Young hurlers offer bright future for Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw says hello to Zach Lee. One future Dodgers Hall-of-Famer shaking hands with another?

There’s an old adage in football that states defense wins championships. A team that keeps its opponents out of the end zone has a better chance of victory.

In baseball, there’s a similar belief: Good pitching stops good hitting every time. A balanced baseball attack with timely hitting and effective pitching is the goal for any team, but pitching is at a premium in Major League Baseball.

A good illustration of the importance of pitching can be found by looking at recent World Series champions. Over the past 10 years, there has only been one World Series champ that finished lower than 12th out of the 30 MLB squads in team pitching.

Six of the past 10 teams to win baseball’s biggest prize have fielded a pitching squad that finished in the top 10 in team pitching. With that said, fans in Los Angeles should be excited about the future of the Dodgers.

Why? Because the Dodgers boast a bevy of exciting young pitchers who are poised to lead the team on the mound in the very near future.

MLB recently ranked the top 20 prospects for each organization. For the Dodgers, eight of the team’s top 10 prospects are pitchers. This is above and beyond the young hurlers who have already made a mark in Los Angeles in 2011 – Rubby De La Rosa, Javy Guerra, Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen.

The top-rated prospect in the Los Angeles organization is 19-year-old pitcher Zach Lee. Lee has scouts and Dodger personnel salivating with his filthy stuff. The second-best prospect is starting pitcher Nate Eovaldi, who impressed in his brief stint with the Dodgers last season. Lee is probably two years away from toeing the rubber at Chavez Ravine, but Eovaldi will be in the starting rotation mix in 2012.

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that the Dodgers have a cloning device for young pitchers. Almost every young top pitching prospect has the same build (around 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds).

Here is a look at the rest of the Dodgers’ top 10 pitching prospects:

Allen Webster – I have to admit, I first thought of Mitch Webster when I heard Allen’s name. This Webster, though, is primed to be much more than a utility player like Mitch. Allen, the No. 3 overall prospect in the organization, is a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher. With his mid-90s sinking fastball, Webster posted a 6-3 record at double-A in 2011, and that was after he went 5-2 (with a 2.33 ERA!) at single-A. At single-A, Webster also struck out 62 hitters in 54 innings. He is projected to hit Los Angeles by 2013.

Chris Reed – Reed is another player with whom I wasn’t very familiar. Rated fifth by MLB, the 21-year-old Reed is projected to be a reliever in Los Angeles. Reed, a 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher, only tossed seven innings at single-A in 2011 after being a first-round draft selection out of Stanford by the Dodgers. Despite his limited time in the minor leagues, MLB projects Reed as being Dodger-ready by next season.

Chris Withrow – Another 6-3, 200-pound pitching clone, the 22-year-old Withrow logged 128 innings at double-A in 2011. Withrow (rated No. 7 in the Los Angeles prospect rankings) went 6-6 at Chattanooga with 130 strikeouts. He is following the Clayton Kershaw pipeline from Texas to Los Angeles. MLB thinks Withrow will be in Los Angeles by 2013.

Ethan Martin – Does this sound familiar? Martin is 22 years old, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, and is expected to be ready for Chavez Ravine by 2013! Martin, who is slotted to be a reliever for the Dodgers, posted a 5-3 record at double-A in 2011. Before the promotion to double-A, Martin had a 4-4 record at single-A. He is rated as the 8th-best prospect for the Dodgers.

Shawn Tolleson – Tolleson, who was named the organization’s Pitcher of the Year in 2011, was once touted as having better stuff than Kershaw … by Kershaw himself! The 24-year-old Tolleson was an all-star travel teammate of Kershaw’s in Texas. He was even more highly regarded than Kershaw before blowing out his elbow and requiring reconstructive surgery. Tolleson seems to be fully recovered from his injury, as evidenced by his 4-2 record, 1.62 ERA and 12 saves at double-A in 2011. MLB predicts that Tolleson will make the Dodgers’ 25-man roster this season.

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