Now in our third installment of this series, we’re firmly into the top-half of the Los Angeles Dodgers 40-man roster — having already covered players No. 21-30, where Matt Kemp and Julio Urias fell, and Nos. 31-40.
As a reminder, the criteria has nothing to do with age or trade value, but simply evaluating which players are likely to have the biggest impact on team success this season.
20. Walker Buehler, SP
Hard to believe anyone saw this type of rise coming when Buehler had Tommy John surgery in August 2015, or immediately after being drafted in the first round. And yet, here we are — with the 23-year-old having already made his MLB debut despite just 20 career Minor League starts.
From a ‘stuff’ perspective, Buehler is everything you want — high powered fastball, nasty breaking ball, etc. The only question now is how quickly the Dodgers can get that refined. In his first taste of the Majors, the results weren’t too pretty — 5.94 FIP in 9.1 innings.
But there were moments when you saw his potential bursting through. Now heading into the 2018 season, Dodgers Dave Roberts has already indicated that Buehler will be pitching strictly as a starter.
Could he make the big leagues out of Spring Training? The talent is definitely there but it’s more likely that Buehler starts the season in the Minors and breaks into the Major League rotation sometime around the All-Star break.
19. Logan Forsythe, 2B
It’s crazy to think it was just a year ago that the Dodgers traded one of the top pitching prospects in baseball (Jose De Leon) for two years Forsythe. At the time, Forsythe was coming off a two-year stretch in which he posted 6.8 WAR — the eighth-highest mark among second basemen in the league.
Unfortunately, last season was a different story. In 119 games, Forsythe hit a miserable .225/.351/.327 — good for just 1.7 WAR. While solid defensively, the $9 million Forsythe is due this season suddenly seems unreasonable and one was to wonder whether the Dodgers would consider giving Chris Taylor more time at second base considering the glut of options they have in the outfield.
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, maybe it’s that Forsythe’s postseason was arguably his best stretch all year (.297/.435/.351).
18. Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP
In 2013 and 2014, the Dodgers had just three pitchers throw more than 200 innings: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Ryu. While Kershaw was in a world of his own (14.7 WAR), many would probably be surprised to know that Greinke and Ryu were incredibly comparable…
Greinke: 32-12, 2.68 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 7.7 WAR
Ryu: 28-15, 3.17 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 7.4 WAR
Greinke was rewarded for his performance with a six-year, $206.5 million contract, while Ryu seemed to linger in relative anonymity. Unfortunately, that anonymity was furthered by a rash of injuries that kept Ryu out of both the 2015 season (zero starts) and the following year (one start).
Heading into 2017 it was fair to wonder what, exactly, the Dodgers could expect from Ryu. All things considered, you could say it was a success. He made 24 starts, threw 126.2 innings and sported a 3.77 ERA.
In fact, Ryu actually posted the highest strikeouts per nine innings of his career (8.24), but along with that came his highest walks (3.20) and home runs allowed per nine (1.56).
As it stands, Ryu heads into 2018 as the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter.
17. Joc Pederson, OF
To a casual baseball fan who only tuned in for the playoffs, this ranking may seem far too low considering Pederson may have been the World Series MVP had the Dodgers won Game 7. In 26 at-bats, Pederson’s on-base plus slugging percentage was a ridiculous 1.186 thanks to the fact that six of his seven hits were for extra-bases.
To a tuned-in fan, however, this ranking might actually be too high, considering what a disappointing season Pederson had overall. Coming off his best year yet in 2016 (.246/.352/.495 with 25 HR), many had big expectations for the 25-year-old.
Unfortunately, Pederson regressed in every way imaginable, leading to a demotion when the team acquired Curtis Granderson in mid-August.
Personally, I remain optimistic about Pederson’s long-term future with the organization. I think he’s poised for a breakout year (either in L.A. or elsewhere) that will only be dependent on getting ample opportunity.
16. Kiké Hernandez, OF
Like Pederson, No. 16 on this list was another unlikely playoff hero. Hernandez batted .320/.452/.720 in 31 plate appearances. Also like Pederson, however, Hernandez heads into the season facing questions about where his playing time will come from.
At this point in his career, the 26-year-old has defined himself by two distinguishing tools: his ability to mash left-handed-pitching and versatility that allows him to play all over the field.
For his career, Hernandez has an .892 OPS against left-handed pitching, with 19 home runs in just 382 at-bats. Defensively, Hernandez saw time last season at every position other than catcher. For these two reasons alone, Hernandez will be a fixture on the roster for years to come.
The question is, can he develop into more than just a platoon/utility player?
15. Kenta Maeda, SP
It’s like we’re on a run of playoff heroes here. This time with a starter-turned-lights-out-reliever. Fortunately for Maeda, his dominant playoff performance has probably erased the disappointment of the 2017 regular season from the minds of many.
After a fantastic rookie season in which Maeda made 32 starts (most on the team) and posted an 3.48 ERA, expectations were high for his second year. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite so smoothly.
In 25 starts last season, Maeda posted a 4.22 ERA despite seeing his K/9 and BB/9 both improve. For many international pitchers, struggling in year two is expected as teams have more information and experience against you.
Now the question is whether he can rebound this season.
14. Andrew Toles, OF
Admittedly, many folks will be surprised to see Toles this high — let alone above fellow outfielders Pederson and Hernandez, but if you recall, there’s a belief here Toles could become the 2018 version of Chris Taylor.
In 48 games after being called up from the Minors in 2016, Toles slashed .314/.365/.505 and posted an astonishing 1.6 WAR. That success continued into the postseason, as he hit .364./.423/.455 in 26 plate appearances.
Heading into 2017, Toles was slated to be the team’s regular left fielder and a potential breakout star. But just 31 games in, Toles tore his ACL and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Now, fully healthy (presumably), Toles is back in contention for a spot in left field that remains up for grabs between himself, Hernandez, Pederson and prospect Alex Verdugo. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Toles to see the most time out there.
13. Scott Alexander, RP
The newest Dodger, Alexander jumped all the way to No. 13 on this list despite being someone just about none of us had heard of until a couple of weeks ago. Acquired in a three-team trade with the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox, Alexander is a left-handed-reliever coming off a career-best year.
In 58 games last season, he posted a 2.48 ERA and the second-highest ground-ball rate in all of baseball (73.8 percent). With the Dodgers bullpen in flux, Alexander figures to slot in as the teams second- or third-best reliever as the roster currently stands.
12. Tony Cingrani, RP
If Alexander is the third-best reliever, then who is the second? Well, it might just be Cingrani, the 2017 trade deadline acquisition that flew largely under the radar. Acquired for Scott Van Slyke at the last minute, Cingrani came to Los Angeles and was remarkable.
He pitched to a 2.79 ERA (1.86 FIP) and a 13.03 K/9 ratio in 22 appearances. That success continued into the playoffs, where in seven appearances Cingrani allowed just one run.
11. Yasmani Grandal, C
What’s to like about Grandal. Well, take this into consideration…
Grandal was No. 8 in WAR among catchers last season, Barnes No. 11 despite just 262 plate appearances (no one else in top 23 under 300 PA). 2016? Grandal was No. 6. 2015? Grandal was No. 8. But yeah, probably not top 10…
— Jeff Spiegel (@JeffSpiegel) January 4, 2018
Think about that. We’re talking about a catcher who has been in the top-eight at his position for the past three seasons. And yet everyone is ready to cast him aside. Yes, Austin Barnes played really well last season and probably deserves the first shot at being the everyday catcher.
But let’s not forget the 49 home runs Grandal has hit over the past two seasons. Or the 7.7 WAR he has posted in three years since coming over in a trade for now-teammate Matt Kemp. Not to mention Grandal’s status as one of the best pitch framers in baseball.
Yes, trading Grandal would make the most sense, especially given the dearth of catching talent across the league, considering he will be a free agent in 2019 and that the Dodgers have some depth at the position within the organization.
But as long as he’s on this roster, he’ll remain a major asset.