(Photo Credit: mlb.com/AP photo)
When the Los Angeles Dodgers signed right-handed reliever Louis Coleman to a one-year, $725,000 deal last month, it didn’t create much buzz among the fan base, much less indicate any type of significant upgrade in the bullpen. However, after a careful analysis of the possible roles he could play in the 2016 Dodgers bullpen, Coleman may be considered a lock for the 25-man roster come Opening Day.
Coleman grew up and went to high school in Greenwood, Mississippi, but is most notably known for his final collegiate season and the role he played leading the Louisiana State University baseball squad to a national title in 2009.
A consensus first-team All-America selection and the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year, Coleman made 25 appearances (16 starts) for LSU in 2009, recording a 2.93 ERA in 129 innings with 23 walks and 142 strikeouts. He went 3-0 with a 3.23 ERA in 30.2 innings (six appearances) in LSU’s 2009 NCAA Tournament games and made a team-high four appearances in the College World Series (two starts), recording a 1-0 mark in 15 innings with four walks and 18 strikeouts. He also worked the final two innings of Game 3 of the College World Series Finals vs. Texas to clinch the national title, allowing no runs and only one hit while striking out four batters.
After being drafted both after high school and his junior year in college, Coleman decided to finish school and earn his agricultural business degree. Just after graduation, he was chosen by the Kansas City Royals in the fifth round of the 2009 MLB draft.
He rapidly worked his way through the Royals’ farm system, having begun with Low-A Burlington in 2009 and making stops in High-A Wilmington, Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha before debuting for the Royals in April of 2011.
In parts of six minor league seasons, Coleman has gone 24-12 with 36 saves, a 2.26 ERA, a .197 opponents’ batting average and a 1.04 WHIP in 165 relief appearances.
He appeared in 152 major league games with Kansas City from 2011-15, going 6-4 with two saves and a 3.20 ERA. He’s limited opposing hitters to a .223 batting average in the big leagues, while averaging better than a strikeout per inning, with 186 Ks in 177.1 innings pitched.
His nagging finger issue during spring training in 2014 opened the door wider for Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, pushing Coleman to the fringes of the 25-man roster. Last year, after Kansas City signed former Phillies’ closer Ryan Madson, he was odd man out again when the big-league roster was finalized in April.
Coleman appeared in just four games for the Royals in 2015, allowing no earned runs. Beginning the year at Omaha, he went 8-2 while recording a 1.69 ERA in 38 relief appearances, striking out 63 and walking 23 in 64 innings of work.
His delivery can best be described as a “slinging crossfire,” which is designed to mainly deceive right-handed batters. He has solid command of a 91-93 mph fastball and isn’t afraid to throw it inside, which gives his plus-slider a boost when working the inner part of the plate. He also uses an occasional changeup, primarily against left-handed hitters.
Although spring training statistics normally are not heavily relied upon to gauge a pitcher’s momentum heading into the regular season, many around the Dodgers’ camp are beginning to think that Coleman has a solid chance at making the squad.
So far in Cactus League play, Coleman has appeared in six innings over six games, having surrendered only two hits, no walks and no earned runs while striking out nine batters. He’s retired 18 of the 20 batters he’s faced, which calculates to a ridiculous .330 WHIP.
The fact that he does not have options may weigh heavily in the Dodgers’ decision to include him on the Opening Day roster. Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, Adam Liberatore and Ian Thomas all have player options and roster flexibility over the course of the season.
Coleman has the makeup and skills to contribute as either a long man, a setup man, or even a closer, if needed.
From the perspective of Dodgers’ management, the best concept may be to utilize Coleman in the bullpen until he becomes consistently ineffective, clearing the way for one of the younger relievers to return.
And it doesn’t hurt one bit that Coleman has a multitude of team success and winning written all over a good portion of his résumé.
25-man rosters must be submitted to MLB the morning of April 4.