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Thursday, January 12, 2006

WTNY 2006 Top 75, 25-11

All Dodgers on today's list:

25. Andy LaRoche - 3B - Los Angeles Dodgers - 22 (AAA)

Introduction: Before the 2005 season, I picked Andy LaRoche as one of my breakout prospects. In his comment, I mentioned that once his average caught up with his power, he would take off. You see, I had noticed that in 2004, LaRoche was very unlucky, posting a BABIP of .281 in the South Atlantic League and then .247 in the FSL. This, in my opinion, had been far more of a fluke than the other way around. This theory proved true in 2005, as LaRoche's BABIP normalized, and his average went up. In the FSL this past season, LaRoche's BABIP was about .320, followed by about .315 after being promoted. So, if I stick with the theory, LaRoche is better than the player he was in 2004, but not quite the player he was last season. We'll see what 2005 provides.

Skillset/Future: If LaRoche puts all the skills he has shown together at one time, he has superstar potential. His calling card is certainly power, which was certainly enhanced by the FSL's easiest hitter's park: Vero Beach. However, at the Major League level, LaRoche should be hitting 25 homers annually. His contact skills have worsened in each of the past two seasons after a promotion, indicating each time, he's been a bit over his head. However, Andy showed better patience at AA when he struggled, a sign of a very smart hitter. At third, Andy isn't anything great, but his arm is certainly enough for the position, and his range will do. Note: There were few decisions more difficult for me than Barton v. LaRoche.

21. Joel Guzman - SS/3B - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AAA)

Introduction: Speaking of a player trapped between two roles, we find Joel Guzman as one of the big question marks of one of baseball's best farm systems. I was not impressed with the reluctance of the old Dodger regime to decide on a position for Guzman, first keeping him at short, and then in 2005, bouncing him between the middle of the field and the hot corner. It's agreed among most scouts that Guzman's frame -- over 75 inches tall -- will not allow a long career at shortstop. The Dodgers recent signing of Rafael Furcal indicates that Ned Colletti's staff agrees with this assessment. However, at third base, Guzman is sandwiched between LaRoche and Bill Mueller. What's the best choice? Count me as a voter in the corner outfield category.

Skillset/Future: Guzman is one of the few minor leaguers who could move from the middle infield to a corner outfield spot, and still be above-average offensively. The former big bonus baby has showed massive power in the last two seasons, hitting a combined 116 extra-base hits in just 953 at-bats. This is a fantastic ratio, and as he builds more muscle, Joel should also see more of his long hits clear the fence. Besides maintaining power, Guzman did step back considerably when hitting AA. His contact skills took a giant step back, and a .365 BABIP indicates his future may be living around the .260s in terms of batting average. However, Joel has also begun to walk more, collecting a career-high 42 walks last year. If the DePo-less Dodgers continue to preach this philosophy, Guzman's power and patience should make up for substantial contact problems.

11. Chad Billingsley - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AAA)

Introduction: Sometimes, there are some statistics I don't know what to make of. Oftentimes, I've talked about how misleading pitching statistics are, and have thrown out bad starts to make a case for a pitcher. Chad Billingsley is the type of pitcher that applies for, as he had three starts between May 3 and June 19 that tarnished his season statistics. What really trips me out, however: each start was against the same team, Delmon Young's Montgomery Biscuits. Anyway, during those three starts, Billingsley allowed 23 hits, 5 home runs and 19 earned runs in 10.2 innings. In his other 25 appearances, Billingsley had a 2.53 ERA and a staggering 6.18 H/9. Suddenly, his stats look a bit more impressive, no?

Skillset/Future: For the first time in two years, I'm going to back off my comparisons between Billingsley and Kerry Wood. We always accepted that Billingsley didn't quite have Wood's stuff, but he had a far cleaner delivery, and as a result, was far less of an injury risk. This season, he also proved that his mechanics will yield for more control, as Billingsley's non-Montgomery BB/9 was 2.93. Impressed? You should be. And mind you, when I say that he doesn't have Wood's stuff, this is not an insult. Billingsley can bring his fastball up to 97 mph, and he has one of the minors best sliders. Add in an above-average curveball and change up, and you have one of the five best pitching prospects in the minors.


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