There’s a credo among baseball executives nowadays: Get younger.

Whereas putting together a World Series contender was once as simple as writing a check for some big-market teamsahem, the New York Yankeesthe emphasis for organizations more recently has been on improving their minor league systems.

Free-agent spending still has its role—an important one—but building an organization is much like building a house. You’re not going to put mahogany on the walls (high-priced free agents) without building a foundation first (prospects).

It’s a combination that makes the Los Angeles Dodgers best set for the future. Other big-market teams, like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, deserve credit for similarly building upper-echelon minor league systems.

With their mega television deal, however, the Dodgers will be able to add to their young core more easily via free agency and in the foreign market.

Are the Dodgers ready to compete this year? Definitely, despite issues surrounding the team—namely star outfielder Yasiel Puig. In November, former player Andy Van Slyke told CBS 920 (h/t that Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw wanted Puig traded.

Regardless, 2016 will be an opening act as some of the organization’s young stars begin to matriculate to the major league club.

The main event won’t come for a few years.

“We’re really excited about the group of talent that we have and probably more important the group of humans—the group of men—that we have,” Gabe Kapler, the Dodgers’ director of player development, said in a phone interview with Bleacher Report.

Among those expected to be promoted to the major league club this season is Corey Seager, who, at 21 years old, should be the Dodgers’ starting shortstop on Opening Day.

But Seager is just the headliner in a crop of prospects that might be baseball’s best.

Left-handed pitcher Julio Urias, 19, is the Dodgers’ best pitching prospect since Kershaw, and right-handed pitcher Jose De Leon is a 24th-round pick from the 2013 MLB amateur draft who has developed into one of the organization’s best prospects. Baseball America ranked him third in the Dodgers’ organization behind Seager and Urias.

According to’s minor league organizational rankings in August of last season, the Dodgers had five prospects in the top 100.

While the Dodgers have baseball’s best position player-pitcher duo in Seager and Urias, they should be most heralded for their depth. Kapler was specific in mentioning 26-year-old catcher Austin Barnes.

“If you just gave him the opportunity to go out and play right now at the major league level, you have a guy that is a good, quality major league catcher today,” Kapler said.

When might these heralded prospects arrive at Dodger Stadium?

That is somewhat unclear, and Kapler cautioned not to generalize how the organization may handle its young prospects. They won’t come all at once. A sweeping claim about the team’s philosophy in handling prospects is that there really isn’t one.

Kapler emphasized that the organization wants to take an individualized approach to handling its prospects and their potential promotions.

That much was apparent Tuesday when the Dodgers added Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux and Raul Ibanez as special assistants to Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations. Expanding the team’s baseball operations department allows for more individualized attention throughout the organization, which can only help development.

It’s a luxury, though, and much easier when you consider that the Dodgers have a major league roster that can compete now. There’s no need for the organization to rush the development of any of its prospects.

When needs at the major league level do arise, the Dodgers’ limitless payroll allows them to seek a short-term solution via free agency.

But where the Dodgers’ payroll flexibility will really benefit them is when all of their prospects arrive. Then they can spend on big free agents to bolster the roster. We’re getting back to the idea of building the house with the mahogany walls.

Moreover, the Dodgers’ developmental philosophy preaches versatility.

So when the prospects arrive, might the Dodgers use their bottomless pocket to fill a need? Of course. But the group’s versatility may also allow the Dodgers to identify the biggest-impact free agents—whether or not they fill an apparent need.

Any time a team has players who can fill multiple roles, it allows for more flexibility in the players a team can target in free agency.

“As a philosophy, versatility is critically important and I don’t mean just in a traditional sense where [a guy] can play shortstop, he can also play second base,” Kapler said.

“It’s very important to us that our players come into our system with the mindset that they are athletes. They are not 2-hole hitters, they are not 5-hole hitters, they are not shortstops, they are not starters. They are athletes and highly trained ones that can play multiple positions, hit multiple spots in the lineup, work in various roles.”

We’re still talking about prospects here. Things dramatically change when it comes to teenage and early-20-something baseball players. So Kapler wasn’t suggesting each of the organization’s players will come to the major leagues with limitless flexibility.

Development doesn’t end at the major league level.

But once the likes of Seager, Urias, De Leon and Co. get to Los Angeles, it very well could make a milestone beginning.


Seth Gruen covers baseball for Bleacher Report. He previously worked at the Sun-Times, where he covered baseball in addition to a multitude of other sports. Follow Seth on Twitter @SethGruen.

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