Despite a recent series struggle against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Oklahoma City Dodgers have been the gem of the PCL this season as they still control the American Northern division and lead the entire league with a 24-12 record.
It’s hard to point a finger at one particular thing that’s working right for OKC, especially when considering the overwhelming number of players who have been shuttled to and from the big league roster during the early parts of the 2018 campaign.
While we’ve already touched upon the impact that journeyman lefty Manny Banuelos has had on the team, another member of the Oklahoma City rotation, veteran righty Justin De Fratus, has had an impressive season of his own, having been named the PCL Pitcher of the Week on Monday.
The 30-year-old righty began the season at Tulsa, and after being promoted to OKC in mid-April, made his first 2018 Triple-A start against Round Rock a month ago. In some perspectives, the Banuelos/De Fratus top-of-the-rotation combination is already drawing comparisons to last year’s dominating, veteran combo of Wilmer Font and Justin Masterson.
De Fratus threw the PCL’s first nine-inning, complete-game shutout of the season against Memphis last Friday. He retired 16 of the first 17 hitters he faced and 26-of-31 total, only needing 89 pitches to secure the CG. De Fratus scattered four hits, didn’t walk a batter and tallied three strikeouts. De Fratus’ gem was the first nine-inning shutout by an Oklahoma City pitcher since Jake Buchanan did it on May 20, 2014.
Ironically, while with the Drillers, De Fratus was named the Texas League Pitcher of the Week back on April 15—the only other time in his career that he earned POTW honors. The Oxnard, California native has made 191 career Major League appearances, all with the Phillies, which whom he began he career.
Yet, besides Banuelos and De Fratus, there have been plenty of other significant contributors, despite all the players having been jettisoned to the big league squad, and especially when considering that Andrew Toles and Rob Segedin have missed a good portion of the first month with injuries.
Utility infielder Donovan Solano is leading the team in hitting with a .352 average and a .407 on-base percentage. With smaller sample sizes due to their promotions, the trio of Tim Locastro, Breyvic Valera and Max Muncy are right there behind Solano as far as averages go. Outfielder Henry Ramos has been another workhorse on offense so far, having tallied 36 hits, including seven doubles, two triples and three long balls, not to mention his team-leading 22 RBI and six stolen bases. Versatile outfielder Alex Verdugo has already proven he has the skills to shine at both the Triple-A and big league levels.
While Brian Schlitter, Pat Venditte and Edward Paredes have been the chief arms in the relief crew, young righty Joe Broussard has settled down nicely recently, having reduced his ERA more than three full points after lingering around the 6.00 mark in April. While Venditte and Paredes have both already made major league appearances this year, Broussard is now tied for the team lead with 15 appearances.
But perhaps the most important cog in the wheel has been the club’s venerable manager, Bill Haselman.
Haselman is unique in the sense that he’s a mid-generation leader who has a distinct blend of both old school and new school ideals. He was a journeyman catcher who played with four different clubs over a 13-year major league career, most notably being Roger Clemens‘ personal catcher in Boston and having caught the legendary Randy Johnson in Seattle. Ask him who the most talented player he’s ever seen on the field is, and without hesitation, he’ll tell you it’s his former teammate and Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr
In four short years, he’s accelerated through the ranks of the Dodgers farm system, having been promoted to manage Rancho Cucamonga in 2015, then heading to the PCL the following year to manage Oklahoma City. In his first year with OKC, he led his squad to the 2016 PCL Championship, but was eventually defeated by his counterparts, skipper and former Dodger catcher Rod Barajas and the El Paso Chihuahuas.
Haselman proclaims that his prime objective on the Dodgers’ farm is to make the road easier for players when transitioning from minor league ball to the majors, stating that the highest priority of the organization is the development of homegrown players.
“We try to teach them to guide themselves through the game—to develop them into players who think on their own, make decisions on their own, and make adjustments on their own. We don’t want to control them,” Haselman said. “We want them to learn how to make the right decisions and really learn how to play the game of baseball.”
Garnering an overwhelming amount of respect and esteem from his players, Haselman has led his team to its league championship series in three of his last five seasons as a minor league manager. Once the dust settles, there’s a very good chance the club will return to the dance this season, despite the big league squad’s high demand for OKC’s best players.
If there’s indeed such a thing as team chemistry or continuity, there’s no question it can be found with Haselman and the Oklahoma City Dodgers.