Dodgers' farm system worth watching

LOS ANGELES -- Logan White cringes when he reads it, bristles when he hears it and cringes and bristles when he is asked about it. When he is done with all that cringing and bristling, he denies it. Vehemently.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' assistant general manager -- the man who for the last decade has been in charge of the team's amateur scouting department, overseeing the club's draft-day operations and stocking the farm system with as much potential big league talent as possible -- insists the proverbial cupboard isn't bare and the future isn't bleak.

Not even the immediate future.

"With all the turmoil we have dealt with, sometimes there is a pile-on mentality," White said before Friday night's game, a 1-0, 10-inning victory over the Houston Astros before 33,642 at Dodger Stadium. "I think anybody who says we don't have anything within our system ought to take a stronger look into it. I would point out that in 2008, we were rated as one of the top organizations in baseball, and we have already gotten four big leaguers out of our '08 draft. Our staff has done a good job and worked very hard.

"I understand people's frustration. The fans want to win. But we want to win, too."

It was supposed to be a day of celebration for White and his staff and for this year's first-round pick, Stanford University closer Chris Reed. He agreed to terms on a $1.589 million signing bonus, threw his first bullpen session with manager Don Mattingly standing in the left-handed batter's box then did his first face-to-face with local media before reporting this weekend to advanced Class A Rancho Cucamonga.

A little later, a pitcher named Nathan Eovaldi -- the fourth member of that '08 draft class to reach the majors along with Jerry Sands, Dee Gordon and Josh Lindblom -- would make his second big league start a memorable one. He would toss six shutout innings and give up only two hits to an Astros lineup so young and inexperienced as to almost be complicit in Eovaldi's effort -- although in saying that, it isn't my intention to diminish what was undeniably a masterful performance by the fireballing right-hander.

Much of the time, rightly or wrongly, a team's farm system is judged by the success of its first-round picks, or at least its early-round picks. Those are the guys who get the big bonuses, who eat up most of the budget. Those are the guys about whom all the stories are written on draft day. Those are the guys whose selections are now televised nationally, NFL- and NBA-style.

There is no denying that when it comes to those guys, the Dodgers' record has been a mixed bag, especially in the years since they took Clayton Kershaw with their first pick in 2006. Of the four subsequent first-rounders, all of them pitchers, only last year's top pick, Zach Lee, has been what you would call superb. Of the others, Chris Withrow (2007) and Ethan Martin (2008) have struggled with their command, and Aaron Miller (2009) has missed much of this season because of an injury.

But there are several comers, some of them at the lower levels and some of them already knocking on the door. Right behind Eovaldi is right-hander Allen Webster, an 18th-rounder from that already-fertile Class of '08 who is at Double-A Chattanooga and already can command four pitches. Further down is Garrett Gould, the '09 second-rounder who is 11-5 with a 2.50 ERA at low Class A Great Lakes.

Then there is Gorman Erickson, a 15th-rounder from the '06 draft who has a combined .384 on-base percentage at Rancho Cucamonga and Chattanooga and is now looked at as the Dodgers' catcher of the future. And slugging outfielder Angelo Songco, a fourth-rounder from '09, is hitting .309 with 24 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .364 OBP at Rancho.

Are the Dodgers swimming in sexy prospects? Well, no. But think back, if you will, to the last time we all thought they were. Remember the so-called Jacksonville Five? Remember when this organization was so stacked with talent that we all believed the Dodgers would dominate the National League for years to come? Remember when we couldn't wait for Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton and James Loney and Matt Kemp and Russell Martin and Andy LaRoche to get to the big leagues? With the exception of Kemp, and possibly Billingsley, how did that work out?

My point is this whole scouting-and-drafting thing is an inexact science, even for the people who are experts at it. For the rest of us, we can look all those rosters of all those minor league affiliates up and down, see nobody who is being pumped up by any of the publications whose business it is to pump up such players and conclude the Dodgers' system has become barren. Or we can believe White when he insists the system is about to bear some serious fruit, giving us hope the Dodgers' return to some level of respectability on the field might begin before the upcoming and inevitable change of ownership.

The truth, as it usually does, probably lies somewhere between those two versions of it. It is White's business to pump up his own guys, and he has never been shy about doing it. We won't know for another couple of years, by which time the franchise should be in different hands, how well it's all going to work out.

There is a reason, though, why the draft is 50 rounds, not one or two. And it used to be even longer. Twice on Friday -- once during an interview with infielder Justin Sellers, who had just been called up from Triple-A Albuquerque to make his big league debut, and later during the interview with Reed -- the name of a former Dodgers catcher was brought up. Sellers and Reed grew up in the area and made a point to say they were big fans of this guy, who the club originally drafted in the 62nd round as a favor to his father, who was a friend of then-Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda.

We won't know any time soon whether there is another Mike Piazza amid all those lower-round draft picks the Dodgers are nursing along who aren't getting much love on a national level. But there at least are enough players in the system we should pay attention to, even if none of those publications that so famously rank all the prospects every year are paying any attention to them.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.