(Photo Credit: The Oklahoman)
The last time we had the opportunity to chat with 23-year-old pitching prospect Trevor Oaks, he was about one week removed from being promoted to Double-A Tulsa after beginning the year at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Now, a few days less than four months later, Oaks finds himself atop of Triple-A Oklahoma City‘s starting rotation, and could be on the fast track to a well-deserved appearance in the bigs.
Prior to the 2016 season, as far as recognition goes, Oaks typically took a back seat to the big name pitching prospects in the Dodgers‘ system. However, after being named to the Texas League All-Star squad and racking up a franchise-leading 14 wins and a 2.73 ERA across three levels of the farm this year, the 6’3″ 220 lb. righty is quickly becoming a hot topic among Dodgers fans everywhere.
In what was probably his best outing of the season, Oaks took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and pitched his first career nine-inning complete game against El Paso on Monday. With the victory, Oaks upped his record to 5-1 at OKC, while increasing his overall mark to 14-3.
He held the Chihuahuas scoreless until the ninth inning of the contest, surrendering just one run and three hits by game’s end. He did not issue a walk. Oaks threw 106 pitches, including 78 for strikes. In the effort, he also set career highs with both 9.0 innings pitched and 11 strikeouts. His 11 strikeouts also marked a season high by a Oklahoma City pitcher. Oaks became the eighth PCL pitcher this season to complete a three-hitter and became just the third pitcher in all of MiLB with 14 total wins on the year.
Oaks was kind enough to sit down with TBPC on Tuesday afternoon for a followup chat, this time reflecting on a few of the aspects of his game that have brought him success at the higher levels of the minors. Notoriously known as a ground ball machine, he pointed out that his cutter, not his sinker as many would expect, is becoming a very valuable weapon in keeping hitters off-balance, as was the case on Monday against El Paso.
“Last night, my cutter was working really well. Anytime I got behind in the count, or when I thought they were gonna lean over the plate to get my sinker, I threw the cutter. That’s what I’ve been trying to do my last two outings,” he said. “I located well with my sinker, and then used my cutter to keep them honest and from leaning over the plate.”
Oaks also pointed out that several players in the OKC clubhouse have taken him under their wings and have eased the daily pressures of competing at the Triple-A level.
“The Triple-A guys have all been super helpful. I think I got really lucky by having Sam LeCure as my locker buddy. He kinda took me under his wing and showed me what’s expected of me at this level and beyond. He’s a veteran guy that really cares about the game and the way it’s played. We’ve had a lot of conversations about sinkers and how to effectively use different pitches. Definitely a huge help in the locker room,” Oaks stated.
“I’d also throw Brock Stewart in there, just because he’s been a guy that has stuck with me since our rookie ball season and continues to help me in day-to-day routines.”
We also asked Oaks about OKC pitching coach Matt Herges, who constantly receives rave reviews from every single pupil that he’s coached over the years.
“Matt Herges is a fantastic coach and genuinely cares for his players as people. He tries to bring out the strengths in everyone and has been really helpful by giving me confidence in my stuff,” Oaks explained. “He’s not the type of guy that over-coaches, which can happen sometimes. Sometimes it gets frustrating when you’re given too much information at once. He knows what it’s like from all of his personal experience and uses that to help out his guys.”
In addition, we also discussed what is was like to make all the jumps across all the different levels of the minors and asked which level was the most difficult transition.
“Yeah, I thought Double-A to Triple-A was the toughest jump,” Oaks said. “The hitters just have a little more polish to their swings. They don’t go all out on every fastball in the zone. They try to wait for a location or a pitch and they try to drive it up the middle, and hit for power on mistakes.”
Oaks also indicated that there’s no type of firm innings limit in his immediate future, and that his arm hasn’t yet shown any signs of fatigue.
“They’re having me take a couple extra days between my next start, but I’m not sure about the innings limit. I’m trying to go as deep into ball games as I can and help my bullpen guys out. I wanna show them I can handle a lot of innings and take a team deep into the game. My arm feels great actually. Last year I was a little sore around this time, but I’ve never felt better,” he said.
To close out the conversation, we talked about a few potential areas of improvement that may be on the agenda in the near future — most specifically, the development of any additional secondary pitches to compliment his sinker and cutter.
“Moving forward, I’m really just focusing on staying down in the zone and getting my changeup down. I think having that slower pitch will be a huge help, and I’m hoping to figure it out soon so I can be ready if the Dodgers need me this season.”