(Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series by ThinkBlueLA’s minor leagues staff writer Harold Uhlman of his annual 20-and-under team. This year it is broken down into infielders, outfielders and pitchers. The age given is the age as of today’s writing).
The 2017 Dodgers 20 and under outfield
Alex Verdugo (20) – Center Field:
Verdugo was selected by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona. He expected to be drafted as a pitcher with a 97-mph fastball but has thrived in the role for which the Dodgers drafted him. He played primarily center field in 2016 but did play 30 games in right field. He began the past season in the Texas League listed as the youngest player in the league by Baseball America.
The left-handed hitting Verdugo is also listed as the Dodgers No.3 prospect by MLBPipeline and was one of nine Tulsa Drillers selected for the mid-season All-Star Game in June. On the season, he hit .273 with an OBP of .336 along with 13 home runs, 23 doubles and 63 runs batted in. He had 13 outfield assists after posting 23 in the Midwest League in 2015.
Yusniel Diaz (20) – Left Field
Diaz made his professional debut on April 7, 2016 with the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He was the third youngest player in the California League in 2016 having been signed by the Dodgers as a free agent out of Havana Cuba on November 21, 2015. On the season, he hit .272 with an OBP of .333 and driving in 54 runs in 82 games. He did have two trips to the 7-day DL during the season with one stint of a full month from mid-June to mid-July. Through the remainder of July and August the right-hand hitting Diaz hit .295 with 33 runs batted in in 35 games including two four-hit games.
He played the entire season as a 19-year-old in a league where the average age is most likely 23 or higher. Quakes manager, Drew Saylor, has been more than a little impressed with Diaz’s growth during the season especially with his hitting spree following his return from the 7-day DL in July.
“I think first thing is, he’s healthy,” Saylor said. “Getting used to the rigors of a 140-game Minor League season is the biggest thing. Second, he’s done a good job of staying under control when initiating his swing. He’s been able to sit there and be a little more balanced, which has been his biggest adjustment. He’s done a really good job of learning how pitchers are trying to attack him.”
D.J. Peters (21) – Right Field
I am taking some editorial license with Peters as he had an absolutely outstanding season in 2016 after being drafted by the Dodgers in the 4th round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Western Nevada Community College. The bending of the rule comes as an early December writing would still have had Peters as a 20-year-old. The 6’6”/225-pound right-hand hitting outfielder turned 21 on December 12, 2016 and did play the entire 2016 season as a 20-year-old.
Peters simply was a dominant player in the rookie level Pioneer League in his first year of professional baseball. He was in the top six in basically every offensive category:
Runs 63 1st
Hits 92 2nd
Doubles 24 2nd
HR 13 3rd
RBI 48 5th
Walks 35 2nd
OBP .437 3rd
SLG .615 2nd
BA .351 6th
OPS 1.052 1st
Peters did get a late season call up to the Great Lakes Loons during their playoff run. He appeared in six games and had four hits while driving in four runs. Among his four hits were a home run and two doubles.
Mitch Hansen (20) – Outfielder/Designated hitter
Hansen was drafted by the Dodgers in the 2nd round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Plano High School in Plano, Texas. He spent the entire 2015 season with the Arizona League Dodgers and his season did not go as well as might have been expected for a 2nd round selection.
His 2016 season with the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League was quite a different story. Another big left-handed hitter, the 6’4”/210-pound Hansen led the league in games played with 70 and had a league high 293 at bats. On the season, he hit .311 with an OBP of .356 and 11 home runs. He produced a team high 50 runs batted in and his 91 hits were the third most in the league while his 55 runs scored were second in the league trailing only the 63 of teammate DJ Peters. He finished off his season with 13 hits in the final six games of the season.
Carlos Rincon (19) – Outfielder
Rincon was signed by the Dodgers on July 2, 2015 out of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He was one of nine international prospects signed by the Dodgers at that time and received a relatively small signing bonus of $350,000. That is, small in comparison to the $16 million bonus given to Cuban pitcher Yadier Alvarez who was signed on the same day.
Rincon split his time in 2016 equally between the DSL Dodgers and the AZL Dodgers, playing 26 games at each level. With the DSL Dodgers, he hit .364 with six home runs and 26 runs batted in. That performance earned the 6’3”/190-pound right-handed hitter a promotion to the AZL Dodgers on July 22nd. In the Arizona League, he hit .301 with seven home runs and 23 runs batted in. Seventeen of his 31 hits were for extra bases. Rincon played primarily right field where he had seven outfield assists.