Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers still haven't returned to the World Series since winning it in 1988, however, even after spending a record $257.3 million on big league payroll in 2014 and upping that mark to $291.1 million last year. But their farm system is overflowing with talent once again, which could help Los Angeles get back to the Fall Classic and definitely should allow them to cut costs.
No. 1 in MLBPipeline.com's farm rankings, the Dodgers have baseball's best prospect (shortstop Corey Seager) and second-best pitching prospect (left-hander Julio Urias). After a scintillating September debut, Seager will start at shortstop for Los Angeles once he recovers from a sprained knee. Urias and right-hander Jose De Leon, who led the Minors with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year, could plug holes in a rotation that already has sprung a few leaks.
Behind that group is another wave of younger blue-chip prospects headlined by right-hander Grant Holmes, first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger and outfielder Alex Verdugo. And behind that group is yet another wave led by righties Walker Buehler and Yadier Alvarez and outfielder Yusniel Diaz, all of whom were acquired in 2015.
"It's going to be fun heading out to all the affiliates this year and seeing all of the players," Dodgers senior manager of player development Jeremy Zoll said. "It's pretty deep all the way around. The scouting department keeps doing a great job, and the international side has loaded us up."
No team has ever loaded up internationally like the Dodgers did last year. They committed more than $150 million in bonuses, salaries and tax penalties to land Alvarez ($32 million), Diaz ($31 million), outfielder Starling Heredia ($2.6 million, the team's largest bonus for a non-Cuban), second baseman Omar Estevez ($12 million) and several others (including some who don't qualify as prospects). And when they realized they weren't going to come close to staying within their international bonus pool, they traded all four of their slots to the Blue Jays and Braves for three legitimate prospects in right-handers Chase De Jong and Caleb Dirks and outfielder Jordan Paroubeck.
After totaling four homers in his first two pro seasons, Bellinger broke out with 30 last year while leading the Class A Advanced California League with 97 runs and 103 RBIs as a 19-year-old. He has continued to rake as a nonroster invitee to big league camp, going 8-for-16 and topping Los Angeles in hitting (.500) and on-base percentage (.619) among players with at least four at-bats. There's more power to come because he's still growing into his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame and he has enough athleticism to play the outfield corners as well as first base.
"He's been killing it over there," Zoll said. "He's going to continue to get time in the outfield to create that flexibility. It's an interesting combination of tools. We're really excited about the way his swing continues to clean up. We expect the strikeout rate to continue to improve and for him to continue to tap into his power."
One of the more underrated and versatile catching prospects in the game, Austin Barnes knows the strike zone, displays gap power and is a solid receiver capable of playing second and third base. Acquired from the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade in 2014, he slammed his fourth homer of the spring on Tuesday. He is tied for the team lead in that category as well as runs (seven), RBIs (eight), walks (five) and slugging (.875), among Dodgers with at least four spring at-bats.
"He's sneaky good," Dodgers director of player personnel Galen Carr said. "He's so athletic and he can play the infield if needed. His at-bats are so good because he controls the zone so well."
Diaz batted .348/447/.440 as an 18-year-old in the Serie Nacional, Cuba's top league, in 2014-15 and likely would have been its rookie of the year had he not defected. He might have the best all-around tools in the system, with plus speed, a quick right-handed bat, the ability to barrel balls easily, a strong arm and the chops to play center field. Slated to make his pro debut this April at one of the organization's Class A affiliates, he singled and walked against four-time All-Star Chris Sale in a B game.
"He's a high-impact athlete with five-tool projection," Carr said. "He's a good runner with solid instincts. I think his approach will play more to contact and average than to big power, but he has physical potential."
Willie Calhoun went from hitting zero homers as an Arizona freshman to leading national junior college players with 31 homers at Yavapai (Ariz.) last spring. He didn't slow down after signing as a fourth-round pick, hitting .316/.390/.519 with 11 homers in 73 games while reaching Class A Advanced. He could put up big numbers over a full season, especially if he returns to the hitter-friendly Cal League, and will remain at second base for now as he seeks a defensive home.
"Willie spent a lot of time in instructional league and the offseason working hard on his defense, getting his body into the best shape he can, working on his quickness," Zoll said. "He'll continue to work at second base and he's taking to it. His confidence is off the charts. He's determined."
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.