed pitcher is a solid athlete and also received first-round consideration as a hitter. As a pitcher, though, Martin can touch 96 mph with a plus curveball. His change-up needs a lot of work.

Shortstop Devaris Gordon and third baseman Pedro Baez both had solid seasons in short-season ball. Gordon, 20, hit .331/.371/.430 with 18 stolen bases in 251 at-bats. He has the potential to be an above-average defender. Baez began the year in A-ball but hit just .178 in 185 at-bats. Only 20 at the time, it was not a huge step back for him to go back to rookie ball. Baez hit .267/.317/.502 with 12 home runs in 247 at-bats and will return to A-ball in 2009.

Up Next: The Texas Rangers