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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Dodgers farm system is improving fast

By Mark Saxon

Experts are starting to recognize the efforts the Dodgers have made in rebuilding a farm system neglected under former owner Frank McCourt.

In Keith Law’s list of the Top 100 prospects in baseball, the Dodgers’ wunderkind, 17-year-old left-hander Julio Urias, ranks No. 14. That is the highest a Dodgers prospect has appeared in ESPN’s preseasons rankings since 2008. The Dodgers did pretty well with that young lefty. Clayton Kershaw has won two Cy Young awards, signed a $215 million contract and is still only 25.

Law also ranks infielder Corey Seager as his No. 18 prospect. Overall, Law ranks the Dodgers’ system No. 11, up seven spots from 2013. Here is what Law writes about Urias:
The Dodgers signed Urias -- who is the youngest player on this list by a wide margin -- during the same trip to Mexico that netted them Yasiel Puig, which may end up one of the most productive scouting runs in baseball history, as Urias has enormous upside if he can just stay healthy while Los Angeles gradually builds up his arm to handle a starter's workload.

He has four pitches now, with a fastball up to 95 mph and a plus curveball, but stood out more for his feel for pitching, carving low Class A hitters up with his full assortment and by locating his fastball around the zone. He's barely 5-foot-11, but is young enough that he could still be growing; his weight is of greater concern, as he's a little chubby already -- although guys like Fernando Valenzuela weren't exactly body-beautiful, either. He also has a drooping eyelid (ptosis) that scared some teams off, but the issue is cosmetic and doesn't affect his ability to pitch.

For Urias to reach his ceiling, it's about staying healthy, and continuing to improve his command as he faces tougher hitters who won't chase fastballs up or watch curveballs right over the heart of the plate.

Realize, of course, that no ranking is entirely reliable or predictive. Last year, for example, Yasiel Puig didn't crack Law's Top 100 and yet he made a significant contribution at the major league level.

Just as important as the health of the Dodgers’ overall system is the fact that it’s beginning to grow up. The next two prospects on Law’s list, outfielder Joc Pederson and pitcher Zach Lee, figure to be at Triple-A and could be ready to contribute in the major leagues this season.

The Dodgers’ new owners have managed to bring the team back to contention quickly, largely by spending a lot of money, but they’re now starting to see their long-term strategy take root and that’s equally encouraging.