(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo)
Even at the Double-A level, Dodgers’ pitching prospect Chase De Jong takes a very disciplined, Clayton Kershaw-like approach in the days leading up to his starts, spending hours in the video room analyzing opponents and developing strategies, which could quite easily set him apart from others around him.
“Preparation for my next start begins the very next day after I pitch. I build off of the good I had in my last outing and I try fix the bad stuff,” De Jong said in an interview with TBPC. “I look at video days before I face a team and start to think about how they are going to approach me and how I’m going to disrupt the timing of the other team when it’s my turn to start. I really enjoy that process almost as much as going out for a start and competing.”
Much of that planning and preparation has been translating into success as of late, as De Jong threw what was perhaps the best game of his professional career last Thursday, leading Tulsa to a 7-1 victory over Arkansas.
De Jong went seven very strong shutout innings, a season-high, allowing only one hit and a walk while striking out eight Travelers’ batters.
The 22-year-old righty credits much of his recent progress to pitching coach Bill Simas, pitching coordinator Rick Knapp and Dodgers’ special assistant Greg Maddux.
“Every chance I get to talk to Greg I feel so privileged to be picking the mind of one of the greatest to ever to pitch. He taught me a lot about reading swings and seeing how the hitter will reveal what pitch to throw next,” De Jong said. “That’s the whole pitch selection part, and then ultimately the part that goes hand in hand with that is the execution of that pitch. Greg compared it to golf for me because he knows that we both are golf addicts.”
De Jong added that Maddux used an interesting relative analogy that will always stick with him.
“You’d never hit a golf shot without checking the yardage and wind conditions so why would you throw a pitch just because the scouting report says so. Use your eyes and figure out what the next pitch should be.”
As for the other primary coaching influences during his professional career, Chase listed Blue Jays’ pitching coordinator Sal Fasano as one of the most significant.
“There are few people I respect more on this earth than Sal Fasano. He really invested a lot of time in me with Toronto while I was coming up through the lower levels,” De Jong explained. “Sal sat me down the first day of spring in 2015 and told me that he believed in me and that he could really help me get better if I just trusted him. I was in no position to decline such valuable advice from such a wise man, so we worked on a new delivery which resulted in a fine season after I finally learned how to use my body and be an athlete out there.”
De Jong was born in Long Beach and attended Woodrow Wilson High School. As a senior at Wilson, he posted a phenomenal 0.82 ERA over 76.2 innings pitched, surrendering only 35 hits while striking out 103 batters.
Although he committed to an athletic scholarship at USC, De Jong was chosen in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Following graduation at Wilson, De Jong was swiftly shipped off to the Gulf Coast League, where he made six appearances and threw 12 innings while posting an impressive 1.50 ERA as an 18-year-old.
After rising to the High-A level in the Toronto system, in July of 2015 the Blue Jays traded De Jong and infielder Tim Locastro to the Dodgers in exchange for three international signing slots. It was rumored that former Blue Jay coordinator of instruction and current Dodgers’ minor league field coordinator Clayton McCullough had a heavy influence on recommending De Jong and landing him in Los Angeles.
After the trade, he was assigned to High-A Rancho Cucamonga, about an hour drive from his home in Long Beach.
Last season with the Quakes, De Jong posted a 4-3 record over 10 starts, recording a 3.96 ERA, a 1.180 WHIP and a 9.4 K/9 over an even 50 innings of work. Coaches and scouting directors were very impressed with De Jong’s makeup, and eventually awarded the 6’4″, 205-pounder with a non-roster invite to 2016 spring training with the Dodgers.
“Attending my first major league camp was incredible. Such an amazing blessing and an opportunity for which I’ll always be thankful,” De Jong stated. “To be able to wear the Dodgers uniform I’ve been seeing since I was a kid growing up in Long Beach, it was quite literally a dream come true.”
As far as his pitching repertoire, De Jong features a four-seam fastball with a bit of movement that sits in the low-90s, a slider, a changeup and a plus-plus curveball. When asked if he had a desire to develop any newer pitches, the question seemed to strike De Jong’s humorous side.
“It’s a selfish dream of mine to throw a knuckleball in a game,” De Jong said, smiling.”I mess around with it sometimes but it still needs work to be game ready. The four pitches I have are more than enough to keep me busy at the Double-A level and higher.”
Many scouts and pundits believe that with his pitch selection, his maturity, his remarkable command and his solid mechanics, De Jong may have the ceiling of holding down a number three or four spot in a big league rotation. If he was in any other organization, he’d probably have a shot in the bigs this season, yet there may be just one too many high profile prospects ahead of him on the Dodgers’ farm to guarantee a cup of coffee in 2016.
In the meantime, De Jong will continue to perfect all that’s under his personal control, like spending endless hours in the video room studying all the different facets of the game, while absorbing every possible nugget of information from those above him in the Dodgers’ organization.
“The whole key to this is consistency, and I think that’s honestly what separates a Double-A guy from the big league guys,” he said.
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