When we last explored the projected starting rotation at Oklahoma City in December, the Dodgers’ big league rotation was trending towards being on the thin side, while the Triple-A rotation looked to be crowded. Now, with spring training upon us, things seem to have leveled out a bit.
Since our last analysis, the Dodgers bolstered their starting rotation by adding veteran lefty Scott Kazmir, as well as Japanese righty Kenta Maeda. Brandon Beachy was also brought back on another one-year contract, hoping to create depth for a rotation that currently projects to include four left-handed starters and one right-hander.
The Yasiel Sierra signing finally became official; and although he projects to be a potential middle-reliever in the bigs early in his career, he may see time as a starting pitcher in the minors, at least in the beginning of the season.
Joe Blanton was signed to a one-year deal last month to be utilized as a long man in the bullpen, which may affect the role of Carlos Frias early in the year. Frankie Montas, who was projected to see some time as a starter in the minors, was moved to the 60-day disabled list after having rib resection surgery.
Finally, the trade that sent Joe Wieland to the Mariners on January 12 created space on the 40-man roster and provided a bit of breathing room for the rotation at OKC.
All that being said, here’s a list of the potential pitchers vying for a rotation spot in Oklahoma City in 2016. Also included are the pitchers’ ages come Opening Day, the number of option years they have remaining and a brief commentary as to where they may begin the season.
- Brandon Beachy – 29 years, no options
- Mike Bolsinger – 28 years, one option remaining
- Carlos Frias – 26 years, one option remaining
- Zach Lee – 24 years, two options remaining
- Ross Stripling – 26 years, all three options remaining
- Yaisel Sierra – 24 years, all three options remaining
- Jharel Cotton – 24 years, all three options remaining
- José De León – 23 years, all three options remaining
- Julio Urias – 19 years, all three options remaining
Although José De León and Julio Urias are arguably the two most talented pitchers on the list, neither is on the 40-man roster, and may not see big league action until rosters expand in September. De León is fully developed and is considered by many to be MLB-ready, while Urias likely needs one additional season on an innings count due to the fact that he’s still maturing physically. Barring injury, both should hold down spots in the Oklahoma City rotation for the majority of the season.
Jharel Cotton had been a starter most of his career, but was given an opportunity to relieve late last season when the Triple-A bullpen was very thin. He probably has the best changeup in the Dodgers’ entire system, and 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. Still, with the rotation being as crowded as it is and the bullpen on the thin side, Cotton may begin the season as a reliever.
Beachy and Mike Bolsinger will certainly be the first two to be called upon if the Dodgers need help. After returning from Tommy John last season, Beachy pitched 47 innings over 10 appearances at OKC. When given the opportunity in the bigs, he surrendered 10 hits and seven runs in two appearances. Bolsinger ended up contributing 109 innings over 21 starts for the Dodgers, compiling a 6-6 record with a 3.63 ERA and a 8.1 K/9. Both project to be the front-line starters for Oklahoma City.
Former first-round draft pick Zach Lee had a rough debut for the Dodgers against the Mets last July, but put up solid numbers in Triple-A over the course of the season. He compiled a 11-6 record while throwing 113 innings over 19 starts, which led to a 2.70 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. He also likely fills a starting slot for OKC.
Ross Stripling returned from Tommy John 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 everyone else at Oklahoma City.
While considered to be MLB-ready by most scouts, the prudent avenue for Sierra would be to begin the year in the minors, if only for reasons of getting acclimated to his new country. Over five seasons in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, he went 16-21 with 25 saves and a 4.23 ERA in 131 games which included 25 starts. Sierra most likely starts the season at Tulsa.
Frias made 17 appearances including 13 starts for the Dodgers last season, hurling 77.2 innings to a tune of a 4.06 ERA. Blanton may command the role of long man early in the year for the Dodgers, but depending on the health and effectiveness of the remainder of the relief corps, Frias should see big league action at some point in 2016. As for the beginning of the season, he most likely gets the nod as long man and/or spot starter for OKC.
Depending on the health and progression of lefty starter Hyun-jin Ryu at the beginning of the season, Alex Wood could see time in the minors if the Dodgers’ rotation stays healthy, only because he’s one of the few that has options remaining on his contract. We do have a few ideas how this may play out, however; and we’ll be providing additional insight and commentary later in the week.
In light of everything discussed, we see things at Oklahoma City shaping up something like this:
- OKC starting rotation: Beachy, Bolsinger, Lee, De León and Urias; with both Frias and Cotton in the bullpen
- Stripling and Sierra beginning the year at Double-A Tulsa but rising quickly
If healthy, the 2016 Triple-A rotation may very well be the deepest and most talented that Dodger fans have seen in many, many years. Beyond that, the next wave of talent is beginning to blossom and shine in Single-A and rookie ball.
Right now, the Dodgers’ future seems to be extremely bright — at least on the pitching front.
(Photo Credit: Rich Crimi/Tulsa Drillers)