Los Angeles Dodgers
Position: OF Height: 6-2 Weight: 170 Born: 2/21/83 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Dodgers signed Franklin Gutierrez out of Venezuela in 2000. He played fairly well in his full-season debut in 2002, showing power and speed potential in the South Atlantic League. He got off to a fast start in '03, hitting home runs in his first six games at Vero Beach. Although he cooled slightly as the summer progressed, he still put up an impressive set of numbers, then continued to play well after a late promotion to Double-A. He is now one of the top prospects in the Los Angeles farm system, and one of the more intriguing outfield prospects in the game.
Gutierrez oozes tools. Although he's not a huge player, he is lean and muscular, with the kind of body that can generate whip-like bat speed. He previously showed more power in batting practice than in real games, but in '03 he added some loft to his swing, resulting in increased power production. His speed is above-average, and he has good instincts on the bases. Defensively, he has enough range for center field, and enough arm strength for right. With additional experience, he will be a fine defensive outfielder. His biggest weakness is his plate discipline: he strikes out too much, and will occasionally flail at pitches outside the strike zone. His walk rate is on the low end of acceptable, but isn't too awful. He will kill most fastballs, but will have to show he can handle breaking pitches and changeups at higher levels. Gutierrez has enough bat speed to compensate for this if he can tighten up the holes in his swing.
The 2003 season was a big step forward for Gutierrez. His numbers were extremely impressive for the pitching-strong Florida State League, with OPS and secondary average marks well above league norms. He continued to hit very well after moving up to the Southern League. The biggest problem is all the strikeouts. Normally I don't worry too much about those, but fanning once a game is excessive for a young hitter, especially when combined with a mediocre walk rate. If he can close up the holes in his swing, Gutierrez is the kind of hitter who can produce power, average and speed. He's a potential Seven Skill guy.
Gutierrez has had no major injury problems, though he's missed a few games with various bumps and bruises. Players with his low-body-fat wiry build are often vulnerable to pulled and strained muscles, so we need to see how his durability holds up over the long haul.
What to expect
More experience is Gutierrez's biggest need at this point. He needs a full year facing Double-A and Triple-A breaking stuff, to cut down on the strikeouts and refine his approach at the plate. Given his youth, a normal growth curve would make him a .280+, 20 homer, 20 steal type player, possibly a conservative estimate. He carries risk because of the plate discipline issue, but has a very high upside.
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John Sickels is the author of the 2004 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered only at his Web site, johnsickels.com. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.