(Photo Credit: Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
When we initially decided to take our first look at the Oklahoma City rotation at this point last year, all spots were seemingly up for grabs, with nine different pitchers contending for starting slots at the highest level on the Dodgers‘ farm. The big league pitching staff was still in rough shape, as the front office crew was working diligently to finalize deals with veteran lefty Scott Kazmir and Japanese sensation Kenta Maeda as the final days of 2015 dwindled away.
Right now, the prospective 2017 rotation at Oklahoma City isn’t quite as confusing or crowded as last year. Gone are the likes of veteran minor leaguers Mike Bolsinger and Joe Wieland. A few younger stars, most specifically Zach Lee, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas, were eventually dealt away during the season in hopes of gaining a few valuable pieces to improve the big league club down the stretch. In addition, Julio Urias will certainly fit into the major league rotation with the big boys in Los Angeles, while Ross Stripling will make a strong run at holding down a spot as the team’s long man.
Also gone are Logan Bawcom and Lisalverto Bonilla, two of OKC’s starting pitching stalwarts during the second half of the season and through the club’s PCL playoff run. Bawcom signed a minor league free agent deal with the Padres and was reunited with former Dodgers assistant GM Logan White, while Bonilla landed a similar type of deal with the Pirates.
The battle for the fifth spot in the major league rotation will also have an impact on the way the OKC pitching staff shapes up, as Kazmir, Stripling, a healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, Jose De Leon and Brock Stewart all presumably compete for one starting slot. Consequently, any eventual trades will obviously affect both prospective rosters. De León has been frequently mentioned as the centerpiece of a deal to net Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier, although a number of sources have recently reported the deal may have reached an impasse. For now, we’ll speculate that De León remains in the sunny part of the country.
With all that being said, and after a few hypothetical guesses as far as the trade and injury fronts go, we were able to put a general initial prediction together for the OKC rotation, despite it being so early in the winter.
Assuming the Dodgers take their time with Ryu, and both Stripling and Wood earn their way onto the 25-man roster as relievers, we’ll randomly guess that one of Kazmir or McCarthy has a full bill of health and snags a spot in the major league rotation, leaving both De Leon and Stewart to headline the rotation at OKC. Another member of the 40-man roster, hard-throwing righty Carlos Frias, should also warrant a slot, supposing that he’s still in the organization. Youngsters Chase De Jong and Trevor Oaks are safe bets to bring up the back-end of the OKC rotation.
De Jong, 22, was selected as the Double-A Texas League Pitcher of the Year, honored by the league as a mid and post-season All-Star, and was named by Baseball America as a Double-A Classification All-Star in 2016 after combining to go 15-5 with a 2.82 ERA in 26 starts with Double-A Tulsa and OKC.
Oaks racked up 14 wins to go along with a 2.73 ERA across three levels of the farm last season. For Oklahoma City, the 23-year-old righty was 5-1 with a 2.99 ERA over 10 starts in 63 innings of work. He started the year in High-A Rancho Cucamonga, where he went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four starts. With the Drillers, he went 8-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 10 starts.
The 27-year-old Frias, who missed the first month of the season and almost the entire second half with several different injuries, had a 3.95 ERA in 10 games between OKC and Tulsa, including six starts, with 32 strikeouts and 11 walks in 43-1/3 innings.
Besides his seven appearances in the majors, Stewart, 25, was 9-3 with a 1.68 ERA in 20 minor league starts across three levels in 2016. He made nine starts each with Tulsa and Oklahoma City, after two starts with the Quakes, logging 126 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 118 innings.
De León, 24, made four major league starts in 2016, allowing 17 runs, 12 of which were earned, in 17 innings of work. Before his callup to the bigs, he had a 2.61 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 86 -1/3 Triple-A innings.
There’s also a good chance the Dodgers use somebody like Josh Sborz or Scott Barlow to float between Double-A and Triple-A, giving both an opportunity to prove themselves at the highest level of the farm while providing cover in the void of potential injuries. Furthermore, the possibility also exists of bringing in a veteran starter or middle reliever to mentor the youngsters at OKC, much similar to the role that 32-year-old righty Sam Lecure played last year.
Finally, although it’s only December, we haven’t heard any rumblings mentioning another comeback from Brandon Beachy just yet.
Please be sure to check back frequently, as we plan on laying out a few updated editions of our projected rotation as the winter and spring months progress.