After winning the California League championship in 2015, High-A Rancho Cucamonga went 79-61 with the league’s third best offense and allowed the second-fewest runs last season. However, their repeat hopes were dashed by the Lancaster Jethawks, who beat the Quakes in a best-of-three series and handed them a first round exit from the postseason.
This season they look for payback with the strongest roster of all the Los Angeles Dodgers’ full-season affiliates.
With a few key returning players, as well as some new faces, the Quakes’ offense should be as potent as it was last year when they averaged nearly 5.5 runs per game.
The biggest name returning to the Quakes in 2017 is Yusniel Diaz. The Cuban native spent almost all of last season with Rancho, except for a three-game rehab assignment in the Arizona League. He batted .272/.333/.418 with the Quakes, but struggled at times due to a nagging shoulder injury.
A healthy 2017 campaign will help establish Diaz as one of the best hitters in the system. He will be joined in the outfield by D.J. Peters and Ariel Sandoval. Peters, last year’s fourth-rounder, batted .351/.437/.615 with Ogden in his debut.
Sandoval spent 50 games with the Quakes last season, hitting just .229. All three are under 22 years old and capable of playing every outfield position.
On the infield, another Cuban native takes his place at the keystone. Omar Estevez, who spent last season with Low-A Great Lakes, hit just .255/.298/.389. However, the 19-year-old showed off impressive ability with the glove during Spring Training.
Estevez’s partner up the middle will be Drew Jackson, who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in March. The Stanford alum spent last season in the California League with the Mariners’ affiliate in Bakersfield, where he batted .258/.332/.345 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases.
Behind the plate, Will Smith returns to his highest stop from his debut season. The No. 32 overall pick in the 2016 Draft will look to improve his offense after hitting .216 in 25 games with the Quakes in 2016.
Others of note: Ibandel Isabel crushed 12 home runs in just 56 games between Ogden and Great Lakes last year, though he did rack up 77 strikeouts. Erick Mejia led the team with 24 stolen bases but also committed 41 errors.
As the California League is one of the better hitters’ leagues in the Minors, it can be a daunting task for any pitching prospect to asked to perform under such difficult conditions. However, the Quakes’ pitching staff includes some of the organization’s best arms and should be up to the challenge.
Headlining the rotation is Walker Buehler. The team’s first pick from 2015 made his debut last season and blew scouts away with his pure stuff. Buehler is likely to be on a fairly strict innings limited, a fact that will give comfort to opposing batters.
Joining Buehler at the top of the rotation is Mitchell White. Last year’s second-rounder, White pitched his way up to Rancho in 2016 without allowing an earned run in 22 innings. He’s also been the subject of some hyperbole and adds to the Quakes’ enviable 1-2 punch.
Converted shortstop Dennis Santana joins the rotation after a strong showing with Great Lakes. The Dominican native posted a 3.07 ERA in 111.1 innings last season with the Loons. He’ll turn 21 this month.
An under-the-radar southpaw will help flesh out the staff in Caleb Ferguson. The 20-year-old had Tommy John his senior year out of high school but the Dodgers took a gamble on him in the 38th round in 2014. It’s begun to pay off, as the Ohio native posted a 2.31 ERA in 66.1 innings last year, producing a ridiculous 63 to five strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In the bullpen, Shea Spitzbarth is likely to take over the closer role. He recorded six saves for the Loons last season, striking out 60 batters and yielding just a 2.72 ERA in 39.2 innings overall. He also made nine appearances for the Dodgers during the spring.
Others of note: Dean Kremer, last year’s 14th-rounder, pitched well in his debut and went on to pitch for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. Kevin Brown (no, not that one) pitched well out of the bullpen for Rancho last season and looks to continue his strong performance in 2017.
While Julio Urias was included on the Quakes’ Opening Day roster, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts explained it as merely a paper move. Urias is expected to make his 2017 debut with Triple-A Oklahoma City.
3B: Erick Mejia
SS: Drew Jackson
CF: Yusniel Diaz
RF: D.J. Peters
LF: Ariel Sandoval
2B: Omar Estevez
C: Will Smith
1B: Ibandel Isabel
DH: Logan Landon
Walker Buehler, Mitchell White, Dennis Santana, Caleb Ferguson, Dean Kremer
Shea Spitzbarth (Closer)
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