Rethinking the Oklahoma City Starting Rotation

masterson
(Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Several scenarios have become much more clear since we published our initial 25-man roster projections for the Oklahoma City Dodgers just under a week ago, especially the prospective components of the pitching staff. The position player portion of the roster will remain pretty much the same; however, the starting rotation will potentially consist of a group of Triple-A veterans, with the exception of one of the organization’s top starting prospects, right-handed sinkerballer Trevor Oaks.

As far as most Dodgers fans are concerned, Oaks will headline the starting rotation at OKC. Because both Ross Stripling and Alex Wood will be part of the Dodgers’ big league bullpen and not stretched out properly to make a lengthy start, Oaks may even be the first to get the call if an emergency start is needed at the major league level, at least until righty Brock Stewart recovers from shoulder complications.

During 2017 Cactus League play, Oaks made five appearances — not including the exhibition start against Japan — and registered an impressive 2.38 ERA while fanning 11 opposing batters over 11-1/3 innings of work. Last year, the 24-year-old Riverside native racked up a franchise-leading 14 wins to go along with a 2.73 ERA across three levels of the farm. For Oklahoma City, he was 5-1 with a 2.99 ERA over 10 starts in 63 frames. He started the year in High-A Rancho Cucamonga, where he went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four starts. With Double-A Tulsa, he went 8-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 10 starts.

Newly acquired righty Justin Masterson figures to fit somewhere in the primary rotation once the OKC 25-man roster becomes official, so long as he’s properly stretched and ready to go. Masterson, 32, was floating on the free agent market after failing to receive a shot in the bigs last season with the Pirates. He threw 54-1/3 innings at Triple-A, including five starts and 20 relief appearances, compiling a 4.97 ERA with 5.3 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. One of his best major league seasons came as recently as 2013 with the Indians, when he put together a 14-10 record with a 3.45 ERA and 195 strikeouts over an even 193 innings of work.

Speaking of new acquisitions, the Dodgers reportedly added another veteran righty to the minor league mix on Wednesday, signing 31-year-old Jair Jurrjens. Once a highly regarded prospect in the Atlanta system, Jurrjens last pitched in the big leagues for the Rockies in 2014, and apparently made 16 appearances in the Chinese Professional Baseball League last season. He also pitched in three contests for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic — including two starts — going 1-0 with a 2.38 ERA in 11-1/3 innings. At first glance, Jurrjens may theoretically be part of the rotation mix at Oklahoma City, although it wouldn’t be surprising for him to hang out in extended spring training to familiarize himself with the organization, ultimately getting his feet wet in Double-A Tulsa.

Right-hander Fabio Castillo, who was a non-roster invite to the Dodgers’ big league camp this spring, also figures to play a role in the OKC starting crew. During Cactus League play this year, the 28-year-old Castillo made five appearances, posting a 4.50 ERA with five strikeouts over eight innings. He threw in the Padres’ system last season, making seven starts apiece for Triple-A El Paso and Double-A San Antonio. In addition to making 13 offseason starts for Hanwha in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2016, he also took part in the Dominican Winter League. Castillo originally signed with the Rangers at the age of 17 back in 2006.

Continuing along with the exclusive right-handed theme, the Dodgers signed 26-year-old Wilmer Font over the winter specifically to add rotation depth at OKC, although Font does have extensive experience as a reliever. He initially signed with the Rangers in 2006 out of Venezuela and climbed through the Texas minor league system by 2012, making his major league debut. After two brief stops in the majors and varying minor league results, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Font was released from the Rangers organization after eight seasons in 2014. He logged one year in the Reds’ organization in 2015, but couldn’t latch on and has spent the past two seasons with the Ottawa Champions in independent ball.

Another right-handed free agent signing, former Astros prospect Andrew Thurman could also contribute to the Oklahoma City rotation, but based on his résuméhe could very well begin the season with Tulsa, depending on how management sets up the OKC roster. Across two levels of the Braves’ farm last year, the 25-year-old Thurman posted a 1-9 record with a 7.55 ERA in 18 starts.

Josh Sborz, another young righty ranked as the 18th best prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline, figures to be promoted to OKC during some point of the 2017 season, depending on his progressions at Tulsa. Sborz also has the ability to throw in relief, and is fresh off his very first non-roster invite to Dodgers’ spring training.

It was also reported recently by Andy McCullough of the LA Times that Julio Urias will begin his 2017 campaign somewhere on the OKC staff, although it’s still not known at what point in time team management will decide to rest his arm in efforts of limiting his innings, thereby making him fresh and available the stretch run of the season and the playoffs.

After recovering from his current shoulder complications, Stewart will eventually squeeze into the Oklahoma City rotation carousel at some point. Right now, many pundits are speculating a ballpark return for the 25-year-old righty sometime in early May. By that time, the management crew of the Dodgers will likely have solidified a more detailed plan as far as the makeup of all the starting pitchers throughout the entire farm system.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)
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