With most of the core players returning from last season, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of speculation surroundinging the Dodgers‘ 25-man roster heading into Opening Day. However, there are several spots—most specifically, one outfield spot and a few utility spots on the pitching staff and the bench—which could conceivably be won or lost over the course of the 2018 Cactus League schedule.
A few weeks back, we discussed the future of outfielder Trayce Thompson, and within that same conversation we also touched upon the future of hard-throwing righty Wilmer Font, who is currently on the club’s 40-man roster, but doesn’t have any options remaining on his contract. Essentially, what that means is that Font needs to be included on the team’s Opening Day 25-man roster, or else he’ll be at risk to being lost to waivers if he’s either outrighted or designated for assignment.
So, the decision of whether or not to include Font on the 25-man is a bit important in nature for the management group, because he’ll almost certainly be claimed by another club if he’s doesn’t make the squad.
Where exactly he’d fit in, though, is tough to speculate.
Last year, Font went 10-8 with a 3.42 ERA over 134-1/3 innings in 25 starts for the OKC Dodgers before being promoted to the big league club after rosters expanded in early September. Prior to his promotion, he led the Pacific Coast League with a career-high 178 strikeouts, which set Oklahoma City’s all-time single-season strikeout record. He was also named to the 2017 All-Pacific Coast League Team after leading the PCL in ERA, WHIP, opponents’ batting average and K/9, while also ranking among the best in starts, wins and innings pitched. he was also named a mid-season PCL All-Star and started the Triple-A All-Star Game last July, retiring the side in the first inning on four pitches. He was named PCL Pitcher of the Week twice last season, taking home the award for the periods of May 15-21 and July 10-16.
The 27-year-old Venezuela native appeared in five big league games over two seasons with the Texas Rangers in 2012-13, but has made a career on the farm since. Over nine minor league seasons, Font has gone 38-29 with 18 saves and has posted a 3.61 ERA in 203 games with the Rangers, Blue Jays and Dodgers organizations. He has held batters to a career .218 average in the minors and has struck out 730 batters against 271 walks in 618-2/3 innings, posting a 10.62 K/9.
All those accolades seem to be an excellent recipe for big league success, however, Font didn’t have much luck in the action he saw for the Dodgers in the stretch run of last year’s regular season. He pitched in three contests altogether, and surrendered seven earned runs on seven hits, including two long balls and four walks, which calculated to a 17.18 ERA over just 3-2/3 innings of work. Nevertheless, his stuff is probably much better than the numbers indicate, as butterflies probably got the better of him on the big stage.
As far as his arsenal goes, Font has a fastball which sits in the mid-90s, a curve, a quality slider, a decent change, and a splitter. More importantly, his heater has a tremendous amount of carry, and elevates through the entire path of his delivery, even when crossing the plate. Needless to say, the high heat was the chief weapon in tallying the high number of strikeouts in Triple-A last year.
Last year’s pitching coach at OKC, Matt Herges, who has since accepted a position with the San Francisco Giants, had nothing but good things to say about Font before the righty received his promotion last year.
“He’s knocking that door down, he’s pushing that envelope as well as anyone I’ve ever seen who’s not been on a roster, he’s forcing their hand big time,” Herges told Craig Minami of True Blue LA last summer. “I’m pushing for it, I don’t make those decisions, but anytime they ask me, this guy is ready, he’s ready to roll.”
Even if he’s passed over as a starter, Herges said that Font has the talent to succeed as a big league reliever, most specifically as a middle innings guy.
“That’s something that I think about, I mean he could sit on 99 MPH, he’s got that in him, I mean he’s touching 97 multiple times a game,” Herges added. “That’s why I think it would work in any role, the ability to land a curve ball, the ability to control both sides of the plate with his slider and the split-finger is rarely thrown for a strike and with the elite elevation, there’s not a role he can’t do in my mind.”
The problem is that the 25-man roster of the Dodgers—potential injuries aside—may be a little too tight to warrant a spot for Font. There’s certainly no room in the starting five, and according to most of the early bullpen models, it may be tough to squeeze him into the relief corps. Right now, our model has Kenley Jansen, Tom Koehler, Pedro Baez, Ross Stripling, Tony Cingrani, Josh Fields and Scott Alexander, but there could be a chance the Dodgers employ eight arms early on, especially when considering the starters’ outings will be much shorter at the beginning of the year. Even so, our list still doesn’t include players like Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore and Brock Stewart, who will undoubtedly be jockeying for spots on the big league club as well. Having said that, the fact that several of the aforementioned players have options could conceivably work in Font’s favor.
For most pitchers heading into camp and looking towards Cactus League play, they have the luxury of stretching out slowly, surveying their mechanics, and working on one or two small tweaks at a time, but in the case of Font, he’ll be under heavy scrutiny straightaway, as his performance this spring may very well determine whether or not he remains with the club moving forward.
And the Dodgers aren’t wasting any time in giving him the opportunities, as Font has already been named to start the Cactus League opener against the White Sox on Friday.
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