Digging Deeper into the Dodgers’ Minor League Bullpen Depth

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(Mandatory Credit: Jerry Espinoza)

In case you missed it earlier in the week, on Tuesday we put together a concise profile surrounding righty reliever Shea Spitzbarth, and offered up a bit of insight as to what may be in store for the 23-year old in 2018. Along those same lines, we thought it would be worth mentioning a few other pitchers who will likely provide quality relief on the farm this year, and briefly discuss how exactly they may fit into the landscape of the organization.

If you haven’t noticed, the management crew of the Dodgers has a propensity of developing the majority of its pitching talent as starters, then seemingly converts or re-converts these arms back to relievers should an opportunity arise. In recent years, Ross Stripling comes to mind straightaway, as the right-hander has settled in as one of the club’s more prominent relievers after being groomed as a starter during his time on the farm. Presently, righty Brock Stewart could be in the midst of that same transition. During his time in the big leagues last year, Stewart was outstanding in relief, but often fell apart when drifting into the middle innings of his starts. And regardless of what management’s intentions may actually be, Kenta Maeda could be heading down the exact same path, as made evident by his brilliance in relief during the 2017 postseason.

Keeping that in mind, four young pitchers immediately jump into the bullpen picture, despite their current paths of being groomed as starters. Yadier Alvarez, Dennis Santana, Josh Sborz and Jordan Sheffield come to mind right away, and depending on how things shakeout, could be converted sometime in the future.

Alvarez features a four-seamer which usually sits in the 96-100 MPH range. His slider is by far his best breaking pitch, often being clocked 20 MPH slower than his fastest heater. His change and curveball are still in the developmental stages, but if he can’t show any promise on improving his command with his secondary pitches, he could be destined for the bullpen, where his ability to hit triple digits could play large.

Like Alvarez, Santana can also throw in the triple-digit range, but may actually have better control than Alvarez. His slider could be his best offering, and he’s also developing a splitter, which, if it blossoms, could make him one of the most dangerous arms in the system. And, also like Alvarez, the development of his secondary arsenal could very well dictate whether or not he starts or relieves down the road.

The 22-year-old right-handed throwing Sheffield, who is no stranger to the bullpen, may be another relief option down the road. In 2017, he made 24 combined starts for Great Lakes and Rancho, compiling a 4.70 ERA with 109 strikeouts over 107-1/3 innings of work. He was instrumental as a starter for Vandy during the squad’s 2016 championship run; however, in 2015 he made 16 relief appearances for the Commodores, registering a 2.85 ERA with 55 strikeouts over an even 60 innings of work. Sheffield’s four-seam sits in the mid-nineties, but topped out as high as 98 MPH last season at Rancho. He also features a hard three-quarter slider which sits in the upper-eighties, and a circle change that shows a ton of nasty movement.

Another surprise candidate for the bullpen could be the 23-year-old righty Sborz. Like the others, he’s currently being groomed as a starter at the Double-A level, however, he’s no stranger to the bullpen, as he posted a 1.50 ERA with 12 punchouts in nine relief appearances over 12 innings for the Quakes towards the end of 2015. For the University of Virginia during his senior year, he made 30 relief appearances while registering a 1.59 ERA with 15 saves and 62 strikeouts over 73 innings thrown.

All that said, there are a few impressive arms in the system who are climbing the organizational ladder as bonafide relievers.

Beginning his 2017 season at Tulsa, Joe Broussard made four appearances in Double-A, throwing 5-1/3 frames of absolutely perfect baseball before an early-season promotion to Triple-A OKC in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Making a combined 48 appearances across both levels, he posted a 3.27 ERA with an impressive 73 strikeouts in 63-1/3 innings of work. Broussard attended college at LSU, and was instrumental as the team’s closer and captain in 2014, leading the school to its 11th SEC Championship. The righty was selected by the Dodgers in the 15th round of the 2014 draft, and his bread and butter is a heater which normally sits in the low-to-mid nineties, but features a ton of movement. Coupled with his very deceptive, over-the-top delivery, he sometimes appears borderline untouchable when his mechanics are all in tune. Broussard may be the main ninth-inning option for OKC this year, and could conceivably see big league action at some point, especially if he impresses during Cactus League play.

Another right-hander, 23-year-old Corey Copping, was the chief closer for Tulsa towards the end of last season. He was selected in the 31st round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Oklahoma, and was one of the guinea pigs the Dodgers sent to Driveline Baseball in 2016, which resulted in his heater increasing in velocity more than five ticks on the radar gun. In 2017, Copping posted a 5-2 record with 18 saves and 60 strikeouts over and even 68 innings of work. Besides his reinvented four-seam, he also features an impressive curve with 12-6 movement. Copping could very well see time at OKC in 2018, depending on how management fills out the remainder of the Triple-A roster.

Although he’s only embarking on his third season in the organization, it seems as if righty Yaisel Sierra has been around forever. He signed a six-year, $30 million deal with the Dodgers in February of 2016, while being one of the top available international prospects on the market. His primary weapon is a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and tops out as high as 98. He also features a hard slider with cutting action that his coaches see developing into a plus-pitch on his road to the majors. Initially viewed as a starter, Sierra has made the transition to the bullpen nicely. He began last season at Tulsa, but was awarded with a promotion to OKC later in the year. Across both levels, he registered a 5-1 record with a 3.04 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 71 innings over 39 appearances.

Another quartet of relievers in the middle level of the farm to keep an eye on as the season progresses is made up of lefty Michael Johnson, alongside three other right-handers—Karch Kowalczyk, Andrew Istler and Tony Gonsolin.

Personally, I believe that Broussard may be on the fastest track to the bigs, although that’s probably dependent upon his performance during his first big league camp this spring. Santana, already being on the 40-man, could easily sneak into the Dodgers’ relief crew and surprise everybody. And if they’re desperate enough at around the mid-season juncture, there’s always the option of giving Walker Buehler some bullpen work, despite him being bred as one of the club’s premiere starting arms of the future.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)

 

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2 thoughts on “Digging Deeper into the Dodgers’ Minor League Bullpen Depth

  1. Copping sounds interesting, especially for someone taken in the 31st round. It would be great to see Sierra develop into a top notch reliever considering how much money they gave him to sign. Here’s hoping that Karch Kowalczyk makes it some day – – – one of the best names in baseball.

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