When long man Alex Wood was recently shifted back into the starting rotation and righty Josh Fields was recalled to the big league bullpen, a popular topic of conversation among fans of the Dodgers was the discussion surrounding the organizational depth of relief pitchers.
While there’s certainly a full staff of relievers on board at Triple-A Oklahoma City, the variety of choices aren’t overwhelmingly appealing. But with Grant Dayton now on the shelf with muscle problems around his rib cage, there’s no question that southpaw Adam Liberatore sits atop the totem pole, and could even be called upon relatively soon.
Liberatore has been throwing well so far for OKC, having made five appearances with two saves already in the young season. He hasn’t yet surrendered a run, and has given up only four hits in 5-2/3 innings of work while walking none and striking out four.
The 29-year-old Pennsylvania native was stellar in 2016, up until he began to experience inflammation in his elbow in early June. Prior to the injury, the lefty set a franchise record with 28 consecutive scoreless appearances, posting a sub-1.60 ERA in the process. Manager Dave Roberts trusted him in almost any situation, even against productive right-handed hitters. A knee injury in late July of further complicated his health, as his ERA ballooned up to a hefty 3.38. Yet with the injuries now in his rear-view mirror, Liberatore appears to be ready to go.
Veteran righty Brandon Morrow fought hard to make the big league roster out of spring camp, but was overlooked once the dust settled on the final selections. After missing almost 18 months with a shredded shoulder through 2016, Morrow posted a 1.69 ERA in 18 relief appearances after his return to the mound for the Padres towards the end of last season, tallying eight strikeouts and three walks in his efforts. Although he began his major league career in the bullpen, he was a double-digit winner in three consecutive seasons as a starter for Toronto from 2010-12. Overall, Morrow has tallied a 44-43 record with a 4.22 ERA and 16 saves in nine major league seasons with the Mariners, Blue Jays and Padres. He has made 236 career appearances, including 113 starts.
So far this year, Morrow hasn’t fared particularly well in Triple-A, having posted a 4.76 ERA while giving up six hits and three earned runs over 5-2/3 innings.
Steve Geltz has been a pleasant surprise for OKC and is considered to be MLB ready by all standards. Before being acquired by the Dodgers this past winter, Geltz spent three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays where he was acquired by Andrew Friedman in a 2013 trade with the Angels. The right-handed reliever had a 4.23 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 110 games over those three seasons with the Rays. In 2017, he has made four appearances and has surrendered only one hit and no runs over an even six innings of work.
As far as the middle-of-the-road relievers go at Oklahoma City, arms like Madison Younginer, Joe Gunkel, Patrick Schuster and Layne Somsen have been getting plenty of work. Somsen has yet to give up an earned run, but has already issued four walks in his five innings pitched.
Another reliever to keep an eye on is right-hander Joe Broussard. The 26-year-old New Orleans native was recently promoted to OKC after Fields and Pedro Baez were called back to the big league roster. Broussard was nothing short of stellar in the Arizona Fall League last year, recording a 1.59 ERA in 11-1/3 relief innings, including nine punch outs, no walks and five saves. He pitched across three levels of the farm during the 2016 regular season, and his mid-90s heater could conceivably play large for the big league club at some point in 2017. So far this year, he hasn’t yet surrendered a run at Double-A Tulsa or Oklahoma City. Ralston Cash or Yaisel Sierra may see some closing opportunites for the Drillers considering Broussard’s recent promotion.
Looking at some of the younger talent, hard-throwing righty Jacob Rhame was added to the 40-man roster over the winter, and with the ability to crank up his four-seam to the 98-99 MPH range, will certainly be looked at in a number of high leverage scenarios at Oklahoma City. Only a tick away is Josh Sborz and Jordan Sheffield, who have unlimited potential and the abilities to climb the ladder to the fringes of the big league roster, despite being used as starters in the early stages of 2017. And although he’s also being groomed as a starter on the lower levels of the farm, Yadier Alvarez is finally beginning to stir, and has been in the back of many fans’ minds as a potential right-handed clone of Aroldis Chapman just a few years down the road.