The Los Angeles Dodgers ran away with the National League West in 2017 on their way to a run to the World Series, and they will look to utilize more young talent to repeat as division champs and avenge their Fall Classic loss.
The Dodgers may not have an easy road though, as they will be challenged again by last year’s Wild Card winners, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, while the revamped San Diego Padres hope to make a push while the San Francisco Giants continue to rebuild. Here’s a look at some of the young talent that will play a major role in deciding the division in ’18.
Walker Buehler, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect entering this season, Buehler won’t start the season with the team but is expected to join the rotation by mid-season and play a key role in Los Angeles’ push to the World Series this year. The ‘15 first round pick will probably be on a strict innings limit around 140-150, and while a good chunk of those will come in the Minors, he’ll be able to help the Dodgers this season at some point.
Buehler blazed through three levels of the Minors last year, striking out 125 in 88 2/3 innings with a 3.35 ERA. The right-hander even made his MLB debut but struggled, allowing eight runs in 9 1/3 innings over eight appearances out of the bullpen. While Buehler could help the Dodgers out of the ‘pen again this year, his future is as a starter where he can use his full arsenal featuring a fastball that sits in the high 90s, a cutting slider that he is still working on, and the main attraction — his curveball. Buehler’s curve was rated as one of the best in the Minors last year and complements his heat to keep hitters off balance at around 88-92 MPH.
It was a small sample size and he did have his issues, but Fangraphs pitch data shows he relies heavily on the fastball and curve, with the slider being used somewhat sparingly at this point. While he did get hit, he still struck out 12 batters in his brief stint in LA and his stuff is good enough to help make him a dominant starter in the future and a weapon for the ’18 Dodgers.
Zack Godley, Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks
Godley will be 28 years old this season, was never a truly heralded prospect and has 40 big league starts to his name, but after putting together a strong ‘17 he seems to be on the verge of a true breakout season if he can near 200 innings. The Diamondbacks don’t have much other young talent on the horizon and will hope young-but-experienced starters Godley, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker and Patrick Corbin can back up ace Zack Greinke and form a strong rotation in the NL West — with the help of a newly installed humidor that should give each one of these pitchers’ numbers a boost in home starts.
The right-handed Godley started 26 games for Arizona last year, winning eight games with a 3.37 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 9.6 K/9. He improved on a ‘16 season that was split between the rotation and bullpen, boosting his strikeout rate while maintaining the high ground-ball percentage (55.3%) that he relies on. Godley’s strikeouts last season were similar to what he posted in the Minors, so there’s no fluke there. Godley features two types of fastballs, a cutter and sinker, to go along with a curveball and changeup. That arsenal helped him notch a 13.3 SwStr% and 55% ground-ball rate that both ranked in the top 10 (ninth and fourth respectively) among pitchers with at least 150 innings last year. While ZiPS projects a bump in ERA closer to 4, that would be among the worst-case scenarios given his 3.32 xFIP and impressive strikeout and ground-ball rates. Godley has a very high floor with a ceiling that may still be rising.
Ryan McMahon, First Baseman, Colorado Rockies
A ‘13 2nd-round pick, McMahon has steadily developed in the Minors leading to a ‘17 season full of bests. McMahon hit a combined 20 homers and 39 doubles with 88 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and a .355/.403/.583 slash line in 119 games between Double-A and Triple-A. The 23-year-old entered Spring Training with what looked like a clear path to a starting spot, but with the return of Carlos Gonzalez pushing Ian Desmond back to first base, McMahon may have to wait just a bit before earning that everyday spot in the lineup.
McMahon’s spring went well, and he not only looked good defensively at first base after transition from third but also had success at the plate with two homers, eight doubles and 22 hits through 63 at-bats (.349 average). McMahon has been a .300 hitter with a .368 OBP in five Minor League seasons, and while his power has been around average for his position, a lot of those doubles should turn to homers at Coors Field. Service time may come in to play delaying his ‘18 debut, but McMahon should be regularly penciled into the lineup before long.
Manuel Margot, Outfielder, San Diego Padres
The 23-year-old Margot had a very strong rookie year with the Padres that was full of surprises, and while he has ability to build on that this season, his numbers may look quite different in the future. In 126 games with San Diego, Margot hit 13 homers and stole 17 bases with a .263 average. The thing that stood out was the 13 homers, which looks to be quite a fluky total.
Margot had never hit more than 10 homers in any of his five previous seasons in the Minors, but his 17 steals were also a career low after swiping 164 bags during that time. Margot also had a K% of 20 last season, and while that’s not shocking for a rookie, there’s reason to believe he can lower it closer to 15% given his career rate in the Minors (11.3 K% at Triple-A in ‘16). ZiPS projections have him hitting 12 homers, stealing 20 bases and hitting .267. With the potential to steal 20-30 bases and hit over .270 if he can cut down on the strikeouts, Margot can have a very strong, very different sophomore season.
Chris Shaw, Outifleder, San Francisco Giants
Blocked at first base by Brandon Belt, Shaw moved to left field at the end of Spring Training last year and is improving on his defense. A power prospect ranked No. 2 in the system, the left-handed Shaw had a .241 ISO (isolated power) last season, hit a couple bombs this Spring and hit a combined 45 homers in the last two seasons in the Minors. One Major issue for Shaw is his strikeouts, and his 29.4 K% in 88 Triple-A games last year will have to drop for him to be effective in the bigs.
Shaw will also have to improve on his plate discipline after drawing just 20 walks all season. Despite the low OBP, Shaw has hit for average to go along with the power, so the potential is obviously there. He will begin the season in Triple-A and could work his way into a platoon with Hunter Pence at some point this season. ZiPS went ahead an projected 19 homers and 64 RBIs in 500 at-bats over 130 games with a .236/.287/.414 slash. It would be a bit surprising for Shaw to earn that many at-bats with a slash that poor, so those numbers may be a bit unrealistic. If Shaw continues to mash and can get on base at a higher rate, however, the Giants will certainly take full advantage.