(Photo credit to the Salt River Fields website)
The Glendale Desert Dogs represent players from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Some day in the future we might have parity among the Desert Dogs’ major league affiliates.
Dodger blue represents consistency, pride of the West Coast – although San Francisco would say otherwise. With an ownership group figure-headed by Magic Johnson, the Dodgers haven’t shied away from the monetary ceiling that is Major League Baseball’s luxury tax. Two-thousand miles east, Cleveland is home to a ballclub with strong odds to return to the World Series, one year after a losing three straight in dismal fashion.
Pete Mackanin was recently removed from the Philadelphia Phillies head coaching position, as the team looks to rebound from a 66-win season. Neal Huntington’s Pirates disappointed in 2017, but quietly possess a young core of talent to prevent complete failure in seasons to come. If you’re plotting these clubs on a line, you’ll find the Dodgers and Indians close in esteem, with the Pirates lingering in the middle and the Phillies providing a second bookend.
That brings us to the Chicago White Sox. A team that Rick Hahn hasn’t really tanked with, but rosters 25 men with notable additions and subtractions, resulting in arguably the strongest base of high-end prospect talent the sport has seen.
Even though their affiliates exist in different states, talents from these five teams will converge on Camelback Ranch with championship hopes in mind.
Natives of the Southwest flock to Arizona’s slew of fields for the stars of tomorrow; Glendale’s draw is Indians catcher Francisco Mejia. With a power jump during the 2017 season in Double-A, Mejia elevated his industry-wide praise from one of the top catching prospects in baseball to an organizational cornerstone.
Mejia will have the chance to catch another stud, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ second round selection in the 2014 MLB Draft out of Xavier High School in Iowa, Mitch Keller. With stats spanning three levels in 2017, Keller flourished in the Double-A Eastern League’s championship series, as his team took home the title. At only 21 years of age, a four pitch mix is something many of his seniors can’t replicate, even if his changeup veers towards the side of scarce. Ray Searage’s future pupil touches the upper 90s, with his primary offspeed pitch of the biting curve variety.
After Mejia and Keller, the Desert Dogs drop off in what some would consider “elite” prospect talent; highlighted by a plethora of late-round picks that will have a chance to earn their stripes on a bigger stage.
Wichita State is a Division I program with appeal heading into the 2018 college season – CBBSN surely thinks so – and one of their alumni, selected in the 40th round of the 2015 MLB Draft to the Los Angeles Dodgers, will pitch for the Desert Dogs down in Arizona.
Isaac Anderson was selected in three consecutive years between 2013 and 2015 – first in the 34th round to the Kansas City Royals, followed by a 19th round selection to the Cincinnati Reds. Both those stemmed from his track record with the College of Southern Idaho, before a transfer to Wichita State, and long-awaited signature on a contract.
Venturing to the database of scouting videos that is YouTube, I uncovered some footage of the righty back with the Shockers, and in following season with the Great Lakes Loons. First thing I noticed with his college tape is Anderson’s mechanical tendency to pull his head down, off the ball when delivering. I wondered whether losing his target, aesthetically emphasizing his follow-through with his body, would lead at all to a loss of command, but that wasn’t an issue from 2015 to 2016, where Anderson consistently strung together walk-per-nine rates below 2.0. That has reverted to average in 2017, as Anderson moved up multiple levels and rode a pair of walk-per-nine rates above 3.0. Hopes are for Anderson to amass innings versus premier talent in the AFL, allowing for a better gauge on where the Dodgers can use his talents in the future.
Evidenced by the concentration of budding talent near the Florida-Georgia Line that will surely come to the forefront for 2018’s MLB Draft, prospects can sometimes be overlooked up north.
Danny Mendick was selected in the 25th round of 2015’s MLB Draft, out of UMass Lowell, a school that only has two players on its record as reaching the majors this century.
As Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs pointed out earlier this season, Mendick was one of only five Carolina League players with both a strikeout rate and isolated power figure greater than one-half standard deviation above average. Even more impressive were three of the other names on said list: Victor Robles, Ryan Mountcastle, and Austin Hays. Mendick is still considered a fringe prospect, and even though his appealing strikeout rate floated back up to 16%+, plus defensive value means a utility infielder at the major league level isn’t too distant. Mendick made his home at the Double-A level for the second half of 2017 with the White Sox, and his approach should carry him higher in the organizational depth chart come 2018. Although the Desert Dogs are carrying six infielders, Mendick should see his fair share of upper-level pitching, with a chance to impressive on both sides of the ball.
While Anderson comes from much deeper in the draft, other talent in the Desert Dogs’ pitching staff that likely hasn’t ticked on many prospect radars. As we’re all about representing the smaller school and later round talent, that sometimes falls by the wayside even when examining the Arizona Fall League.
Michael Boyle is the only southpaw on the list above, while Luke Eubank’s alma mater of Oxnard College sits a short drive west of Los Angeles, California. J.D. Hammer was included in the Pat Neshek trade back to the Phillies, and has maintained a strikeout rate greater than 27% at each level he has graced. Lastly, Shea Spitzbarth is an undrafted free agent and our CEO Justin Volman seized the opportunity to interview the Dodgers farmhand, stay tuned for that interview. We’ll make sure to link back to it when it becomes available.
The Desert Dogs are deep, but not stuffed with elite talent. If they are to make a championship run, it will stem from the depth found in their pitching staff, with bats that overperform their expectations on paper.
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