This is something I did on a previous website that seems to garner some interest. I'll take a look back at Baseball America's top Dodger prospect lists and evaluate how they predict future success. Spoiler alert: it's hit and miss.
2004 was the first year I began following prospects. I'd always been a Dodger fan, but was never in to the minor leagues. That all changed, for whatever reason, when I visited the Dodgers' Scout.com forums. Getting that shameless self-promotion out of the way, let's take a look at the year that saw the Dodgers make the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.
1. Edwin Jackson, RHP
Background:Jackson, a sixth round pick in 2001, was a converted outfielder with a ton of arm strength as his career began. An explosive fastball allowed him to ascend the ranks in extraordinary fashion, reaching Double A at age 19. Then, as injury struck the major league rotation, Edwin got the call to oppose Randy Johnson in Arizona on his 20th birthday. He outdueled the future Hall of Famer, sparking a firestorm of support for the young hurler.
Dodger Career: Entering the 2004 season as baseball's #4 prospect, Jackson struggled in eight starts, posting a 7.20 ERA. He was demoted to Las Vegas where he struggled in 19 more games. He never made a permanent home in the Dodgers' rotation and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, along with Chuck Tiffany, for Danys Baez and Lance Carter in 2005.
Where He Is Now: After floundering with the Devil Rays for a few years, Edwin finally broke out in 2008 and had his best season with the Tigers in 2009. He's turned into at least an average major league starter and signed a multi-year contract with the Cubs prior to the 2013 season.
2. Greg Miller, LHP
Background: Greg Miller was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2002, Logan White's second pick in his tenure as scouting director. A lanky lefty was more a finesse guy when he was drafted, but had a breakout season in 2003, when he reached Double A as an 18 year old. His velocity spiked, sitting in the mid 90s, he developed a nasty slider to go along with a good curveball. It may have been Miller and not Jackson who opposed Randy Johnson had Greg not been shut down with a sore shoulder to end his 2003 season.
Dodger Career: Unfortunately, Miller never recovered from his shoulder problems. He missed the entire 2004 season before attempting a comeback as a reliever. However, it didn't work out, even though he tried altering his mechanics, he struggled with his command and eventually left the game in 2009.
Where He Is Now: Out of baseball, in the real world. I've said it before and I'll say it again: he was Clayton Kershaw before Clayton Kershaw.
3. Franklin Gutierrez, OF
Background: The Venezuelan outfielder was signed in 2000 as a power arm/power bat prospect. He had a lithe, 6'2 and 175 pound build, though plenty of bat speed and a rifle for an arm. In 2003, he hit a total of 24 home runs and stole 20 bases between High A Vero Beach and Double A Jacksonville.
Dodger Career: He never made it to the majors with the Dodgers, as new GM Paul DePodesta, in something of a desperation move, packaged Gutierrez and Andrew Brown and shipped them off to Cleveland for erratic outfielder Milton Bradley.
Where He Is Now: Gutierrez made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians on August 31, 2005. He became a regular a few years later before being traded to Seattle as part of a three team, 11 player deal. He had a strong debut with the Mariners in 2009, clubbing 18 home runs and playing excellent defense. He's established himself as one of the better defensive centerfielders in the game, though his bat has been inconsistent.
4. James Loney, 1B
Background: James Loney was the first player ever drafted by Logan White, and many believed that he'd be a pitcher. Loney was seen as a first baseman in the Mark Grace mold but hadn't quite lived up to that comparison.
Dodger Career: I think we all know about Loney's career. No need for a postmortem.
Where He Is Now: After being dealt to the Red Sox, Loney signed with the Rays during the offseason. He's off to a surprisingly good start in Tampa, batting .379 in 24 games. Best of luck, J Lo!
5. Joel Hanrahan, RHP
Background: Drafted by the Dodgers in the 2nd round of the 2000 draft, Hanrahan began his career as a starter in the Dodgers' system. A few decent seasons preceded a breakout 2003 campaign, where Joel posted a 2.43 ERA in 23 starts.
Dodger Career: Hanrahan never made the majors with LA, instead experiencing mixed results over the next few seasons before being granted free agency in 2006.
Where He Is Now: Less than a month after being released, Hanrahan was signed by the Washington Nationals. He pitched out of the rotation in 2007 before being converted to relief in 2008 and eventually being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009. He had a strong year in 2010 and took over as the Bucs closer in 2011, making the All Star team that year and the next. This past offseason, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for, among others, Ivan De Jesus and Jerry Sands. He's struggled to begin 2013 but should bounce back.
6. Chad Billingsley, RHP
Background: The Dodgers first round pick in 2003, Billingsley immediately showed off his potential by pitching well in the pitcher's nightmare known as the Pioneer League.
Dodger Career: Chad flew through the system and debuted with the big club in 2006. He's accrued more than 1000 innings with the team, posting an ERA of 3.65 and making the All Star team in 2009.
Where He Is Now: Billingsley began experiencing elbow discomfort in late 2012, the result of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He chose rehab over surgery and appeared to be healthy as the season neared. Unfortunately, the injury recurred and Chad went under the knife. He's expected to return to the team sometime next year.
7. Xavier Paul, OF
Background: Another 2003 draftee, a third rounder, Paul was a small, but mighty, outfielder with a cannon arm. He debuted with the organization's Pioneer League affiliate and batted .307 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases.
Dodger Career: Paul debuted with the Dodgers on May 7, 2009. He hit his first home run a week later. Overall, X Man would get 160 plate appearances with the club.
Where He Is Now: After being selected off waivers by the Pirates in April of 2011, he played 121 games with the club, hitting .254 with a pair of homers and 16 stolen bases. He was granted free agency by the Pirates in July of 2012 and signed as a free agent four days later by the Cincinnati Reds. He's had some success with Cinci, batting .311 in 74 games.
8. Andy LaRoche, 3B
Background: Hey look, another 2003 draftee. This one was special, though, as the 39th rounder signed for a cool million dollar bonus. However, recovering from a broken leg, he played just 6 games with the Ogden Raptors, batting .211.
Dodger Career: Initially thought of as a second baseman, Andy settled in at third and looked like a future star. He ranked 19th in Baseball America's Top 100 in 2006 and 2007. He debuted with the team on May 6, 2007 but hit just .226 in 115 plate appearances.
Where He Is Now: Injuries to both shoulders caused LaRoche's power and stock to plummet. He's bounced around organizations, spending time with the Pirates, A's, Indians, Red Sox and Blue Jays. He's currently with the Blue Jays' Triple A club, hoping to get a break with a big league club.
9. Koyie Hill, C
Background: Another 2000 draftee, Hill was selected in the 4th round and converted from third base to catcher after signing. He hit .300 in his first full season and hit well in Double A in 2002. He was blocked by Paul LoDuca in the majors and David Ross in Triple A, so he started 2003 back in Double A and struggled. However, when Ross went to the majors, Hill took his place in Vegas and raked.
Dodger Career: Koyie got a grand total of three at bats in the majors with the Dodgers, doubling and striking out twice.
Where He Is Now: A year later, Hill was part of the trade that brought Steve Finley to the Dodgers for their pennant run. After that, he made a brief stop in New York with the Yankees, though he didn't see the major league club. He then spent the better part of six years with the Cubs, hitting .207 over that time.
Last year was a rollercoaster ride. After being granted free agency in December of 2011, he signed with the Cardinals in January. He then went to the Reds, the Cubs, the Nationals and the Rangers all within seven months. This March, he signed with the Marlins and is currently with their Triple A affiliate. I wonder how many teams he'll play with this year.
10. Reggie Abercrombie, OF
Background: Drafted in the 23rd round of the 1999 draft, Abercrombie was an ultra-unrefiend, ultra-athletic centerfielder. A Matt Kemp before his time. After struggling in his first full season in Low A, he was promoted to Vero in 2002, where he improved by hitting .276 with 10 homers and 41 stolen bases. In 2003, he batted .261 with 15 homers and 26 stolen bases.
Dodger Career: Reggie Abercrombie was traded before he could make his big league debut with the Dodgers. In fact, he was in the same trade as Koyie Hill that brought Steve Finley to the Dodgers.
Where He Is Now: In the Mexican League. Crushing. He's hitting .450/.488/1.513 in 10 games with Tabasco. He made his major league debut with the Marlins back in 2006. He played 111 games, hitting .212/.271/.333 with 5 homers and 6 stolen bases. He last played in the majors in 2007 with Houston, hitting .309/.339/.509 in 34 games.
Others of note:
-At third base, the Dodgers' two Dominican dandies Joel Guzman and Willy Aybar checked in at 11 and 13.
-In the middle of the infield, old friend Chin Lung Hu checks in at #22. At second base, Delwyn Young makes it to #21 and former top prospect Joe Thurston ranks 24th.
-The outfield features some fun names. Chin-Feng Chen makes the Top 30 at #16. Missing the top 30 is 2003 draft pick, left fielder Matt Kemp.
-In center, Shane Victorino misses the Top 30 and ranks behind stalwarts Jason Romano, Jason Repko and Wilkin Ruan.
-On the mound, southpaws Chuck Tiffany and Mike Megrew are in the teens, while Hong-Chih Kuo misses the cut. Starters Jon Broxton and James McDonald make it with relievers Yhency Brazoban and Orlando Rodriguez settling in the 20's.
-The most notable omission comes in the form of third baseman turned catcher, Canadian Russell Martin.
Ranking prospects and predicting their futures is a crapshoot. No one, back in 2004, though Matt Kemp would be a star. Not even the Dodgers. People were sure Jackson and Miller were the second coming of Drysdale and Koufax. And while the system was vastly improved, ranking 2nd in all of baseball behind the Milwaukee Brewers (headlined by Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy), some may be skeptical of the voracity of the exercise of ranking prospects and farm systems based on the results.
However, it's my view that these reflections serve a purpose, not only as entertainment or hindsight but also as a guide from which to learn. What can we take away from the fate of prospects like Greg Miller and Andy LaRoche, whose careers were torn asunder by injury? Should anyone have ranked Matt Kemp in the Top 30? Was Shane Victorino's non-ranking a result of his small stature?
Reflecting on this information is key to forming more reasonable and honest opinions about prospects.
Next up: 2005. The year the Dodgers put together one of the greatest minor league teams in baseball history.