This article originally appeared on Dodgers Nation.
As we wait for the Dodgers to finish off their offseason retooling, it’s that time of year again to take a look at some possible prospect surprises for the upcoming season.
I wrote a similar article last season but the pandemic wrecked the minor league season. The big hope is that we have a representative season in the minor leagues so that players can continue to experience growth.
Over the last two seasons, many recent former prospects have made significant contributions to the team. Where would the Dodgers be without key contributions from Tony Gonsolin, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol, Dustin May, Matt Beaty, and Edwin Rios? Moreover, they dipped into the depth trading Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, Connor Wong, and Niko Hulsizer to get Mookie Betts and Adam Kolarek. We also expect more from Gavin Lux, Keibert Ruiz, and Dennis Santana in 2021.
Now, who will be the next group to contribute? In this article, we’ll examine who might be the next surprise contributor. Prospects most of us have not heard of that could become huge names. And prospects who may make some unexpected jumps through the system to push their way into the conversation.
Let’s look at five players that could fit into one or more of the above categories.
Just a quick note, Michael Busch would be featured in this article but he is no longer much of a secret as he quickly is becoming a big deal.
Michael Busch is trending up 📈
Rave reviews on the Dodgers slugger in their new Top 10.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) January 12, 2021
Alex De Jesus Makes A Huge Leap
The Dodgers signed Alex De Jesus in 2018 as part of their international signing period. He first started to play professionally in 2019 as a 17-year-old on one of their Dominican Summer League (DSL) teams. De Jesus excelled enough in the DSL that he was quickly sent stateside to the Arizona Summer League (ASL). He’s 6’2″ and currently weighs (according to reports) 170 pounds. FanGraphs compares his body shape to Manny Machado.
Dodgers IF Alex De Jesus is another name generating buzz. Long term, De Jesus projects as a bat-first third baseman. ADJ was the second youngest qualified hitter in the AZL and held his own against older pitching. Dodgers seem to like him, which tells you all you need to know. 📈 pic.twitter.com/ojGzQ4SEuD
— tyler j. spicer (@tylerjspicer) April 13, 2020
When ADJ was first signed everyone thought he was destined to be a third baseman. Now there is a chance he can stick at shortstop but that is still not as likely as third.
Already just a fringy runner, DeJesus figures to slow further as he matures physically. Considering his run times, he’s smoother and rangier at shortstop than would be expected, and the Dodgers are working to improve his anticipation and explosiveness. His plus arm and offensive profile easily would fit at third base, where most scouts think he’ll wind up. – MLB Pipeline
The Dodgers have been producing some good left-handed hitters so it would be great to have some right-handed hitting prospects in the mix. 2021 will be ADJ’s age 19 season and I fully expect him to blow through both Single-A levels and make it to Double-A, establishing himself as a big-name prospect soon.
Ryan Pepiot Is A Top 10 Right Handed Pitching Prospect
When the Dodgers were in the 2018 draft and they had the third-round pick (102nd overall) and Ryan Pepiot was available they must have been shocked. Pepiot was ranked the 72nd best prospect in the draft so the Dodgers got lucky. What makes Peiot a difference-maker is his Major League ready change up. He has a fastball that tops out at 96 MPH, with a solid slider and an improving curveball. With the changeup that gives him a four-pitch mix and the type of frame that works for a starter, there is no reason he can’t remain a rotation factor.
MLB Pipeline had Pepiot rated as the Dodgers’ top performer at their alternative site.
Hitters in the Dodgers’ alternative camp have hated facing Pepiot, who’s best known for having the best changeup in the 2019 Draft, a low-80s weapon with fade. But now he’s also sitting at 95 mph with improved vertical movement on his fastball and could move quickly.
It’s tougher for the third-round guys to get recognition but it looks like the Dodgers found a gem. Expect to hear a lot more about him soon. Heck, FanGraphs had him ranked at number 6 while MLB Pipeline still had him down at number 24. That will all change soon. The video below is Pepiot during Spring Training 2.0 against a pretty good Dodgers lineup.
The last changeup is elite.
Nick Robertson Makes it To Triple-A
The Dodgers selected right-handed reliever Nick Robertson in the 7th round of the 2019 draft. Like many players that aren’t drafted in the 1st round, there wasn’t a lot of buzz about him. He reported to the Dodgers’ Arizona Summer League team after being drafted out of James Madison University in Virginia. After a quick five games, he finished the season with Ogden. Overall in 16 innings, he allowed nine hits, walked one, struck out 23, and gave up only 3 runs. His WHIP was just 0.61.
My only opportunity to see Robertson in person was at Spring Training of 2020 and I was able to capture a few pictures of him below.
The good people at FanGraphs were able to get their eyes on Robertson in the 2020 Fall Instructional League.
When comparing his 2019 data to my 2020 in-person look (with high speed video), Robertson has had both a velocity bump as well as a shift in his fastball’s spin axis, which now has near perfect backspin. He now looks like a two-pitch power reliever with a plus fastball/curveball combination. He has a non-zero shot to race to the big leagues in 2021. (Fall Instructional League)
They have him sitting at 93-96 MPH while topping out at 98. His curveball is very well regarded. FanGraphs is the first publication to put Robertson as high as they did at number 22 on their list. This is the type of dominant reliever that should move fast through the system.
Jakob Amaya Becomes The Shortstop Of The Future
The Dodgers selected Jacob Amaya (he goes by Jake) in the 11th round of the 2017 draft. He has a commitment to go to Cal State Fullerton so his signability was in question. The Dodgers took a chance and were able to sign him with a $247,000 bonus. I was able to observe Amaya when he was with the Quakes in 2019 and what I saw was a player who was a leader. He is also an excellent fielder. Here’s what MLB Pipeline had to say about him in their report on each team’s best defensive prospect.
While his bat-to-ball skills are his strongest suit, his high baseball IQ and nonstop energy allow him to play quicker than his average speed in the middle infield, where he also shows quick, reliable hands and a strong, accurate arm.
Speaking of his bat-to-ball skills this is what MLB Pipeline says about his offense:
Amaya has outstanding strike-zone judgment and rarely chases pitches out of the strike zone. Add in his sound right-handed stroke, feel for the barrel and all-fields approach, and he has the ingredients to become a solid hitter. He has gotten stronger since turning pro, displays occasional power to all fields and could become a 12-15 homer threat if he launches the ball in the air more often.
Jake Amaya seems to be one of those types of players that is very coachable and will outwork most others. I see great gains coming for Amaya, especially with the Dodgers elite Player Development department.
Robinson Ortiz Becomes A Prospect To Watch Again
Ortiz doesn’t have a lot of projection remaining, so he’s unlikely to grow into a power pitcher.
At the time he was just 18 and still developing. When I visited Spring Training in 2020 I spent a lot of time in the back fields to watch the minor league players. I was able to see Ortiz pitch a bit and it looked to me like he was bringing the serious heat. It turns out I was correct as FanGraphs was able to get a glimpse of him also.
He arrived to 2020 minor league spring training with a leaner lower half and was touching 98 in the bullpen before the shutdown (he was 90-93, touching 95 in 2019).
Now he is starting to creep back into being a prospect to be noticed again. MLB Pipeline has him at number 28 while FanGraphs has him at number 20. In my opinion, this is just the beginning. A 21-year-old that is topping out at 98 MPH with a nice changeup and a slurvy type breaking ball could have a chance to make some serious noise.
There were a lot more options to talk about and it was difficult to make just five predictions. There is a big group of left-handed relievers coming down the pike that will be making an impact soon and there was no way I could just pick one. After all the promotions the Dodgers are still loaded. The difference-maker, depending on the learning ability of each player to take advantage of the Dodgers’ elite Player Development department. Let’s just hope there is a full minor league season to see these predictions through.