Prospect Smackdown: Jerry Sands vs. Trayvon Robinson
The two best outfield prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers system are Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson. They come from very different backgrounds and have very different styles of play, but both could see some playing time in Los Angeles this year. Let's do a Prospect Smackdown.
BACKGROUND AND INTANGIBLES
Robinson: Trayvon Robinson was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 10th round in 2005, from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. A participant in Major League Baseball's RBI program for the inner cities, he was considered raw when drafted by quite toolsy. He spent two years in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, then moved up to the Midwest League in 2007 and had a mediocre season. Another so-so campaign followed in the Cal League in '08, but in '09 he broke through with a .306/.375/.500 season for Inland Empire with 43 steals. He maintained the momentum last year in Double-A, earning a spot on the 40-man roster and positioning himself for a promotion to the majors sometime in '11. He was considered somewhat intense emotionally earlier in his career, but works hard to improve his game.
Sands: Jerry Sands was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 25th round in 2008, from Catawba College in North Carolina. He was an outstanding player in NCAA Division II, hitting for average and power, but scouts didn't like his tools and he wasn't a hot draft prospect, earning a tiny $5,000 bonus. He hit 10 homers in 46 games in the Gulf Coast League after signing, but hit just .205. He hit 19 homers split between the Pioneer and Midwest Leagues in '09, then broke out with a terrific season in 2010 that saw him finish with 17 homers in 259 at-bats in Double-A. He was impressive again in the Arizona Fall League and in spring camp for the Dodgers. His work ethic and makeup are well-regarded.
Advantage: Very different career paths and backgrounds here: a high school guy with great tools who gradually learned how to play, and a guy without a great tool rep who brought his college performance forward. The key factor for me is that both Robinson and Sands have shown the ability to work, adapt, and improve, and I'm going to call this even.
PHYSICALITY, HEALTH, AND TOOLS
Robinson: Robinson is a 5-10, 200 pound switch-hitter, a right-handed thrower, born September 1st, 1987. His only below average tool is his throwing arm. His speed is well above average, and he's quite strong physically, packing considerable punch into his short frame. Originally a regular right-handed hitter, he's worked hard at switch-hitting and has crafted his swing well. He strikes out a lot and probably always will, but he's gradually improved his plate discipline over the last three seasons and it is now an asset for him, making him a good leadoff man. He is aggressive on the bases, sometimes overly so, but has improved his baserunning over the last few years along with the rest of his game. He has had no major health problems and appears durable. He has enough range to play center field.
Sands: Sands is a 6-4, 220 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born September 28, 1987. He isn't the greatest athlete in the universe, but he's not terrible, either, running adequately for his size and showing "intelligent aggressiveness" on the bases, swiping 18 in 20 attempts last year, though scouts don't think that will hold up in the majors. His arm is below average but not terrible. His best asset is simple strength: he's got power to all fields. Scouts panned Sands as the owner of a long swing in college and the low minors, but he's made adjustments. Some reports indicate that he has trouble with plus fastballs, but other say he handles them just fine. He handles breaking balls and changeups well and has good plate discipline. He has had no major injury troubles.
Advantage: Robinson has better athleticism and speed and can play center field, while Sands will be confined to first base or an outfield corner. Sands has more power. Both players draw walks, and both of them strike out a lot. They were born within a month of each other, so there's no advantage to be had with the calendar. Sands probably has better pure instincts for the game but Robinson has made a lot of progress. I think you have to give Robinson an edge here due to his athleticism.
Robinson: Robinson hit .300/.404/.438 with 73 walks and 125 strikeouts in 434 at-bats for Double-A Chattanooga in 2010, swiping 38 bases with 14 caught stealing. His OPS was solid but not spectacular at +16 percent compared to league average. Turning his season line into an MLE comes to about .250/.330/.360, which most people (fantasy owners especially) would likely find to be rather disappointing, though keep in mind that the jump between Chattanooga and Dodgers Stadium would be fairly steep.
Sands: Sands hit .333/.432/.646 in 243 at-bats in the Low-A Midwest League last year, followed by a .270/.360/.529 mark in 259 at-bats (+22 percent OPS) after skipping High-A and joining Robinson in Double-A, combining for 35 homers. He drew 73 walks combined with 123 strikeouts, the ratio being 33/62 at Chattanooga. The MLE is about .230/.300/.420 translated into Dodger Stadium, again less than most people would expect.
Advantage: The shapes of their performance are different, Sands with more power and Robinson with more speed, a higher batting, and a higher walk rate at Chattanooga last year. However, Sands beat Robinson in OPS due to his power, and they are the same age. Neither of their seasons translates especially well to Los Angeles using MLEs. Sands hit better in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, though of course the samples are small. Although they didn't get the same amount of playing time in Double-A, I will give Sands a slight edge here.
Robinson: Ideally, Robinson will develop into a force at the top of the lineup, able to hit .270-.290 with a good walk rate, 20+ steals per season, enough walks for a solid OBP, and good center field defense. I think he needs a year of Triple-A to put the finishing touches on, and he'll begin 2011 at that level.
Sands: Ideally, Sands will develop into a middle-of-the-order force, able to hit .260-.280 with 20+ homers per season, a good walk rate for a solid OBP, a few steals early in his career, and adequate corner outfield defense early in his career, eventually moving over to first base as he ages. I think he needs some Triple-A to put the finishing touches on.
Advantage: Which one gets the first promotion will depend on who is performing best at the time and who exactly gets hurt to open a spot up. I don't expect either of them to be stars, but both have a good chance to be solid regulars, though the nature of that solidness (speed/leadoff guy vs. power guy) is different. Robinson due to his athleticism and "young player skills" is more likely to age well, but Sands could perform better in the short run.
SUMMARY: I rate them as even on intangibles, Robinson an edge in tools, Sands an edge in current performance, even-but-different in projection. I gave them both Grade B ratings in the book, with Sands at Number 39 overall and Robinson Number 41. You can make a case either way. Many scouts would put Robinson ahead due to his superior athleticism, although Sands is getting more and more respect and it is getting harder to doubt his bat.