With all the scrutiny that’s been following around the Los Angeles relief crew, there have been plenty of conversations regarding a number of prospects who could conceivably contribute to the Dodgers‘ big league bullpen at some point during the year. On occasion, we’ve offered up quite a few ideas ourselves, specifically converting a few live arms like Dennis Santana or Yadier Alvarez from starters to relievers. However, one recent convert, 24-year-old Josh Sborz, may be closer to the big league level than many think.
For those unfamiliar with the right-hander, in 2015, he was named MVP of the College World Series for the University of Virginia after tallying three victories and one save in the championship affair. Frequently shifted between both a starter and a reliever during his collegiate career, he threw mainly out of the bullpen for the Cavaliers during his freshman and junior seasons. He was eventually drafted by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2015 draft, and following a brief stint in rookie ball with the Raptors, was successful in Single-A Rancho’s relief corps that same year, recording a 1.48 ERA with 12 strikeouts in an even 12 innings pitched.
The scouting directors on the farm liked Sborz’s potential so much that they decided to develop him as a starter. In 20 games—19 of which were starts—for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, he went 8-4, registering a 2.66 ERA with 108 strikeouts over 108-1/3 innings of work, eventually earning him a promotion to Double-A Tulsa for the stretch run of the regular season and ultimately being named the 2016 California League Pitcher of the Year.
His 2017 season started off in the right direction with a non-roster invite to big league spring training; however, the remainder of his season was mediocre at best, as he fought off a few injuries and tallied an 8-8 record with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP over 116-2/3 innings in 24 games—all of which were starts.
Sborz was passed over as an NRI to 2018 spring camp, but the Dodgers had new plans for the Washington, DC native. He would once again begin the year at Tulsa, but this time, he would work out of the bullpen. He started the season as the Drillers’ primary closer, and he compiled a 3-1 record with a 2.76 ERA with seven saves over 13 appearances. During that span, he amassed an impressive 24 punchouts over 16-1/3 innings of work which led him to a promotion to Oklahoma City on May 10. He made his Triple-A debut that same day, throwing two strong innings of shutout ball against Memphis. But while there have been a few rough outings during his early days at OKC, he has since settled down nicely, having registered a 1.50 ERA over his last five appearances.
Typical of a reliever, Sborz features two offerings that hover in the plus territory—a fastball which he can easily crank up to 95 MPH and a very tight slider with an incredible amount of break. To top things off, his heater has a ton of natural movement. In addition, throwing from the 3/4-slot, he hides the ball nicely in the delivery of all his pitches, creating an element of deception to opposing batters. His secondary pitches include a curve and a change which he may eventually abandon if he sticks around in the bullpen.
Although he’s currently not on the organization’s 40-man roster, depending on injuries and how some relievers perform in the summer months, there could be a chance that Sborz makes his way to the majors this year based on the current makeup of both the Triple-A and big league bullpens.