Dodgers 2014 Minor League Preview: Arizona League

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With the season starting about a month from now, I thought I’d familiarize Dodgers fans with their minor league affiliates, level by level. The organization has six teams in the states and a seventh club in the Dominican Republic. Two of the affiliates, in the Arizona League and Pioneer League, are rookie leagues, also called short-season leagues, since they start in June. That was a lot of commas.

The Arizona League teams play in their clubs’ spring training complexes, on the backfields, which are smaller than normal minor league stadiums. This often inflates offense and pitching alike, so scouting the stat lines won’t bear fruit. The average age for players last year was under 20 years old, the youngest of any league in the lower 48.

So, without further ado, let’s explore the lowest rung on the Dodgers’ minor league ladder, the Arizona League Dodgers.

2013 Record: 34-22 (Lost League Championship Game)

Prospect aficionados, like myself, don’t pay much attention to minor league team records. However, it’s always nice when the team does well. Last year’s AZL club did very well, reaching the championship game but losing to the Giants. Even in the minors, it sucks to lose to the Giants.

2013 Team MVP: Adam Law [image src=”http://www.milb.com/assets/images/6/9/4/58722694/cuts/law_double_1pfmxuoe_3nb1rxzk.jpg” width=”240″ height=”135″ title=”Adam Law” lightbox=”yes” align=”center”]

To be fair, the 23 year old rookie was playing against players a few years younger, but he did dominate. Law batted .357/.430/.419 with 21 stolen bases in 33 games for the AZL Dodgers, while playing all over the field.

2014 Manager: John Shoemaker

Shoemaker has been with the organization since 1977, serving most recently as the Coordinator of Arizona Instruction last year. He led the 2005 Jacksonville Suns to the Southern League championship, a team considered to be one of the best in minor league history. Notable prospects on that roster included Russell Martin, James Loney, Joel Guzman, Andy LaRoche, Chad Billingsley, Jon Broxton, Edwin Jackson, Hong Chih Kuo and others.

John will be flanked by pitching coach Hector Berrios and hitting coach Henry Cruz. Berrios served the same role in Chattanooga last year, while Cruz has been in the organization’s Dominican campus the previous five seasons.

2014 Players to Watch: Jairo Pacheco, MJ Villegas, Ibandel Isabel

Let me preface this by saying it’s no guarantee that any of these players will play with the AZL Dodgers in 2014. This is simply an exercise in projection and a means of making people aware of sleepers in the system. Having said that, these three definitely have some potential.

Pacheco was #51 on my top prospect list after thoroughly dominating the Dominican Summer League in his age 16 season. The Dodgers will aggressively move him to the states this summer, where he figures to start in extended spring training before joining a rookie league affiliate, likely the AZL club.

M.J. Villegas was the Dodgers’ 23rd round pick in 2013 out of Seton Catholic High School in Arizona. He was mentioned by name by the organization’s scouting director, Logan White, as a guy to watch. M.J. didn’t pitch during his debut but figures to see action in short-season ball in 2014.

Isabel was signed around the same time as Ariel Sandoval and Michael Medina, two of the club’s bigger bonus guys during the 2012-2013 signing period. While he’s a little older (he’ll be 19 in June), he fared far better than his bonus baby counterparts. Ibandel hit .327/.398/.500 in 57 games for the Dominican Summer League club in 2013 and ranked 9th in the league with an .898 OPS. He doesn’t have the tools of Sandoval or Medina, but he’s more polished at the plate and could move quicker. I don’t see the purpose in sending him back to the DSL in 2014, so hopefully he’ll make his American debut over the summer.

2014 Opening Day: June 20

As I stated above, the rookie leagues start later than full season leagues, with abbreviated schedules. Unfortunately, there’s no audio or video feed of AZL games, so the best way to follow the action is at MiLB.com or to read daily recaps on DodgersNation.com, which will start along with the minor league season in April.

Next up, the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League.

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