Very rarely is an entire Double-A starting pitching rotation filled with players who have the potential of landing in the big leagues. Yet, the 2017 Tulsa Drillers had that type of talent and much, much more. After the promotion of several key members to Triple-A Oklahoma City, the organization brought in another handful of starters from High-A Rancho Cucamonga—a group who unbelievably may have had more talent than the original starting crew.
The headliner, of course, was righty Walker Buehler, who didn’t even begin the season with the Drillers. Commencing the year at Rancho, the 23-year-old Kentucky native made 28 appearances—19 of which were starts—across three levels of the farm, eventually being named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Over his entire campaign, he put together a 3-3 record with one save, 125 strikeouts and a 3.35 ERA over 88-2/3 innings of work. To top his year off, Buehler earned a spot on the Dodgers’ big league expanded roster for the stretch run of the regular season.
The stalwarts of the 2017 Tulsa rotation were Josh Sborz, Scott Barlow, Isaac Anderson and Andrew Sopko—an all-righty quartet who made a combined 79 starts for the Drillers over the course of the regualr season.
Along with Buehler, Barlow was promoted to OKC in mid-season, which opened the door for the next wave of talent—Yadier Alvarez, Dennis Santana and Mitchell White, a trio in which every member is rated among the Top 12 prospects in the organization. Barlow would later return to the Drillers late in the year and provide a boost during the club’s historical playoff run.
Barlow also led the entire staff with 124 strikeouts and a phenomenal 0.90 WHIP, and was second to Sborz in total number of starts and innings pitched. Tim Shibuya, a journeyman who made six starts and 19 total appearances for Tulsa in 2017, recorded the club’s only complete-game shutout of the season on July 3 at Midland.
Santana, Barlow and White were absolutely stellar during the 2017 postseason. On center stage in the North Division Championship series finale against Northwest Arkansas on September 10, Santana threw perhaps the best game of his short career, delivering seven brilliant innings of three-hit, shutout ball while striking out a season-high 11 opposing batters. Barlow picked up the win in Game 2 of the Texas League Championship after throwing seven solid innings of one-run ball, and Mitchell White notched the victory after pitching five very impressive frames in the Championship opener.
As it stands now, two members of this memorable crew—Buehler and Santana—are listed on the Dodgers’ big league 40-man roster. Buehler is likely to open 2018 in Oklahoma City’s starting five, while it’s probable that Santana comes back to Tulsa to begin the year. With Santana, an opening day crew for Tulsa is likely to include Sborz, Sopko, Alvarez and White. At some point in the year, it’s possible that fans see the return of Anderson, along with the Double-A debuts of Jordan Sheffield and Caleb Ferguson, who are ranked as the 10th and 21st best prospects in the entire system.
Both Barlow and Shibuya have elected to become free agents; however, it’s conceivable that one or both return to the organization on one -year minor league deals.
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