TDG’S Triple Play: Los Angeles Dodgers!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
This week I (@barrington_phil) am joined by Ben Sanders (@HPBenSanders) and Greg Hoogkamp (@GregHoogkamp), follow us on Twitter and send us any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.
Miguel Vargas, Age: 25, Position: 2B
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Viva Las Vargas!
“All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel”
The son of legendary Cuban baseball player Lazaro Vargas, the Vargas family defected from Cuba in 2015, when Miguel was just 15-years-old, settling in Florida after stops in Ecuador and the Bahamas. The Dodgers signed Miguel for just $300,000 two years later.
Vargas made his pro debut in 2018, starting at Rookie ball where he dominated in 30 games before ending the season in Single-A, where in 23 games he fared not-so-well. 2019 saw Vargas impress at Single -A and he made it to High-A before the season ended, and he made his first appearance on the Dodgers top prospect list, coming in at #28 on the mlb.com list.
The Dodgers practiced patience after the lost 2020 COVID season, and in 2021 Vargas started back at High-A, where he again impressed and lasted only 37 games before being promoted to Double-A for the rest of the season, ending as the Dodgers #11 prospect and beginning to make his name known as a Dynasty player to watch.
“Let me shoot a seven with every shot”
2022 was a full coming out party for Vargas; he spent (almost) the whole season at Triple-A, where in 520 Plate appearances he hit 17 homers, stole 16 bases and slashed .304/.404/.511, while walking 13.7% and striking out only 14.6% of the time. He made his big-league debut last August 2nd, and while he didn’t show much in his 18-game cup-of-coffee, only one homer, one steal and a .170/.200/.255 slash line; but I am throwing that baby out with the bathwater, whatever that means.
“Lady luck please let the dice stay hot”
Our 10th overall rated third baseman heading into 2023, Vargas landed at 88th and 80th overall in our top 500 Dynasty rankings for OBP and AVG leagues, respectively, and seventh overall on our top 200 prospects lists. That’s why he is a popular pick for Rookie of the Year. Vargas had an interesting start to his spring, not swinging the first 12 times he came to the plate, to help him continue to see pitches while he recovers from a pinkie injury. He has an .400 OBP in spring so far due to that, though only a .229 average in 45 plate appearances. Here’s hoping the pinkie is ready to go for opening day this week.
“A fortune won and lost on every deal”
The Dodgers know what they have, and Miguel is going to be their second baseman of the present, and hopefully (apologies to Gavin Lux), future. He’s played second base in all their spring training games, most often hitting in the fifth spot or lower in the lineup. It is not hard to see Vargas providing good AVG and OBP with some pop, a few steals, and a lot of counting stats in his first full season. The hype train will only continue to pick up passengers; if the opportunity presents itself, riding this train will benefit your dynasty teams, this season and beyond.
Tony Gonsolin, Age: 28, Position: SP
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Can you believe this shift?
You will have a tough time finding anyone who believes Tony Gonsolin is as good as his 2022 traditional stats suggest. How does a pitcher strike out less than a batter per inning and manage a 16-1 record, 2.14 ERA and 0.87 WHIP? With a .207 BABIP, that’s how. Surely this was just the result of unbelievable batted ball luck. But if that’s the case, Gonsolin must just be a really fortunate fellow, because his career BABIP is .223, and he’s never posted one over .250 in four seasons. In fact, his whole team seems quite lucky. The Dodgers have a .261 team BABIP since 2019, well ahead of nearest competitors Houston (.273) and St. Louis (.278).
The explanation is the defensive shift. The Dodgers are the best at it. They’ve allowed a .259 BABIP over the last four years while using what Fangraphs classifies as “traditional” shifts, and they’ve used them 9,057 times, easily the most of any team. Gonsolin has clearly benefited, with a .195 BABIP with a shift at his back last season and a .306 mark without.
Whiff upon a star
MLB’s shift ban might seem like a disaster for Gonsolin given those numbers. I don’t think it will be that bad, though. The “ban” only forces teams to play two infielders on each side of second base, with no restrictions on outfield positioning. Teams will still move fielders around, and the analytically inclined Dodgers are likely to keep doing it as well as anyone. He won’t have a .207 BABIP again, but that was unlikely to repeat anyway.
Gonsolin may be able to adjust even if the shift does have a big impact. He has a strong four-pitch mix, led by his splitter when facing lefties and his slider against righties. His whiff rates on those two pitches last year weren’t bad – 32.3% for the splitter and 36.8% for the slider – but both were career worsts. In 2021, they were 41.4% and 47.8%, respectively. It’s likely he was content to pound the zone last season given how effective the Dodger defense was, but he has the potential to rack up more strikeouts.
To health with you
Gonsolin will miss the start of the season with a sprained ankle, which isn’t nearly as big an issue as his history of arm woes. He battled a forearm strain in 2022 and shoulder fatigue in 2021. Should either of those problems pop up again, it would be a significant red flag. He’ll turn 29 in May and has only topped 100 innings in a season twice in seven years between the minors and MLB.
Whatever innings Gonsolin does provide should be high-quality. He might not match his career 2.51 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, but projection systems that put those numbers around 4.00 and 1.20 are selling him way short. Something like 140 IP with a 3.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 12 wins and a K per inning seems very attainable. He’ll be more valuable in leagues with shallower rosters and daily moves than in deeper formats that place a premium on eating innings, but his combination of skills and situation make him useful anywhere.
Diego Cartaya, Age: 21, Position: C, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Greg Hoogkamp
Who am I (What’s my name?)
The Los Angeles Dodgers seem to be set at the catching position for the foreseeable future. Will Smith, one of the top catchers in Major League Baseball will don the tools of ignorance at Chavez Ravine again this season and their 2022 second round pick out of the University of Louisville, Dalton Rushing, absolutely raked during his debut. Sandwiched in between these two could be the most talented backstop of the bunch, Diego Cartaya. Cartaya was a highly touted International Free Agent who signed out of Venezuela in 2018 for $2.5 million. He is an extremely proficient hitter with the potential to have above average bat-to-ball skills and plus power when all is said and done. He is also a solid receiver with a strong throwing arm. For obvious reasons he has been compared to Salvador Perez who plays the same position at the same stature, hailing from the same country.
Young, Wild, and Free
Cartaya spent his 2022 season between Low-A Rancho Cucamonga and High-A Great Lakes, showing the Dodgers he was ready for the promotion. At the two levels combined, he hit .254/.389/.503 with 22 HR which was 40% better than league average while playing the season nearly 2 years younger than his competition. Many outlets have Cartaya as the top ranked prospect in a deep Dodgers system; he currently ranks as the 14th best prospect by MLB Pipeline and 18th by Baseball America. He was also selected to play in the Future’s Game at Dodgers Stadium this past summer with fellow top prospect and future Dodger teammates Bobby Miller and Miguel Vargas.
Cartaya has some swing and miss in his game; his strikeout rate last season was 26.7%. This isn’t a terrible rate, but digging in a little deeper, you see that his zone contact percentage was sub 80% (79.3%) which is not ideal for sustained success. His swing decisions are good as he chased pitches outside of the zone just 25.5% of the time while putting up a 14.1% walk rate. He has a short swing which is focused on hitting the ball on the barrel and has the potential to reach his above average, future value hit tool.
For a big, strong catcher (listed at 6’3 and 219 lbs) his exit velocities are fairly pedestrian. His 90th percentile EV is 103.6 mph while his Average EV is 88.1 mph. For perspective, these exit velocities would both rank in 30th percentile for major league hitters. A couple of things to keep in mind here is that Cartaya is still just 21 years old and will be for the entire 2023 season.
It is possible he could get a little stronger as he develops physically. Secondly, he should be able to tap into more of his plus power with some growth in his contact skills. If this growth takes place, and I think that it will, Cartaya’s exit velocities should increase in a big way. He also has no trouble lifting the ball to the pull side which will help him reach his power potential.
The Next Episode
Cartaya’s defense is a continued work in progress; he threw out just 19% of baserunners and had ten passed balls in 2022. His physical tools and high baseball IQ, combined with the Dodgers amazing player development, lead us to think these results will improve dramatically. He has also put in some work at first base this spring to help diversify his skills. Cartaya has always been a highly regarded prospect, and by all accounts, he is a calm, down-to-earth player who doesn’t let the pressure get to him. Cartaya will likely begin his 2023 season at AA Tulsa and with continued growth and success could advance in the system quickly.