Projecting the Starting Rotation at Oklahoma City

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Although the starting pitching rotation for the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers is still very much in doubt, the same cannot be said for their Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Truth be told, after a brief analysis of available starting pitchers on the farm, nine different hurlers have a legitimate shot at vying for a rotation spot in OKC. Let’s take a look at all nine pitchers, listing their ages come Opening Day, number of option years remaining, and where they may begin their respective 2016 campaigns.

  • Mike Bolsinger – 28 years, one option remaining
  • Carlos Frias – 26 years, one option remaining
  • Joe Wieland – 26 years, one option remaining
  • Zach Lee – 24 years, two options remaining
  • Ross Stripling – 26 years, all three options remaining
  • Jharel Cotton – 24 years, all three options remaining
  • Frankie Montas – 23 years, all three options remaining
  • José De León – 23 years, all three options remaining
  • Julio Urias – 19 years, all three options remaining

Needless to say, that’s a very crowded yet talented list. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi may decide to simplify things by moving a few to the bullpen, or more likely, use several as trade pieces in a package for a much needed impact starter at the big league level.

Carlos Frias may command a spot on the 25-man roster, perhaps filling the role that Juan Nicasio held last season as long man or spot starter. Frias made 17 appearances including 13 starts for the Dodgers last season, hurling 77.2 innings to a tune of a 4.06 ERA.

Both Mike Bolsinger and Joe Wieland are also considered MLB-ready, and barring any trade or the need to begin the season in the Dodgers rotation, will certainly fill starting roles for OKC.

After a hot start, Bolsinger ended up contributing 109 innings over 21 starts in the bigs, compiling a 6-6 record with a 3.63 ERA and a 8.1 K/9.

Wieland made two unsuccessful starts for the Dodgers in 2015, but put up relatively consistent numbers for OKC. He threw 113 innings over 21 starts and posted a 4.59 ERA.

Former first-round draft pick Zach Lee had a nightmare of a debut for the Dodgers, but put up solid numbers in Triple-A. Lee hurled 113 innings over 19 starts sporting a 2.70 ERA. He also likely fills a starting slot for Oklahoma City.

Having had Tommy John surgery and sitting out all of 2014, Ross Stripling returned and pitched 67 innings over 13 starts for the Tulsa Drillers last season. He was added to the 40-man in November to protect him from Rule 5 status. Stripling isn’t overpowering, but features a nasty arsenal of breaking pitches much like Bolsinger. Stripling has never thrown at the Triple-A level, and may begin the year at Tulsa just to make room for others at OKC.

Although two completely different pitchers, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas find themselves in similar situations. Cotton had been a starter, and was given an opportunity to relieve late last season, while Montas has proven himself as a reliever but projects as a hard-throwing starter.

Cotton, who probably has the best changeup in the Dodgers system, projects better as a starter due to the lack of velocity on his fastball (90-91 MPH). His breaking pitches are his best weapons, leading him to a 10.7 K/9 in almost 100 innings of work last year.

Whether an honest evaluation, or an attempt to make him look attractive to other teams as a trade piece, Andrew Friedman continues to hype the talent of Montas. Friedman believes that his fastball-slider combo is among the best in the minors and often touts his triple-digit fastball. If able to maintain his command as a starter, there’s no doubt Montas will climb to the top of the Triple-A rotation quickly.

Perhaps the two most talented starters among the entire group are José De León and Julio Urias. Although both have ascended through the Dodgers’ system rapidly, neither is on the 40-man roster.

In terms of control, fastball velocity, mental maturity and overall talent, De León is fully developed physically and ready to go. If there’s still a crowded house come Opening Day, he may begin the season at Tulsa, but should make the jump to Triple-A quickly and be ready for a fall call-up when rosters expand in September.

Urias, the prized-possession of the farm, most likely needs one additional season on an innings count due to the fact that he’s still developing physically. He may be promoted to the 40-man at some point depending on the movement of other players, but like De León, should get a taste come September.

Based on no players being moved, and no service needed at the MLB level (assuming the Dodgers sign somebody like Kenta Maeda and one other free agent pitcher), we see things shaping up like this:

  • OKC starting rotation: Bolsinger, Urias, Lee, Montas and Wieland; with Cotton as long man and spot starter
  • De León and Stripling beginning the year at Double-A Tulsa but rising quickly
  • Frias beginning the season as long man in the bigs

Of course, all this could change with an injury or any type of trade. Although the logjam could create some minor headaches for the managers and directors on the farm, it’s certainly a good problem to have — especially when the big league squad needs all the help it can get.

(Photo Credit: MLB.com)

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