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Dodgers' Watson impressed by 2014 draft class

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De Jon Watson, the Los Angeles Dodgersvice president, player development, was back in Albuquerque this weekend to watch the Isotopes. Prior to Saturday night’s game Watson sat down for an extensive interview about the current Isotopes and the other players coming up through the Dodgers’ farm system.

The distance from the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft to Albuquerque is a vast one. Nonetheless, it is never too early to get excited about some of the amateur talent that has just been added to the Dodgers organization.

The Dodgers signed 33 of their 40 draft picks this season, including everyone in the top 18 rounds. Nine of the first 13 selections are pitchers.

Grant Holmes, a right-hander from Conway, S.C., was the first-round pick. He signed for a $2.5 million bonus and is currently in the rookie Arizona League.

Holmes has gone 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in four games (three starts). He has has 17 strikeouts and two walks in 15 innings.

“He’s been 92 to 96 (mph) with tremendous finish,” Watson said. “Power breaking ball, I don’t really want to call it a curveball or a slider, I just want to call it a true hard breaking ball, it’s 80 to 84 with some depth. He’s got a feel for his changeup. Good poise and demeanor on the mound. He repeats his delivery.”

The next six pitchers the Dodgers drafted were all out of college. They are in Ogden, led by right-handers John Richy (third round) and Jeff Brigham (fourth).

“Brigham is ... another big arm, 93 to 96, feel for his slider and a changeup,” Watson said. “(Richy is) 90 to 94 with a good breaking ball, he throws both a curve and a slider and has feel for a changeup.”

Two sleepers with the Raptors could be Brock Stewart (sixth) and Joe Broussard (15th). Both have appeared in seven games, with Broussard (2-1, 3.10, 1 save) putting up better numbers than Stewart (0-2, 4.81, 1 save).

“I’ve seen Stewart, another kid we took a little bit later in the draft, he’s up to 95 to 96,” Watson said. “There’s also a kid named Broussard who’s throwing 92 to 94.”

As for sleepers in the AZL, Watson pointed to Bubby Rossman (22nd). Another right-hander, he has gone 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA and one save in six games.

“We took a kid late out of Cal State Dominguez (Hills) by the name of Rossman, a converted outfielder with an unbelievable (arm), just a really clean thrower,” Watson said. “His first game out was 94 to 95.”

The top two position players taken by the Dodgers were outfielder Alex Verdugo (second) and third baseman Jared Walker (fifth). They were high school standouts in Tucson and Georgia, respectively.

“Alex Verdugo who was our second pick, he was a two-way guy coming in but we’re using him primarily as an outfielder,” Watson said. “He’s having really good at-bats down there. Hitting about .290ish right now, but for a 17-, 18-year-old kid his approach is very advanced for his age. He’s covering a lot of ground out there in center. He’s only struck out like twice or three times.”

Since the interview with Watson, Verdugo has pushed his batting average to .329 (27-for-82) and has just five strikeouts versus 13 walks. Walker is a bit more raw in the field but also has a good bat.

“We got a kid named Walker in the fifth round, a left-handed hitting third baseman,” Watson said. “An athletic kid out of Marietta, Georgia. A good-looking player, got some work to do on the fielding mechanics, just clean up the throwing. He’s got some strength in his hands and quickness in his bat.”

Overall, Watson has been impressed with the debuts of the Dodger draft class for 2014. Now it’s just a matter of helping them progress up the ladder to reach Albuquerque and then Los Angeles in the years ahead.

“I do like the guys I’ve seen thus far, they’ve been quality kids that are working their tails off,” Watson said. “We’re looking forward as we get ready for instructional league.”

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