(Photo Credit: milb.com)
Even if he doesn’t get the call to join the big league roster anytime soon, right-handed pitching prospect Trevor Oaks can always boast that he suited up to join Kenley Jansen and Company in the Dodgers bullpen for a day — not too shabby an honor for a 22-year-old Single-A farmhand in only his second full year with the organization.
“It was pretty cool,” Oaks said in an exclusive interview with TBPC. “I grew up watching some of these guys play and they were all super friendly. You try to watch and learn as much as possible.”
Oaks filled the empty spot in the bullpen when Mike Bolsinger initially suffered an oblique injury during the tail end of 2016 Cactus League play. Although he never appeared in the game, the opportunity to soak in the atmosphere, along with absorbing the wealth of knowledge of the veteran pitching staff, will always serve as incentives to work diligently towards his goal of pitching in the bigs.
Based on recent performances, however, Oaks could conceivably achieve that goal sooner than many think.
Just days after what was perhaps the finest pitching performance of his young career, Oaks was notified that he was being promoted to a spot in the starting rotation at Double-A Tulsa.
Against High-A Lake Elsinore on April 17, Oaks completed eight full innings of work, scattering only five hits with no walks while allowing just one earned run. He struck out 10 Storm batters, a career high, and at one point retired 17 consecutive opposing hitters. His brilliant pitching command was on display once again, indicated by a very efficient total of 86 pitches, 70 of which resulted in strikes.
“I would say Caleb has always been a guy that has made me better from day one in Little League,” Oaks said. “We worked out together this offseason, and I think we can both say we improved a lot and made each other better. Very excited to play minor league ball with him and continue working hard towards our goals.”
For those not familiar with his background, the 6’3″ 220-pound Oaks is a Riverside native who went to Woodcrest Christian High School. After having Tommy John surgery in 2012 and missing a full year, Oaks pitched one season for Biola University, then transferred to Cal Baptist in 2014, where he went 11-0 with a 1.68 ERA in 15 starts, recording 107 strikeouts and 31 walks in 107 innings of work.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play again or what was going to happen,” Oaks said of the procedure. “Just going through all that was really rough for me. Following surgery, I couldn’t move my arm past 90 degrees, it was pretty much locked into place. After sitting on my butt for three months, I was finally able to get back to work.”
The hard work would eventually pay off. Oaks was named both PacWest and NCBWA West Region Pitcher of the Year following his stellar season in 2014, and just a short time later, was selected by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the MLB draft.
That same year, he still had time to make 14 appearances in Rookie League at Ogden, then in 2015 zipped through Low-A Great Lakes, eventually landing on his feet in High-A Rancho Cucamonga. After only four starts for the Quakes in 2016, he earned the promotion to Tulsa.
As for his most appreciated memories during his early minor league years, Oaks listed his experiences in the playoffs and having been a part of two squads with solid chemistry as his most cherished.
“Cal League championship is definitely up there. Also clinching playoffs with Great Lakes. Very special team and group of guys. A lot of them were on both teams. It’s awesome when you have great team chemistry,” he said.
In regards to his pitching repertoire, Oaks, who turned 23 in March, features a sinker, an occasional four-seamer, a cutter, a slider, a changeup and periodically a curve ball.
“My four seam and sinker usually come out the same speed,” he elaborated. “I try to live around the 91 to 93 range. If I’m feeling fresh might get it up to a 5. I added the cutter this offseason for a different look off of my sinker — I primarily use it against lefties. I worked on my slider a lot with pitching coach Dom Johnson. It’s been much sharper this season and I’m hoping it continues to be a pitch I can rely on down the road.”
Scouts seem to think his ceiling at the big league level may be as a back-end starter or a swing man, yet the pundits remain extremely impressed with his command and his ability to induce ground ball outs. His sinker produced a whopping 62-percent ground ball rate across two levels last year, versus a low 13-percent line drive rate. His career 1.69 BB/9 in the minors advocates his ability to locate and maintain solid control.
As for his weaknesses, Oaks admits that he needs to continue to develop his arsenal of breaking pitches as a strategy to produce the ability of missing more bats.
“I think just improving my offspeed stuff. My fastballs get a lot of ground balls, but I need my slider and changeup to generate some swings and misses,” he added. “It’s been much better this season, but I want that trend to continue throughout the rest of my career.”
If his past is any indication of his current work ethic, Oaks will persist in perfecting his craft while continuing to advance through the Dodgers’ system in rapid fashion.
Oaks’ demeanor demonstrates that he’s very wise beyond his years, and his belief in the Christian faith certainly appears as a very valuable asset as he progresses toward his career goals — a few of the prototypical qualities that president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman always seems to seek out in his draft choices.
“Being a Christian is difficult anywhere you go. I think playing ball, everything is magnified. People are always watching,” Oaks said. “It’s important to remember who you represent and be loving/accepting of all your teammates no matter where they’re at in life. You have to run your own ship, but you also need to relate to people and be a genuine person. You gotta invest in people’s lives.”