Dodgers Bullpen: Sorting Out the Top Relievers on the Farm

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Considering everything that went down in both legs of Saturday’s doubleheader in San Francisco, there’s bound to be a few roster moves on the horizon, especially in the bullpen. Righty Pedro Baez suffered his biggest pummeling of the season in the first game; however, it was the southpaw Scott Alexander who was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City to make room for the emergency promotion of outfielder Alex Verdugo. With the move, the Dodgers are back down to eight arms in the big league bullpen, but not many of them are fresh, to say the least.

In light of the relief crew’s recent struggles, we thought it would be interesting to look at the bullpen from a completely different perspective, this time considering only the most elite arms in the Los Angeles minor league system.

It was difficult to stick to one specific angle here because we have a number of very capable arms from all ends of the spectrum. We have ambidextrous pitchers, three pitchers over the age of 31 years, and a whole slew of starters who may be converted sometime in the near future, especially when considering the potential needs of the big league club.

As far as the senior crew goes, we have Brian Schlitter, Pat Venditte and Edward Paredes. Any one member of this trio could be among the candidates considered to get a promotion at some point this year, although the 31-year-old Paredes is the only one currently on the 40-man. Schlitter, 32, has emerged as OKC’s primary closer and has already tallied four saves with a 1.86 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP in nine appearances. The 32-year-old switch-pitcher Venditte has 13 punchouts over 12-2/3 innings of work. Paredes, like Schlitter, has made nine appearances with a 1.86 ERA.

Righty Yimi Garcia is in a category of his own. At 27 years of age, he’s a little young for the over-30 crowd, but he’s also a few years past the prime prospect age. In the same breath, because he’s on the 40-man roster, he could be the highest on the totem pole when it comes to the club handing out promotions. He just finished up his rehab assignment and was optioned to OKC last week. Officially, he’s thrown 5-2/3 innings over six appearances at Triple-A this season.

Yaisel Sierra is another one of those players who is on the fringe of prospect status at 26 years of age. He earned a non-roster invite to big league training during the spring, but he’s been missing in action for the early weeks of this season, as he’s not listed on the disabled list or any of the organization’s affiliate rosters. Presumably, he’s hanging out in extended spring training with guys like Mitchell White, Matt Beaty and Edwin Rios.

Among the better known true prospects in the system are right-handers Joe Broussard and Shea Spitzbarth. Beginning his 2017 campaign at Tulsa, 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 PCL. 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. So far this year at OKC, he’s made eight appearances and struck out 11 batters over 10-2/3 innings of work.

In 2016, Spitzbarth posted a 1.91 ERA with 43 strikeouts and six saves over 28-1/3 innings, helping Low-A Great Lakes capture the team’s first Midwest League Championship in 10 years. Across two levels in 2017, the 23-year-old righty made 43 appearances, tallying a 2.45 ERA with 77 punchouts and nine saves over 69-2/3 innings. So far in 2018 he has registered a 1.84 ERA, a 0.75 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 14-2/3 innings at Tulsa. He features a traditional, over-the-top arm motion that oftentimes catapults his heater well into the mid-nineties.

Another right-hander, 23-year-old Corey Copping, was the chief closer for Tulsa 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. Early in 2018, he has made eight appearances and worked 13 innings at Tulsa.

Just like we predicted over the winter, right-hander Josh Sborz has been re-converted to a reliever and, at the moment, is the primary closer for Tulsa. Sborz posted a 1.50 ERA with 12 punchouts in nine relief appearances over 12 innings for Single-A Rancho way back towards the end of 2015. For the University of Virginia during his senior campaign, he made 30 relief appearances while registering a 1.59 ERA with 15 saves and 62 strikeouts over 73 innings. So far this year, the 24-year-old has thrown 11-2/3 innings over nine games and has already tallied a team-high three saves.

In the early stages for the Quakes, 23-year-old righty Ryan Moseley has been the chief closer, having already made 10 appearances and notching two saves.

There’s a quartet of right-handed prospects—Brock StewartDennis Santana, Yadier Alvarez and Jordan Sheffield—who are currently being groomed as starters but may be considered as relievers sometime down the road. Both Santana and Alvarez can hit triple digits on the radar gun, but Santana may be one step ahead by already being on the big league 40-man roster.

Sheffield 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. So far this season at Rancho, his four seam has been topping out at 97-98 MPH.

 

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15 thoughts on “Dodgers Bullpen: Sorting Out the Top Relievers on the Farm

  1. Of those names mentioned, the ones that immediately catch my eye are Dennis Santana, Josh Sborz, and Shea Spitzbarth. Santana’s looking more and more like an eventual September call-up after taking another huge step forward in his development this year. If the Dodgers finally convert him to the pen, he could very well become Jansen’s future successor in that closer role. That’s how much I think highly of him at this point. Been following Sborz since the College WS a few years back and he’s NO stranger to high-leverage situations. Matter of fact, that’s where he’s usually at his best. Plus, his previous tenure as a starter gives him the added ability to pitch multiple innings if needed. A rather underrated arm right there. As for Spitzbarth (LOVING that name, btw), he’s flown under the radar for a while but his stuff is decent and his numbers have remained very consistent since entering pro-ball. Guy just comes in throwing strikes with efficiency, just what every solid bullpen needs…

    That said, both Yadier Alvarez and especially Jordan Sheffield could also show major promise if they were finally moved to the bullpen because personally I just don’t see either of ’em reaching their respective ceilings as viable big-league starters (Sheffield in particular). Might as well add Dean Kremer and Tony Gonsolin (keep an eye on HIM!) to that list in the meantime. Dodgers still have plenty of options in that area, no doubt about that.

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  2. I see where Manuel seems to be in favor of converting Santana into a reliever. Does anyone know how the front office feels right now? I think he’s doing so nicely as a starter that I’d rather keep him in that role for now. We aren’t exactly overrun with high end starters in the farm system at this point. Ryu is gone after this year, Hill after next year and who knows what happens with Kershaw? That’s some pretty important pieces to replace.
    With regard to Alvarez and Sheffield, some major potential but I’m thinking it will never be realized. I’d be willing to send both of them plus Rios to the Reds for Iglesias right now. I’m guessing the Reds wouldn’t do it. They would probably come back and ask for Verdugo and Santana and I wouldn’t do that.

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      1. I think Stewart could develop into a very nice back end starter if they would just leave him alone instead of sending him back and forth all year, starting him at OKC and pitching him out of the bullpen up here. Let him spend the entire year at AAA and see how he develops as a starter (after all, he hasn’t been a pitcher all that long). Then do your analysis after the season and decide if there has been enough progress to keep starting him. What they’re doing with him now will lead to his being a mediocre starter AND a mediocre reliever.

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    1. @Jeff D. Out of the pitching prospects the Dodgers currently have, the ones I feel that have the most potential to stick in a big-league rotation are: Walker Buehler, Mitchell White, and Caleb Ferguson (Dodgers nabbed a genuine steal in that guy; sturdily-built southpaw with a true power fastball/curve combo and knows how to use it, kinda like Tyler Skaggs of the Angels). They might have another one in that tall lanky redhead by the name of Dustin May, but I’ve yet to see him pitch at High-A Rancho this season since he’s still held up in extended ST. Heard REALLY good things about how he’s progressed since entering pro-ball, however. Could be a potential breakout candidate if he continues to fill out his rather slender frame. And yeah, you’re not the only one that was thinking of Alvarez as potential trade bait. From my perspective, he could very well end up being moved in a deal at some point down the road should he hit the wall in AA as a starter.

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    1. Forget what I said about forgetting what I said. I repeat my above comments about not screwing around with Stewart. Stripling announced as Monday’s starter. I’m OK with this if they send Stewart back down tonight and bring someone else up for the pen. I’m hoping they just brought up Stewart in case they had to use Stripling in relief on Sunday. Stewart should be a starter for the rest of the year. There, I’ve said it! (about 3 or 4 times now, I apologize).

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      1. Personally, I’m in the camp which thinks he has a higher ceiling as a reliever. Whatever they decide, I hope they stick to it instead of continuously flip-flopping him. Gotta be tough on him mentally, especially considering that it hasn’t even been real long since he converted from being an infielder.

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      2. Completely agree. If they decide his upside is in relief, I’ll bow to their superior wisdom. Just make up your mind and let him concentrate on one or the other.

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  3. Informative commentary. Came at a good time for me as I was wondering wtf with the bullpen proclivity. I’m encouraged. Mostly because Dennis presented the options in such a positive light.

    Sierra. Almost forgot about him. He’s part of the quarter billion dollar Cuban investment plan. He’s 26. Throw him in there. Alvarez is considerably younger, 22. Sborz is 24. With so many currently on the shelf, now might be a good time to throw a few on the front lines and see what up. There are some live arms in the group Dennis acknowledges. Kinda like Baez, hey?

    Looking at AAA stats yesterday I noticed Venditte has the go to pen numbers. Then I was told he’s not on the 40. Huh? And speaking of AAA pitching stats, who is Banuelos and why didn’t he get any Schlossman love in this otherwise uplifting disquisition?

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  4. Interesting reads from yesterday.

    I am a bit confused. This conversation reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield taking his math final in Back to School. After being grilled by Dr Barbay, his mind completely melted, stunned and confused he says …”the answer is….4?”

    Argumentum ad fastidium
    Wronger than wrong
    Bad logic
    Association fallacy
    Bulverism
    Friedmanism
    Confounding Robertsian factors
    Word salad magic
    تقلیل به هیتلر

    Friedman to Zaidi: “Affirming the starter/bullpen consequent is a logical fallacy, confusing the directionality of all if-then conclusions, quantifyingly denying the antecedents. Converting prospect/veteran conditionals occurs when the components of proposed compound statements are switched. Affirming the consequent related to the generic phrase that “all x are y, but not all y are x” in that the formal augment ambiguities clearly recognize the obvious answer is ……Stripling …..”

    Say what?

    Third verse same as the first.

    We’ve heard the depth chant from FAZophants for several seasons running now Friedman has been stacking the system for 4 years, and the answer is Stewart and Stripling?

    Something doesn’t add up. I’m going to now dip my cannabis brownie into a vanilla latte and let you guys sort this mess out.

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