Dodgers’ Player Development Is Reminiscent of the MCU

Marvel Studios has had unprecedented success in casting the right actors and pairing them with the proper writers and directors, respectively, to help build their multi-billion dollar well-oiled machine that churns out successful movies and actors every year. And after the Dodgers’ 9-1 win over the Miami Marlins, we’ve once again been reminded that Los Angeles has been MLB’s Marvel Studios.

The newest evidence? Rookie infielder, Edwin Rios.

Entering Wednesday’s game, the 25-year-old had a .273/.429/.455 line in 28 plate appearances. Then he proceeds to collect three hits- among them his first two career home runs- and a walk, in five trips to the plate, raising his numbers to an excellent 1.216 OPS across 33 plate appearances.

Yes, that’s a small sample size, but this goes beyond Rios, who’s also had an impressive minor league career up to this point (.881 OPS in 438 games). This has become a trend with the organization, particularly under Andrew Friedman’s stewardship. Kind of like Kevin Feige with Marvel.

Now the Dodgers haven’t won a championship yet (Marvel hasn’t won a Best Picture Oscar either), but their “empire” constitutes of six, looking like seven, straight 90+ win-seasons and NL West Titles, four NLCS appearances, two NL pennants, and a non-stop supply of emerging players.

But remember, the MCU didn’t pop until Year Five when the first Avengers movie came out.

And while they haven’t been able to perform in the Endgame just yet, 2019 is Year Five under Friedman, and this length and level of National League dominance and World Series contention are hard to rival and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, with the best looking like it’s yet to come. And it all starts and ends with the Dodgers’ talent accumulation.

The common misconception, however, is that LA only has an elite product because they “buy” all their players. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Their castings of actors- a.k.a. their draft selections and under-the-radar free-agent signings and trades- have been excellent. And they have paired them with the right scripts and directors- a.k.a. their player development system- to bring the best out of them.

Twelve of the players on Wednesday’s 25-man roster were drafted and brought up with the Dodgers. Three other key contributors were undrafted or amateur free-agent signings, while two others were fringe MLBers-turned-All-Stars with blue. And of course, there are Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda, who came over from Asia for a combined $51 million guaranteed over 14 years, which is a small price to pay for MLB teams.

The endless supply of young talent that keeps flowing (players they’ve been criticized for holding onto) and the annual diamonds in the rough they keep etching out to fill gaping holes is rooted in their scouting and player developmental system. And they make it all look easy.

You have 2016 and 2017 Rookie of the Year winners in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger that will be contending for MVPs. There is Walker Buehler who’s more-than-ready to take the mantle from Clayton Kershaw and become a Cy Young winner. Then there’s also Julio Urías and Alex Verdugo that are quality players still in their early twenties.

Justin Turner and Max Muncy were the castaways who joined the franchise in their late 20’s and turned themselves into elite players. And there’s also Chris Taylor, who failed with the Seattle Mariners but turned into a critical contributor for a championship-worthy ballclub in Los Angeles.

All said the front office had built up a near-perfect squad this year with minimal flaws, from an elite offense to an excellent starting rotation, to a bullpen that, granted has underwhelmed, but has the talent to be an asset.

But what about the weakness at catcher? No worries; all they had to do was turn to the 24-year-old rookie, Will Smith. He’s viewed as a future All-Star but has already accumulated a 1.4 WAR with nine home runs and a 1.192 OPS in 23 games (80 plate appearances).

And the weakness in the bullpen they did not correctly address? I’ll raise you one top prospect in Dustin May, and another impressive one in Tony Gonsolin- two rookie starting pitchers that are expected to serve as upgrades for the postseason.

May is a pitcher with frontline potential that has a 2.65 ERA in three starts, while Gonsolin, after a rough debut in hitter-friendly Arizona, has tossed ten innings of one-run, five-hit baseball. And with Rich Hill’s status for the postseason starting rotation still up in the air, May could have the chance to fill that absence, while Gonsolin may be placed in the pen, where his stuff will play up.

There are also rookies Matt Beaty, Kyle Garlick, and now, Edwin Rios, who have made their fair share of critical contributions to the team. And all these players have arrived in waves, like the Marvel movies in their respective Phases.

Clayton Kershaw is the longtime solo act who made his debut in 2008, like their Phase 1 movies. Then, from 2013-2015 the likes of Kenley Jansen, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Pedro Baez, and Enrique Hernández are slowly added to the team, as the MCU begins to expand with Phase 2.

But, like with Phase 3 and Captain America: Civil War, things really took off in 2016, once we got the influx of young talent and overlooked veterans looking to make an impact.

We’ve continuously been hit in the face with player after player from Corey Seager, Julio Urías, Kenta Maeda, and Rich Hill to Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor, followed by Max Muncy and Walker Buehler. To the point that people across the sport keep asking, “Where do they keep finding these players?”

And just when we thought they were done, they roll out Alex Verdugo, Will Smith, Dustin May, Matt Beaty, Edwin Rios, and Kyle Garlick in 2019. Sounds like enough, right?

Well, they’re still not done. Must we forget their 3rd-ranked farm system headlined by Keibert Ruiz, and the game’s hottest prospect, Gavin Lux? Their Phase 4.

Ruiz is a 20-year-old catching prospect already at Triple-A who may be even better than Smith, while Lux is a 21-year-old middle infielder tearing up Triple-A that is expected to be the organization’s next Seager and Bellinger. But it goes beyond just them.

Two of the prospects they acquired in the Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood deal with Cincinnati- a trade that was viewed as a salary dump- has fetched them two youngsters that are now in the organization’s top ten rankings, while their first two selections from the 2019 MLB Draft come in at number eight and nine, respectively (and top ten at their respective positions across the minor leagues).

The most impressive part about the pipeline of talent the Dodgers have built up, though? That they continue to put out blue-chip youngsters without tanking, instead, always selecting at the bottom of each round, yet outperforming the teams at the top of the draft.

What the Houston Astros do with pitchers, the Dodgers do with position players, while also developing their own pitching prospects as well as anyone. It’s a level of winning, development, and sustainment that is nearly unmatched and to the envy of most teams, and one we must all take a step back to appreciate.

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