Seven Dodgers prospects to watch
PHOENIX -- Some players who made good impressions during the Los Angeles Dodgers' Arizona Fall League:
Scott Elbert, LHP
He had an outstanding AFL season on the strength of what scouts say is nasty stuff, putting him in prime position to earn a spot in the Dodgers' bullpen next season. Elbert's biggest issue during the Triple-A season -- at least as long as the Triple-A season lasted for him -- was walks, as he issued 34 of them in 43 1/3 innings. So far in the AFL, though, he has walked just four batters (while striking out 13) in 10 2/3 innings of nine mostly stellar relief appearances for the Desert Dogs.
The six-year period since the Dodgers made him their first-round draft pick in 2004 has been mostly a struggle for Elbert, all of which came to a head when he abruptly left the team's Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate in June for personal reasons that still haven't been made public. At 25, he has 30 big league appearances, only one of which came in 2010. But his troubles might finally be behind him.
Javy Guerra, RHP
He missed a significant portion of the regular season at Double-A Chattanooga because of an injury, but the 2.33 ERA he posted in the 28 appearances he did make, along with his inclusion on the 40-man roster last winter, made him one of the team's top relief prospects. He also has been solid in the AFL, posting a 1.80 in eight appearances. But unlike Elbert, Guerra's regular-season tendency to walk too many batters seems to have carried over, as he has walked six and struck out nine in 10 AFL innings.
Selected in the fourth round of the same draft that produced Elbert, Guerra's climb also has been a slow one. The Denton, Texas, product is 25 now and has yet to pitch in Triple-A. He is the longest of long shots to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, but with bullpen help a stated need this offseason, Guerra could be a dark horse in spring training.
Jon Link, RHP
He spent his first season in the organization -- after the Dodgers acquired him and John Ely from the Chicago White Sox in the Juan Pierre trade -- seemingly on a constant shuttle between the majors, where he managed to make nine mostly solid relief appearances, and Albuquerque, where his 3.72 ERA was respectable in a hitter-friendly league.
He has been hit hard at times in the AFL; opposing batters are hitting .300 off him. But he throws strikes and has walked just four batters in 20 1/3 innings. Unless general manager Ned Colletti starts stockpiling relievers this winter, Link stands a good chance of opening the season with the club if he has a decent spring. Link is 27, though, and already has two full seasons at Triple-A, so if he doesn't make the club, there could be a sense that he is beginning to spin his wheels.
Justin Miller, RHP
This is the other Justin Miller, not the heavily tatted journeyman the Dodgers picked up off the free-agent market last winter. At 23, the Dodgers' sixth-round pick in the 2007 draft is at least a year away from the majors and probably more. He has been knocked around in the AFL, giving up 20 hits in 12 1/3 innings while walking more (10) than he has struck out (six). But the AFL is more about development than statistics, and with the season about to wrap, Miller finally appears to have tightened up a pitching motion that club officials long felt needed to be refined.
Miller has only a half-season at Double-A, where he had a 2.76 ERA in 28 appearances after a midseason promotion this year, so he is almost certain to return there to begin the season.
Trayvon Robinson, OF
The Los Angeles native and Crenshaw High School alum is on the cusp of being ready for the majors, but he isn't quite there yet. He had a breakout season at Chattanooga this summer, hitting .300 with a .404 on-base percentage and stealing 38 bases. He finally appears completely comfortable switch-hitting, something team officials had to talk him into doing initially and then talk him out of giving up a few other times. And he has some power, having hit 23 doubles and nine homers for the Lookouts.
Robinson, 23, has hit only .250 in the AFL, where the pitching probably is a smidge better than what he saw in Double-A. But his approach at the plate is just as sound, as he has drawn 16 walks and posted a .389 OBP. Playing center field, he also has used his superior speed and athleticism to run down several balls in the gaps and over his head. He still strikes out too much (once every 3.5 at-bats at Chattanooga this year and once every 3.3 thus far in the AFL), but he'll have at least one more year in the minors to cut down on that.
Robinson probably will start the season at Albuquerque and presumably will be a candidate for a September call-up if he has a good year.
Jerry Sands, OF
The organization's reigning minor league player of the year is a former 25th-round pick (2008) who basically came out of nowhere this summer to hit a combined 35 homers and drive in 93 runs at low Class A Great Lakes and Chattanooga. He likely will return to Chattanooga to begin 2011, and he is at least a year away from the majors, possibly two.
Sands, 23, hasn't hit for much power in the AFL, although he finally did hit his first home run off Chicago White Sox prospect Johnnie Lowe on Saturday night in the only scheduled game of the season at the Dodgers' spring-training facility in Glendale. But Sands has shown remarkable plate discipline, walking as many times (15) as he has struck out and posting a .404 OBP against a level of pitching he hasn't seen with any regularity during his three seasons in the organization.
Matt Wallach, C
He has struggled offensively in the AFL, hitting just .188. But the son of former Dodgers third baseman and incoming Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach had a decent season, which he split between Inland Empire and Chattanooga. A contact hitter who doesn't strike out much, Matt Wallach hit a combined .264 with 15 doubles, 11 homers and 42 RBIs.
Wallach, who will turn 25 during spring training, is projected as a major league backup, but he probably won't be that for at least a couple of years. He likely will return to Chattanooga to start the season.Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.