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The Dodgers' farm system is in the wrong kind of rut

January 26, 2011 |  5:32 pm

The problem isn’t how you’re going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree if you can’t even get them to the City of Light.

For every player in the Dodgers’ farm system, there is a singular goal -- to make it to the big-league club. Except that in recent years, a once-roaring pipeline has dried up to a veritable trickle.

Since the almost freakish 2006 season when the system produced the current core of the team -- Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Hong-Chih Kuo and James Loney, plus Russell Martin -- the Dodgers have produced exactly one rookie of significance: Clayton Kershaw in 2008.

Last season, John Ely (who came in an off-season trade) and Carlos Monasterios (a Rule 5 draft pick), had their moments, though neither is expected to make the club this season. The best rookie was reliever Kenley Jansen, who a year earlier was a catcher. Ronald Belisario, who had been an off-season free-agent signing, had an unexpectedly successful rookie season in 2009 but faltered badly last year.

And the Dodgers may well break camp this spring without a single rookie on their roster.

The farm system currently just isn’t producing. In the past four seasons, Kershaw is its only impact product.

The only Dodger to make MLB.com’s new list of Top 50 prospects for 2011 is reed-thin shortstop Dee Gordon, and he comes in at No. 44.

ESPN’s Keith Law’s annual organizational rankings (Insider status required) has the Dodgers listed at an anemic No. 22. The prospects trying to knock down the door just aren’t there.

I don’t care what criteria a bubblegum company uses to determine that the Dodgers were the organization of the year last season, the purpose of the farm system is to develop major leaguers. Not win minor league titles. And for the past four years, it just hasn’t produced.

Lists of prospects are interesting and fun but should not be taken too seriously. One year James McDonald and Andrew Lambo are the rising stars, the next the Dodgers are down on them.

And, of course, they tend to vary because it’s the rare player who can excel so excitingly at Double-A that he becomes a can’t-miss major leaguer. Like most things in sports, they’re educated guesses. Which is why Baseball America’s prospects list for 2011 is going to look similar, but not the same as FanGraphs.

And why one season Jerry Sands and Rubby De La Rosa are nowhere to be found on the lists last year, and then after strong lower-level seasons, jump to near the top.

Plenty of arms who appeared exciting a year ago at Double-A are now trying to reestablish credentials. Some never will. This is not an exact science but one the Dodgers traditionally excelled at.

From 1992 to 1996, the Dodgers produced five consecutive National League rookies of the year. The Dodgers have won twice as many ROY awards (16) as any other team.

But whether it is because of bad luck, poor draft picks, less emphasis on the Dominican Republic or failed development, for the past four years the system has failed to meet its mandate -- to develop major leaguers.

-- Steve Dilbeck

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