Dodgers Prospect Preview: Corner Infielders

Going into 2011, the Dodgers were barren in terms of first and third base prospects. Some conversion and draft picks provided a little depth, though not much in terms of top tier talent. 2012 will determine the Dodgers' true talent pool on the infield corners.

Triple A – Albuquerque Isotopes

Corner infield is one of the weak points in LA's system. One bright spot last year was the performance of Scott Van Slyke, who had his best statistical season to date. He batted .348, second best in the Southern League. He led the circuit in doubles with 45, tied for 5th with 20 home runs and third in OPS with a 1.022 mark. The son of Andy moved to first due to a crowded outfield, but can manage in a corner.

So what's not to like? Well, there's his age. He'll turn 26 in July, so time is not on his side. He also only succeeded in Double A after repeating the league. And to top things off, he batted just .194 in his 21 game stint in the Venezuelan League.

He could get a shot in the majors sometime in 2012 but will really be looking toward 2013 when a possible three roster spots could open up for him to occupy. The potential exodus of James Loney, Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera means he only needs to win one of three jobs for which he's qualified. He should be able to help himself in Albuquerque this season in order to make a good impression for next year.

I considered including Jerry Sands on this list as a first baseman, but since he no longer qualifies as a prospect due to his service time and has gotten big league exposure, I figure I'd focus more on lesser known prospects.

Double A – Chattanooga Lookouts

Another surprise contributor from 2011 was Angelo Songco, another converted outfielder who moved to first base. In spite of Rancho Cucamonga's home park that is surprisingly neutral for hitters, Gelo mashed 29 homers overall, including 18 at the Epicenter. He managed to hit for some power against lefties but could improve his contact and discipline against same-handed pitching.

Not much of an athlete, Songco is best suited for first base. However, he'll have to continue hitting to justify continued attention to his production. The real test for the 23 year old comes in 2012, when he takes the next step to Double A. How well his production holds up in Chattanooga will determine whether he's a first baseman of the future or a product of the California League.

A pair of injury-riddled third basemen could see time in Double A in 2012. Pedro Baez, a two time Futures Game representative, wasn't hitting much before he injured his shoulder in May of last year. The Dominican native, who just turned 24, batted only .210 in 32 games with the Lookouts last year. Fully healthy, Baez offers tantalizing power with good defense at the hot corner. However, he doesn't make enough contact or draw enough walks. He'll need to refine his approach or face the possibility of moving to the mound, much like Kenley Jansen.

Tony Delmonico, whose brother Nicky set the record for a 6th round pick by signed out of high school for more than $1.5 million, has moved around the diamond since signing. A second baseman in college, Tony moved behind the plate briefly, then made his home at third base in 2011. The soon to be 25 year old has intriguing offensive potential, with excellent plate discipline and some power. He's also seemed to handle the hot corner fairly well with the glove. His main problem, though, is his health. He set a career high in games played in 2011 with 111, but missed time in June. Another potential breakout if he's healthy, but it's a big if.

High A – Rancho Cucamonga Quakes

How about another surprise prospect from 2011? This one's big. Chris Jacobs, all 6'5 255 lbs of him, was the only bright spot in the Great Lakes Loons' offense last year. The 23 year old was the only Loons batter with an OPS over .800. He accomplished that feat by hitting .288 with a healthy walk rate (to go along with a healthy strikeout rate) and the power you'd expect out of a player his size.

He doesn't move especially well and played just 43 games at first last year, but the potential to have a big slugger who can draw some walks is intriguing. He posted reverse platoon splits last year, struggling against lefties and dominating righties and, expectedly, hit better on the road than at Great Lakes' home park, which is where offense goes to die. He's never played more than 65 games in a season, so we'll see if the offense, and his body, can hold up.

Low A – Great Lakes Loons

The biggest surprise of the 2011 draft may have been O'Koyea Dickson, who had an excellent debut for the Ogden Raptors after signing as a 12th rounder. He was 10th in the Pioneer League with a .33 batting average, tied for 6th with teammate Scott Schebler in home runs with 13 and ended the year 4th in OPS at 1.005.

As a shorter, stocky right-handed first baseman, Dodgers officials liken him to former draft pick Paul Goldschmidt, who debuted with the Diamondbacks last year. Scouts question whether Dickson will have the power the be an everyday first baseman but he certainly didn't hurt himself in his debut. He can draw a walk and isn't a liability defensively, so it will be his bat that has to carry him to the majors.

The top hitting prospect taken in the 2011 draft was Alex Santana, a high school shortstop who immediately moved to third base as a pro. Given his age and struggles as a 17 year old in rookie ball (.238 BA, 64 K's in 50 games), there's a good chance he begins 2012 in extended spring training and joins Ogden when the Pioneer League starts up. Scouts and coaches love his upside, but he's a ways away.

Two other corner infielders were taken in the top 17 rounds of last year's draft. Scott Woodward, a senior sign out of Coastal Carolina, struggled to make contact but produced a respectable .781 OPS in spite of hitting only .219. He has plus power and speed but is rough around the edges and committed 10 errors in 20 games at third after signing. In spite of his production, he's a candidate to move quickly due to his age. He'll need to polish up his defense to stay on the infield.

Jesus Valdez, who was thought of as a pitching prospect coming into the summer, was taken by the Dodgers as a third baseman and became a full time hitter as a pro. His debut was mixed, as he hit well initially but struggled as the season wore on. As an amateur pitcher, he has the arm strength for third but played some first for the AZL Dodgers. He won't turn 20 until March 27 and could return to rookie ball in his second season. He's a bit of a project, but his first experience in pro ball showed promise.

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