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

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’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

Comments () | Archives (34)

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We are depending to much on free agents and other team has beens. We need to build within like we use to. We have traded away better players than some we are signing now and have little or nothing to show for it. What do some of you think?

The rankings of the early- and mid2000s were the exception, not the rule.

Yes, the system is down (and has been for a few years), but it's bound to be on the uptake sooner rather than later.

The current group is raw, yet loaded with talent and potential. This year will determine whether or not a lot of them are legitimate impact prospects or just roster filler.

And if Ned Colletti hadn't traded away guys like Carlos Santana, Josh Bell and James McDonald (who threw well for the Pirates) for non-impact players, we might not be having this conversation -- at least, not to this extent.

I for one am excited about the prospects of the system. I'm anticipating a couple of guys to really make a name for themselves this year.

This is interesting because it shows that our players are developing very slowly or not developing at all. I don't know if this is normal or not but to me it seemed average until Keith Law tells us we're ranked 22 out of 30. Are we that bad?
If we are then it's no wonder we have to go outside the organization to find talent.

In the McCourt era the Dodgers have failed to make a signifigant effort in trying to sign players in Latin America. Also, for the past 2 or 3 years the Dodgers have spent very little in the draft. If McCourt really wants to be the Dodgers owner for awhile he should start to invest in the future. The lack of development and spending in the draft is a major gripe I have with McCourt. One more reason for him to sell the team and get outta here.

Ethier was not in our farm system he was in the A's farm system and on that note what happened to Eric Chavez becoming a Dodger?

Go Bums this is the year i can feel it.....Is Serrano coming to spring training or is he going to continue his run with the All State commercials? Could use his bat and Jobu

The Dodgers farm system is not that bad. Jerry Sands has done nothing but progress: 960 OPS in 915 ABs and will become a valuable power source. De La Rosa has a career 2.90 ERA, throws 100MPH, and is rising the ranks with Sands for a reason. Zach Lee seems to have all the potential in the world. Allen Webster has never faulted. Jansen is going to be one of the top closers in baseball within a few years. Trayvon Robinson is only becoming a more accomplished 5 tool player. Elbert may turn the corner and become a great lefty reliever. Withrow, E. Martin, Aaron Miller, DeJesus, Kyle Russell are all others that can provide the Dodgers with Major League regulars soon.

Fact is the Dodgers rarely get much love from BaseballAmerica or any other such site. All those core players mentioned in the article were not given their full due as prospects either and look at them now.

The Dodgers need to establish a baseball academy where the minor league talent works on their skills. They sit on the bench too much playing games. They also need to spend more money on developing players and less on over-the-hill-never-will-comback players.

The reason is plain and simple, while teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and others and paying out bonus money to young kids in other countries, the Dodgers have stopped because before the divorce their money was going elsewhere and now after the divorce they can't afford it. Mr. McCourt gave all us Dodger fans lip service right after he purchased the team about how much passion he has about winning and how he plans to spend whatever it takes to win championships. Well the only I can say is, this man should go into politics. Other owners are leaving this guy in the dust.

Exactly correct Darren! The "system" isn't that bad. If we hadn't traded McDonald, Santana, and Bell this wouldn't be an issue.
The Dodgers never get love from the national media, especially now with the McCourt debacle.
That being said, we have much to look forward to on the horizon with the players already mentioned.

Thanks Darren! Let's not forget this team and organization needs support from the fan base. The players aren't creating the drama it's the ownership. Support the players and be a true blue fan regardless. GO DODGERS!

I actually watched the top 50 prospect countdown yesterday and about 80% of them were from about three teams. The most loaded system according to Baseball America! How is that going for them? With that said the Dodgers spent a lot this last draft and signing Zach Lee who was a top 3 pick but everyone went away from him because of his football scholarship and the cost to sign him. This years Dodgers prospects are still loaded with potential and I believe 4 of them could make a heavy impact this year. Kenly Jenson is considered a prospect and could earn some save opportunies this year. Dee Gordon may get an early call this year if/when Rafael Furcal goes on the DL this year. This guy can really run and should tear up the base paths in the majors. Jerry Sands was tied for the minor league lead in HR's last season and could hopefully find a home in LF this year. De La Rosa is a guy that really pacts a punch and with a 100mph fastball and his breaking ball this guy projects as a future #1. In the next year or two guys like Withrow, Martin, Lee, Dejsus Jr., Robinson, Mitchell and Miller will be arriving in LA.

We suggest Uncle Neddy check out "The Dodger Way to Play Baseball" from the city library.
Learn it.
Live it.
Love it.

Player development in the minor league level and evaluating players using sabermetrics matters. Sadly, the Dodgers don't understand that. That's why they haven't won anything in 23 years.

Logan White caught lightening in a bottle for a few years. For the pat 20 years, the Dodgers have consistently underfunded both their Latin American operations and the amount of money allocated to overslot draft picks. The result, not surprisingly, is a dearth of high end talent. Since all young talent is a risk, unless you are willing to overspend to make sure that you have an excess of potential, you are bound to do poorly. It's like playing poker where the other guys get a wild card and you don't. It's not that you can't win, but it's just not a good bet.

What good are prospects when you have a GM that either blocks their path at the ML level with worthless PVLs, takes playing time away from them in the minors by signing crap like Castro and other unviable worthless hasbeens to minor league contracts, and/or trades them away for junk at the trade deadline that'll propel us to 4th place?

The minor league demise is directly tied to the resources being pulled out of the Dominican Republic and that needs to change now. Also, the Dodgers should invest some of it's money (along with MLB) in getting many of these basketball and football athletes back onto the diamond. So many of our top athletes squander opportunity in other sports trying to be NBA guys despite that league being the most difficult by far to actually make. Parents need to allow their kids to play all sports year around like we use to and stop with the year around sports.

Dumb trades such as Octovio Dotel for James McDonald and Casey Blake for Carlos Santana is another reason why the Dodgers have such poor minor league development. The Dominican Republic is only a small part of the picture. Since the Dodgers aren't going to win this year or the foreseeable future, they should trade average players Casey Blake, Juan Uribe, Jay Gibbons, and Marcus Thames for developing players. Of course, Ned Colletti is not going to do that because he values old players who don't get on base.

Shows how bad the penny-ante mindset has sunk in, and sunk the near-future, that Colletti traded away the catchers of the future-present for junk so unmemorable the catch is hard to remember, instead of bundling them for a whopper---but then, that would go against the spirit of the agreement McCourt cut with Selig, which came out in the divorce, NOT to build a dominant team.

I've seen Dee Gordon play in Chattanooga (a town of great beautys), and i can't see him making any club. He has too much room for improvement. Tho i was impresssed by Bubby De La Rosa, the best player on the field the day i saw him pitch, and why again isn't Monasterios on the roster this year???

YOU WOULD THINK a skinflint would pour SOME resources into developing cheap talent from within, but no, that's one of the places this idiot has cut, peferring more Mcmansions.

...or it could be that they've given away their best (or at least better) prospects to save a few hundred thousand in cash (Carlos Santana, Josh Bell, Lambo)

For the record, hardly anyone is down on James McDonald anymore- he's doing just fine for the Pirates. To add one more insult to the injury, it's truly astounding- and revealing- that the Rockies got more for Octavio Dotel than we did.

Great comments for a great post though I disagree with the heading. I never trust evaluation of young talent by any pulication, writer, or fan. Myself included. Even veteran scouts with years of plaing time at every level under their belts are wrong more than they are right. It's just like the game; you can be wrong 7 times out of 10 but still be great, especially if you hit HR's every now and again. The only one who knows if a player is truly going to be good is the player himself and he needs the oppurtunity to show it. Under the Torre regime all the bench spots were taken by mediocre veterans because he seemed to feel they were more reliable. And they were. Reliably mediocre. I am more excited about the offensive talent an the verge right now than I was before Loney and Kemp emerged(excepting that year where Loney nearly hit .400 in AAA). Yet once again there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of room on the bench for the kids to show they can play. I feel a rookie has a better chance of succeeding when they break with the club. Especially the B caliber talent which are the guys we seem to have more of right now. They get the confidence boost of being chosen after a good camp and are better aclimated to stepping in when someone gets hurt because they've been with the club. The simple things(schedules, routines, meetings, sign knowledge etc.) are already ingrained and processed. All that's left is to show what they can do. They either do or get sent down, getting another shot with sept. call ups or next spring. If no injuries occur send them back down to play every day for the summer. Veterans like Gwynn and Navarro should be signed to minor league contracts for this eventuality not taking up spots that could go towards the progression of young talent.

As of today there are 3 rookies
(add non-rookie Ellis) who as long as they have decent springs, i feel break with the club. The odvious one is Elbert. We have to have a lefty in the pen and he's been in the minors for years, it's put up or shut up and I think he's got a good shot at "put up". I can go on and on about how solid Ellis is but I won't. I'll just say if Navarro blocks his breaking with the club it will be one of the worst minor signings in years, already the worst signing of any kind for the Dodgers this off season.In spring training before he broke his leg, I saw Dejesus Jr. make plays in the field that were exeptional and more impressive was his ability to whack! line drives all over the field. One day a liner off the wall in left center the next day a frozen rope through the alley in right. If 2B is his spot now, think Lou Whitaker. And finally young Mr. Sands. Nowhere in our organization does young talent match up with our ML need. By all accounts a top notch fielder and has improved at every level every year. Would love to see him standing on the baseline opening day with his hat over his heart. Give him a start a week and a try to PH him every game. If he comes through give him more time. If some one gets hurt give him the temp job. If by the end of May it doesn't shake out, send him down and try again later. None of these guys may have the upside of Gordon or Robinson but how many years in the minors is enough? How many mediocre yrs from the vets are too many to block these kids progression?

And finally... Gordon needs to field the ball better before he breaks with the club but if he continues to hit and run like he has, it would seem negligent if we didn't call him up in a Pennant chase. A pinch running steal can make a world of difference, just ask the 04' RedSox about their former Dodger. Robinson is the rookie I am most excited about and would love to see him get a cup of coffee this year. If for no other reason than I am a 4th gen. Dodger fan and I have waited my whole life to hear Vin, with understated excitement, call out; "Robinson is rounding 3rd. Robinson is heading home! Robinson is safe at home!" All things point to this being the last year that is going to be possible.

N.P. Write (Right) On!

The dudgers & Dodgers - team name once was - have for decades over-hyped their farm system and players. That they might all become stars would be oh so nice, but alas front office as PR same doth protest too much, ad nauseam.

I had the opportunity to cover the AAA Albuquerque Dukes for the media in the 70s and early 80s, and it was no different then.

Some of the names I remember hearing who (to borrow Top 40 radio lingo) were gonna be the next 'boss hit bound single' included pitcher Rex Hudson, outfielder John Hale & 1st baseman Don Cardoza & Dennis Lewallyn, among others. Remember them? The latter (Denny) was so good he won 112 games - in the minors. Rex gave up a homer to Henry Aaron in his first (and only) big league appearance, LA. All were nice guys & decent players, but none stars; and so it went & continues to present.

The 'search for power' that seems to have been going on since Frank Howard departed mid-60s (save for a brief respite when lightning in the form 4 30-hr guys struck) is today named 'Jerry Sands'. Poor guy; if he doesn't clobber 30 or more a season he'll have failed to meet the unrealistic expectations be now foisted upon him. Brock, Stubbs, Ashley et al fell short an similar pedestal.

Hey, my hero Willie Davis was going to be the next Willie Mays according to some back in the day; not too much pressure on a 21 year old kid.

Dee Gordon? Good luck, and if you portend more Wilton Guerrero than Maury Wills, it should not come as a surprise, moreso, the more likely.

PR nee sell those prospects & turn them $tile$...

Trades plus the lack of 1st round picks has killed the production of the farm system. It will return.

Ever since the Triple A team was pulled from Vegas it's been downhill. Coincidence?

And how about another coincidence. The McCourts are the worst owners of any professional team in the U.S. maybe barring Daniel Snyder with the Redskins.

A "Branch Rickey Baseball Academy" and big infusion of cash into the farm system would reap benefits: (1) more fans at minor league games; (2) better players on the Dodger team; and (3) a more efficient use of Dodger dollars.

Bad scouting, terrible player development and a losing, carefree attitude: Dodgers baseball in the 21st century.

If there is any decent prospects Colletti will find them and trade them for more rejects.

I'm not hanging Sands with superstar status. He may never hit 30hr but he stands a very good chance of being a quality mlb bat with a fine glove. 20 hrs and .280 avg playing a quality LF everyday would be outstanding but even John Shelby numbers would help this club. Same goes for Jr in the infield. Regardless of how crappy the ownership situation is there is still plenty of room for optimism in the reality of Dodger baseball. Bottom line is that the kids haven't been given enough oppurtunity lately and we will never know unless they get the chance. There will never be another Wills but if Gordon can do what Delino did before he was a Dodger that would be great. Robinsons the one that might get hung out to dry on the expectation line. He's just too dynamic. But is that really a bad thing?

The Dodger farm system really hasn't been of even average quality since Al Campanis was given the boot right around the last time the Dodgers won a World Series. There have been occasional success stories, but compared to the rest of the teams in the majors the Dodgers farm system has been abysmal for 23 years. The Dodgers and Mets are the two teams from large Cities that have a small market, cheap skate mentality. When they do spent money it is not spent wisely.

The idea that the Dodgers' farm system has been abysmal for 23 years is one that could only be suggested by someone who has no idea of what he is talking about. There have been peaks and valleys over that time, and just 5 years ago the Dodgers' farm was rated the second best in baseball (by Baseball America, whose entire business involves judging these kinds of things). Joseph L. Canino sounds like he is just a knee-jerk Campanis apologist.

It's been well-publicized that the Dodgers financial investment in its farm system has been drastically cut. The Dodgers are so secretive about such things that it takes good reporting to figure this stuff out, but I guess the ownership embarassment soaks up so much of the reporting resources that the plundering of the farm system gets lost in the media shuffle. We do know that the Dodgers have cut their international investment drastically, along with scouts and other verifiable cuts. It's also painfully obvious that the Dodgers have systematically traded top prospects for marginal major leaguers (or 1 year rent-a-players) to further drain the pipeline. The only poor luck involved is that the Dodgers fans had to watch Bud Selig collude with Frank McCourt to grant him one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world on the condition that McCourt run it on the cheap. Mission accomplished.

Just check the Dodgers's scouting staff and realize it's well over a 60% turnover since Logan White's arrival. While he did a great job listening to his scouts in his first few years as scouting director, his ego got in the way and he thought he was solely responsible for the prospects, alienating his staff to the point where they found employment elsewhere.


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