Five Dodger prospects on the cusp

One of the guiding principles of this off-season, the Dodgers have said, is to shed some years.

You can’t do that with individual people, unfortunately, but you can accomplish it with your players collectively. The Dodgers are hoping a younger roster will prove more durable over the long season and give the organization something to build around moving forward.

Free agent classes are becoming more expensive even as the quality declines, year after year.

While the Dodgers’ farm system is still digging its way out of the crater of Frank McCourt’s budget cuts, there are a handful of players who could make an impact in 2014. It might not be a Yasiel Puig-sized impact, but it could prove the difference between getting deeper into October or missing the playoffs altogether.

Based on conversations with people inside the organization, here is an educated guess about the top five Dodgers prospects, strictly as they could impact the upcoming season:

1. Alexander Guerrero, 2B

They had better hope he’s on the cusp. They just agreed to pay him $28 million over the next four years, a salary they’ll be paying whether he’s in Triple-A or at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are taking a leap of faith with Guerrero, a Cuban defector who has never played U.S. professional baseball. The steady route would have been to retain Mark Ellis for another year, but they likely passed on that possibility when they declined Ellis’s $5.7 million option.

In addition to helping them get younger, Guerrero, 26, should be a power upgrade. Scouts have compared him to the Texas Rangers’ Ian Kinsler, an OK defender with good pull power. The Dodgers will start getting more information when Guerrero begins playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic in about a week, but right now they’re taking a leap of faith and trusting in their international scouts.

Projected impact: Opening Day

2. Joc Pederson, CF

The last thing the Dodgers need is an outfielder, right? They have, after all, a glut of them with Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. And, yet, outfield could easily become an area of need.

Crawford and Kemp have proven decidedly fragile, missing huge chunks of the past two seasons with a variety of injuries, and Ethier remains one of the likeliest Dodgers to be traded.

When the Dodgers brought up Puig in June, Pederson also was knocking on the door. He won’t turn 22 until next April, he led the Southern League in walks and he played strong center field defense. One scout compared him to Jim Edmonds, a player with good, but not blazing speed, who has a knack for making special plays.

He’ll begin the season at Triple-A, so he’ll be a phone call and a short flight from making an impact.

Projected impact: mid-season

3. Onelki Garcia, LHP

Another Cuban defector, Garcia, 24, struck out more than a batter per inning in the minor leagues last year and opponents hit .209 off him. He was shaky in three late outings for the Dodgers, but he’s very much in the mix as a left-handed reliever going into spring training. Paco Rodriguez showed heavy wear and tear by the end of the season and J.P. Howell is a free agent.

Here’s one scout’s take:

“Very good curveball, fastball at 94 to 95 mph, up to 97. Two plus breaking balls and the easy finishing life on his fastball.”

Sounds like a guy who could contribute some useable innings.

Projected impact: Opening Day

4. Ross Stripling, RHP

He and Michael Wacha were roommates at Texas A&M and, while he may not have that kind of impact for the Dodgers, he looks like a pitcher on the cusp of contributing. The Dodgers feel like, at worst, he is a back-of-the-rotation major-league starter and, if things go well, a solid No. 3 or 4. He throws four pitches, including a 90 to 94-mph fastball. He blazed through the Cal League, with opponents batting .198 off him, and continued to dominate at Double-A, where he was 2-0 with a 2.94 ERA, the Dodgers keeping a cap on his innings.

Projected impact: after the All-Star break

5. Matt Magill, RHP

This selection will induce some groans from Dodgers fans who remember his last two major-league outings, in which he allowed 15 walks and five home runs. But the Dodgers haven’t given up on the 23-year old, who can be effective when he’s in better command of the strike zone. There are more impressive talents in the Dodgers’ system, but none the team considers more likely to impact next season. With Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett coming off major surgeries and signing Masahiro Tanaka far from a shoo-in, pitching depth could be paramount in 2014.

Projected impact: mid-season

Honorable mention:

Chris Anderson, RHP: His development is behind Stripling’s, but he has more upside. The Dodgers are hopeful their first pick of last June will finish next season at Double-A, meaning there’s always a chance. He’s a big, strong pitcher with a 94 to 98-mph fastball and good slider. The mystery is how he’ll fare against better hitters than he saw in low Class-A ball.

Yimi Garcia, RHP: He throws strikes and has a cutting action on his fastball. Scouts compare him to Angels closer Ernesto Frieri.

Zach Lee, RHP: He’s been mentioned as one of the Dodgers’ top prospects for so long, people forget he just turned 22. The Dodgers think he has a chance to be a legitimate No. 3 or 4 starter in the major leagues.

Pedro Baez, RHP: A converted infielder with a mid-90s fastball who reminds some people of Kenley Jansen.

Cory Seager, SS: He’s probably at least two years away from the major leagues, but the 19-year old has impressed plenty of people in the Arizona Fall League with his surprisingly smooth fielding (he’s a 210-pound shortstop) and pop.