The Dodgers Rookie League entry in the Arizona League, based at Camelback Ranch, Glendale, AZ, features some impressive, yet raw prospects who are either recent draft picks from last month’s MLB Amateur Draft or Latin American players who spent last year at the Dodgers’ Dominican Academy.
The Arizona League Dodgers or AZL Dodgers play in a league considered a “complex” league, as these games are played at the MLB spring training complexes on back practice fields. If you are ever in Phoenix during the AZL season which runs from June to September, with most games starting at 7 pm, you have to look hard to find these games as they are on random backfields at these large complexes. The games are free and as such, amenities are rare. There are no concessions, and you are lucky if you find the restrooms unlocked. Some complexes only have porta-potties available!
The quality of play is unsurprisingly strong despite the inexperience of most of the players in the league. There are occasionally pleasant surprises on the field as MLB teams routinely send MLB players on rehab assignments to this league. To my surprise, Madison Younginer, who was in Dodger camp last year and has pitched in the majors for the Braves, came in to toss an inning of relief, as he is now back in the Dodger organization and was down in AZ on a rehab assignment from AAA.
There are also some familiar faces amongst the coaching staffs. 1989 Cy Young Award Winner Mark Davis is the AZL Royals pitching coach and sat right in front of me in the bleachers as he was looking for another vantage point of his pitcher.
The highlight of the trip was seeing Dodgers #8 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, Right Handed Pitcher Yadier Alvarez who was down from AA Tulsa on a rehab assignment. Although technically not a Rookie League player, he is an elite prospect, so here is his scouting report to lead off this feature.
RHP Yadier Alvarez, Bats R, Throws R, 22 years old, Date Observed: 06/23/18
Alvarez, the much heralded Cuban International free agent signed back in 2016 to a $16 million bonus, has a special arm. At 6’3 and 175 lbs, Alvarez is a lanky, yet athletic fireballer reminiscent of former Dodger hurler Ramon Martinez. Alvarez displayed a repeatable delivery with solid mechanics.
Alvarez’s fastball is his main weapon. The flame-throwing righty’s fastball was hard with late life and some run to it while hovering around 92 and 96 mph. Alvarez maintains his arm speed throughout his off speed pitches, making him fairly deceptive, and troubling for hitters who are sitting on that fastball.
His changeup is a work in progress, but he flashed decent velocity separation between the change, thrown in the high eighties, and his mid-nineties fastball. Alvarez’s slider appeared highly effective when he threw it. He also flashed a curveball that could be an average offering and enable him to remain a starting pitcher.
Alvarez did struggle with his command at times while attempting to locate his fastball. However, Alvarez’s control appears to have improved over last year’s wildness. If Alvarez can refine his secondary pitches and pitch selection, he will have a future as a middle of the rotation starter.
If he cannot get those secondary pitches over for strikes consistently, Alvarez will profile as a late-inning reliever who will simply overpower his competition with a fastball that has topped 101 in previous outings.
RHP Aldry Acosta, Bats R, Throws R, 18 years old, Date Observed: 06/23/18
Acosta is a very projectable right-handed power pitcher with a big frame, but still has room to fill out as he matures. Acosta was signed by the Dodgers out of Venezuela in 2016. Acosta spotted his fastball well, hitting the corners and striking out 4 of the 5 batters he faced. The fastball had good movement and late life in the zone. Acosta flashed a good curve, but could not get it over consistently. He also had some command issues in his second inning of work, but it is expected since he is so young.
Since I saw Acosta, he started a game and did not fare too well. However, based off of my one look at Acosta, he is a raw talent with a big arm who already seems to have a good feel for pitching at such a young age. Acosta could have a future as a starter since he is a big durable kid with room to mature.
This kid would have just been finishing up his high school career if he was American, yet here he is gaining experience against players who have college experience and are a few years older. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on Acosta and see if he can move up through the Dodgers farm system. It might be a few years before we see him in the majors, but he could be something special.
LHP Darien Nunez, Bats L, Throws L, 25 years old, Date Observed: 06/24/18
Nunez signed as an international free agent earlier this season after spending 2011-2015 playing professionally in Cuba until he asked for his release in 2015 so he could pursue an MLB opportunity. Nunez had not pitched professionally since 2015, so the Dodgers have brought him along slowly. He has already moved up two levels since I saw him two weeks ago and is at his fourth level overall this year, low A Great Lakes. Nunez has struck out 15 batters, while only walking 3 over nine innings. Granted, his success thus far has been against players far less experienced than he. The Dodgers will likely move him one more level this season due to his age, which will also raise the expectations placed on him.
Nunez has an electric arm. He is a power lefty who should be able to come out of the pen and dominate in short stints. Nunez features a fastball that hovers around the mid-nineties and bores hard into the zone with late life. Nunez displayed good command of his pitches and got them over for strikes regularly. HIs arm speed played up the deception in his delivery, as his changeup looked like a fastball coming out of his hand initially. Another advantage Nunez has is he works fast and is very aggressive on the mound, which will throw off hitters timing.
Nunez should likely get a call to MLB camp next spring due to his advanced age. I would imagine with his pedigree, It won’t be long before we see him with the Dodgers coming out of the pen in 2019.
3B Miguel Vargas, Bats R, Throws R, 18 years old, Date Observed: 06/23/18 and 06/24/18
Vargas was signed out of Cuba last September after defecting while he was 17 years old. Vargas is an impressive athlete who appears very strong for an 18-year-old. Vargas still appears to have room for filling out. He flashed run production type power which should develop as he fills out. Vargas hit the ball all over the field and seems to have an advanced feel for the strike zone.
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Vargas soundly handled third base and showed a solid arm that is playable at that position. I also saw Vargas play first base, where he definitely profiles as a very athletic first baseman. Vargas read the ball off of the bat well and seemed to have good hands for either infield position. As he grows, he may lack the range to handle third and is possibly better suited for first base or a corner OF position. The Dodgers can afford to be patient with young Vargas while he develops. Last week Vargas was promoted to the Dodgers Rookie Affiliate in Ogden, UT.
OF Drew Avans, Bats L, Throws L, 22 years old, Date Observed: 06/23/18 and 06/24/18
Avans has put up some wicked numbers since being drafted by the Dodgers in the 33rd round a month ago out of Southeastern Louisiana University. Granted he is older than most of his competition, but he impressed me with his approach at the plate. I don’t consider him a top prospect, but he might be a sleeper.
Avans truly looked like a professional hitter and seemed to be able to slow the game down during his at-bats. Avans had quick wrists through the zone and seemed primed to become an extra-base hitter with 15 homer a year power. He showed decent range in the OF, and appeared to have a solid arm in right field. His aggressiveness on the base paths suggest his average speed an play up and enable him to take the extra base when needed.
His physical appearance, style of play, and abilities resemble Kole Calhoun of the Angels. Avans has since been promoted to Ogden. Due to his advanced age for his level, he will be pushed quickly.
The AZL Dodgers have had a couple more draft picks join the team, and are awaiting the debut of RHP Morgan Cooper, a 2017 draft pick. Also, Hyun Jin Ryu, Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, and Tony Cingrani are slated to pitch for the AZL Dodgers in the next week on rehab assignments. If you are in Phoenix, the AZL is worth a look. Pack a sandwich, bring water and sunscreen, and prepare to bake in the heat of the AZ night as you watch raw baseball prospects grind to impress their organizations.