By J. Levi Burnfin
Asst. Sports Editor
Spring training is ground zero for finding impact players for all 30 major league baseball clubs.
Some teams have very few prospects that could make a big impact this year, like the Padres and Dodgers.
While other teams like the Angels, have a plethora of prospects vying to be this year’s phenomenon that could help their team compete for a playoff spot.
I will take a look at one prospect from the three local teams: Dodgers, Padres and Angels.
First, the Los Angeles Dodgers are financially handcuffed now while their owners, the McCourts, are undergoing divorce hearings. That leaves the farm system as the only source of impact players that could help the Dodgers compete in the National League.
Shortstop prospect Dee Gordon, 22, may be the player to provide the spark for the Dodgers this season.
Gordon can contribute with his left-handed bat and running ability immediately. Gordon has shown he has been able to hit with a high batting average (BA) and on base percentage (OBP). Gordon has had a BA of .297 and a .351 OBP during his minor league career.
Being on base is important because Gordon has the speed that can wreak havoc on opposing defenses. He
has stolen 144 bases in three years.
Gordon’s biggest weaknesses however, may keep him in the minors for one more year.
He needs to become more efficient in stealing bases. He has been caught stealing 50 times in 194 tries. He also needs to improve defensively based on his very low, -9 average during his three seasons, Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtz) Rating. An average fielder possesses a 0 Rtz rating.
Gordon is blocked by veteran starter, although oft-injured, Rafael Furcal at shortstop and newly signed Juan Uribe at second base. But at the very least, Gordon’s skills should merit a September call-up to give the aging veterans a breather at times and give the Dodgers some speed off the bench.
The San Diego Padres made a big splash this off-season by trading superstar Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for a trio of prospects: pitcher Casey Kelley, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Raymond Fuentes.
Of those three, the prospect that has the most potential to make an impact this season is definitely starting pitcher Casey Kelley.
In his two years of minor league experience, Kelley maintains a 3.69 earned run average and has struck out 155 of the 789 batters he has faced.
Kelley’s best pitch is his terrific fastball that continually hits the low 90 miles per hour range. He complements his fastball with a good change-up and a 12-to-6 curveball but neither of those pitches are major league ready right now limiting the impact he could have as a starter in the major leagues this year.
But he could have a big impact as a relief pitcher late in the year for the Padres similarly to the impact David Price had for the Tampa Bay Rays late in 2008.
Choosing one Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim player to take a look at for the 2011 season was very difficult given the plethora of talent that is on the verge of making their way into the big leagues.
The list includes Huntington Beach High graduate catcher Hyun Choi “Hank” Conger and outfielder Mike Trout so in the end, I chose to cheat and take a look at both of them.
Trout is a complete five-tool player that can hit for a high average and power, has tremendous speed, plays great defense and possesses a good arm.
Trout played the 2010 season with both the low A and high A affiliates of the Angels where he had a .341 BA with 10 home runs, 58 runs batted in and 56 stolen bases.
Trout is still quite young at 19 years old, so still has some developing to do but he can make a big impact at the end of the year with a September call-up.
Conger is closer to an MLB ready product. He is 23 years old and has completed five years in the minor leagues including a full year at triple-A last year. He had a .300 BA last year and hit 11 home runs with 49 runs batted in.
Conger continues to progress defensively and has some learning to do about handling a pitching staff but the path is clear to becoming the Angels full time catcher now that Mike Napoli has been traded to the Blue Jays and Jeff Mathis continues to struggle at the plate.