As many of us know, Triple-A starting rotations are very difficult to predict in the middle of the winter. Even though the big league starting five of the Dodgers has been theoretically set for quite some time, injuries, trades and free agent signings can impact all levels of the farm at any moment. Minor league rosters are often decided in the final hours leading to Opening Day, but that doesn’t prevent us from speculating on how things might look at Oklahoma City right now.
Two of the more notable stories of major league spring training may surround southpaw pitcher Caleb Ferguson and right-handed swing man Brock Stewart. If you missed my column last Thursday, I discussed how Ferguson was undoubtedly one of the best eight relievers in the organization; however, I explained why he’ll probably begin the year in the OKC rotation. And as far as Stewart goes, there could be a chance he may not be with the organization at all come Opening Day.
While I think there’s a small possibility that Stewart breaks camp in the big league bullpen, there’s a better chance he could be designated for assignment, only because he doesn’t have any options on his contract and competition for a major league roster spot is incredibly tight this year. Righty Yimi Garcia also finds himself in the same option scenario as Stewart, but I think Garcia has a much better chance of making the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster than does Stewart.
Of course, there’s also a chance that Brock could clear waivers—if he’s not claimed by any other team—and eventually be outrighted to OKC, giving him a chance to join the starting rotation. Nevertheless, I’m sure there are at least a few clubs around baseball which see some upside in the 27-year-old; so for now, my best guess is that he’ll be gone.
The next biggest question is how the club will handle the left arm of 22-year-old Julio Urias. The youngster was surprisingly selected for the 2018 NLCS and World Series rosters and pitched fairly well in relief. Andrew Friedman told reporters earlier this winter that Urias will definitely be on an innings limit, but he didn’t explain exactly how many innings he’ll pitch or how the strategy will be implemented. Skipper Dave Roberts indicated that Julio would be used in a starting role rather than relief, which suggests that he may be the first pitcher called upon in the event of an injury. That said, it’s safe to say that Urias will either begin the year in either the OKC rotation or extended spring training. We’ll probably know more as spring camp progresses, but for now my guess is that he starts at Oklahoma City. It may also be worth noting that 2019 will be the final option year on his contract, if he does indeed use it.
Another prospective headliner at OKC will be hard-throwing righty Dennis Santana. Still only 22-years-old, the Dominican native made his big league debut last year but was shut down in June with a severe rotator cuff injury. Long term, there could be a possibility that he contributes as a late-inning reliever, but for now, chances are very good that he begins 2019 in the OKC rotation.
Consequently, 28-year-old righty Daniel Corcino was recently signed to a minor league deal and will likely begin his 2019 campaign in the OKC starting five. His contract was purchased by the parent club last year, and he eventually made two big league relief appearances before being released, but he ultimately returned back to Oklahoma City. During his time in the minors last year, he made a total of 24 appearances, 19 of which were starts.
In terms of the final slot, it’s tough to make an educated guess at this point based on the information available. It looks like righty Josh Sborz is finally settling in as a reliever, as will newly acquired right-hander Jaime Schultz. I think there’s a shot that righty Andrew Sopko starts the season at OKC, if only for his level of experience. Flamethrower Yadier Alvarez may also be considered, but he may ultimately begin the year at Tulsa, just so he can establish a solid foundation. Alvarez is another example of a pitcher who may eventually find success as a major league reliever. A few other up-and-comers like Mitchell White and Tony Gonsolin could also be considered to throw at the Triple-A level at some point in the season.
So, for now, OKC’s preliminary starting rotation could look something like this:
- Julio Urias
- Dennis Santana
- Caleb Ferguson
- Daniel Corcino
- Andrew Sopko
Of course, there will be plenty of developments as the spring months progress, and I could be completely blown out of the water with my guesses. But, for the time being, it’s as good a start as any.