As most Triple-A rosters normally don’t start taking shape until later in the spring when the big league squads become firm, it’s probably a bit too early to take a stab at guessing Oklahoma City‘s 2018 Opening Day starting pitching rotation. However, with the departure of veterans Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir last weekend, the major league rotation is developing earlier than usual, giving us at least some kind of idea as to how most of the system’s starting pitchers fit onto the organizational ladder.
Assuming the quintet of Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu are healthy and ready to go at the beginning of the regular season, 23-year-old righty Walker Buehler is setting up to be the headliner at OKC, and conceivably could be the first to get a call to the bigs should there be a need.
Not far behind Buehler is right-handed sinkerballer Trevor Oaks, who was freshly appointed to the major league 40-man roster just before the onset of the Winter Meetings earlier in December. Oaks may be closer than many think, as he impressed scouts during Cactus League play last spring, when he made five appearances on the major league side and threw to the tune of a 2.38 ERA with 11 punchouts over 11-1/3 innings.
The big question mark could be the future of swing man Brock Stewart. If team management finally sees Stewart’s future in the bullpen, there could be a chance the righty actually makes the major league relief crew to open the season. But if there’s still belief that Brock has potential as a starter, he likely opens the year at OKC, and probably jumps above both Buehler and Oaks in the pecking order for call-ups. That assumption holds true as long as Tom Koehler cements himself in the relief corps and doesn’t somehow drift into the Dodgers’ starting rotation.
So, beyond Buehler, Oaks and Stewart, the water is a bit murky. Presumably, Wilmer Font is returning, but like Stewart, he may turn out to be more productive in relief, despite his success starting in Triple-A last year. Drifting down even further, there’s Josh Sborz and Andrew Sopko, but again, Sborz is one of those guys who could have a future in the bullpen. Sopko has shown a few bright spots over his last few campaigns, but he still hasn’t had that one year of solid consistency to warrant a promotion to Triple-A.
Based on these presumptions, it wouldn’t be surprising if Andrew Friedman and his troops make one or two signings to bolster the Triple-A starting pitching depth, similar to the roles that Justin Masterson and Fabio Castillo played last year alongside Font. Masterson was the workhorse of the OKC rotation in 2017, having posted an 11-6 record over 26 starts and 141-2/3 innings of work. Chances are very slim the veteran righty returns to OKC, though, as he’s already garnering interest as a big legue non-roster invitee from a handful of clubs across the league.
One of the big surprises in 2018 could be the emergence of 21-year-old righty Dennis Santana, who, like Oaks, is a new addition to the major league 40-man roster. Santana has yet to complete a full year at Double-A, but his heater and sinker play-up so well that he could potentially slide into the Oklahoma City rotation at any given point in time. A few other arms, most specifically those of Yadier Alvarez and Mitchell White, may also have opportunities to climb the pitching totem pole as the year progresses.
Julio Urias, in theory, could return sometime during the late summer months, and may begin his road back on the bump at OKC.
Right now, while there’s still some work to be done in terms of adding a few pieces, the good news is there are right-handers galore at OKC to compliment an otherwise lefty-dominated major league rotation. And while it’s not entirely too early to start thinking about the framework of Oklahoma City’s Opening Day 25-man roster, the whole complexion could still change in the blink of an eye, depending on how many players the management crew decides to bring in from the outside.
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