Los Angeles Dodgers
Position: SS-3B Height: 6-6 Weight: 225 Born: 11/24/84 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Dodgers plopped down a record $2.25 million to sign Joel Guzman out of the Dominican Republic in 2001. Making his North American debut at the age of 17 in 2002, he struggled in the Pioneer League. He continued to struggle in 2003, overmatched by pitching in both the South Atlantic and Florida State leagues. One of the keys for good prospect analysis is player age relative to level: a player who is significantly younger than his competition often has massive growth potential, even if he is barely holding his own on the field. The fact that Guzman didn't play well in '02 and '03 was less important than his young age and his tremendous physical tools. Nevertheless, there were some doubters heading into 2004. Those doubts have been eradicated. Guzman exploded with the bat this year, dominating Florida State League pitching, then continuing to hit well after moving up to Double-A. And he is still just 19 years old.
Scouting reports on Guzman begin with his physical tools. He is strong and athletic. He has great arm strength and plus bat speed. He has awesome raw power. He has everything you look for in a young player physically, possessing excellent ratings in all categories except pure foot speed, and even there he is not a clogger. But the key for Guzman is turning these tools into actual skills, and he made huge strides in that direction this year. Guzman kills fastballs and did a better job reading breaking balls in '04. He stopped trying to pull everything, showing power to all fields. Guzman still needs work on his plate discipline. It is better than it used to be, and while no one expects him to be a walk machine, better zone judgment can only help. He still strikes out a lot, but he's made progress closing the holes in his swing. On defense, Guzman has a very strong arm. His hands are good enough for shortstop, but his range there is only average, and most scouts believe he will move to third base eventually.
Guzman's performance this year is hard to fault. He hit for excellent power in the difficult Florida State League, then continued pounding the ball against better pitching in Double-A. He's definitely on the correct end of the age curve, only 20 to start 2005 and with 46 Double-A games already under his belt. Guzman would not hit that well against major league pitching at this point, and another year of experience in Double-A/Triple-A is advisable. In the long run he projects as a .270-.290 hitter, with 30-40 homer potential. His on-base ability would depend on exactly how much plate discipline he develops.
Guzman has had no major health concerns. He is still growing physically, adding two inches and 20 pounds to his frame over the last two years.
What to expect
Guzman reminds people of the current Miguel Cabrera and the young Juan Gonzalez, free swingers with enough power and pure bat speed to compensate for mediocre strike-zone judgment. He needs another season to work on his plate discipline and approach to breaking pitches, a consolidation season for his progress in '04. But in the medium and long-terms, Joel Guzman may be the top power-hitting prospect in the game.
John Sickels is the author of The 2005 Baseball Prospect Book, which will ship on Feb. 1, 2005. You can pre-order this book at Johnsickels.com. His other book Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation can be ordered through online book retailors or your local bookstore. John lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and two happy cats.