Projecting a Preliminary Starting Rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City

(Photo by Cody Roper/OKC Dodgers)

As we are all aware, starting rotations at the Triple-A level are very difficult to predict in the middle of the winter. Even though the big league starting five of the Dodgers is theoretically about 80% set, 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 MLB’s Opening Day, but that doesn’t prevent us from speculating on how things might look at Oklahoma City right now.

Several of the more notable stories of major league spring training could surround the progress of a trio of right-handers—Ross Stripling, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May. Both front-office boss Andrew Friedman and skipper Dave Roberts have said that Stripling will be strongly considered for a big league starting role, conceivably pushing Gonsolin and May into either the Los Angeles bullpen or a spot in OKC’s starting rotation.

As I opined previously, my best guess is that Stripling is used as a reliever to begin the season after May is named to the major league rotation. Of course, it’s tough to say exactly how things play out during 2020 Cactus League play, but I feel that May has the best overall package of talent. Some pundits have suggested that May begin the season at OKC in an effort to conserve innings, but I personally do not see a difference between minor league and major league innings on the wear and tear of a 22 year old’s arm. If May needs rest during the regular season to ensure there’s gas in the tank for the playoffs, Friedman is certainly masterful at utilizing the injured list.

That being said, I have Gonsolin as my Opening Day starter at OKC. The 25-year-old righty can be equally effective in relief, so between him and lefty Caleb Ferguson, both arms give the Dodgers some strong fringe depth as far as bullpen options go. Either way, Gonsolin may conceivably be the first pitcher recalled during the 2020 campaign. After a suffering a few injuries in 2019—specifically a hamstring strain that kept him out more than a month to begin the season—he logged just 81-1/3 frames between the majors and minors. His career-high in innings was an even 128 between High-A Rancho and Double-A Tulsa back in 2018.

Freshly appointed to the club’s 40-man roster, 25-year-old righty Mitchell White gets the No. 2 starting slot. The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw White fall off the map in terms of the organization’s Top 5 prospects. A broken toe on his left foot, a back ailment and several other minor injuries took their toll on him in 2018, as he he finished the season with a 6-7 record and a 4.53 ERA alongside a 1.41 WHIP over 22 starts—all of which he made at Tulsa. Between Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2019, he went 4-6 with a 5.09 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP over 23 appearances and 92-2/3 innings. He still struck out 105 batters, which could be one of the factors that led the Dodgers to add him to the 40-man.

In the No. 3 slot is 23-year-old right-hander Dennis Santana, who, like White, was once very high atop the system’s prospect list. Featuring a fastball that can hit near triple digits, a splitter, and one of the deadliest sliders on the farm, Santana’s repertoire is quite wicked. His climb was quick to the majors as he made his MLB debut in 2018, but he just hasn’t been the same since a rotator cuff injury put him on the shelf for several months. Last year, he made 27 appearances and produced a whopping 6.94 ERA over 93-1/3 innings at OKC. The team even moved him to the bullpen for the final month of the season in hopes of recapturing his mojo. Either way, Santana’s effectiveness in 2020—specifically his command—should be a key indicator on what the organization has in him.

Left-hander Victor Gonzalez, also newly placed on the organization’s 40-man roster, gets the No. 4 starting spot at OKC. Like Gonsolin and Santana, Gonzalez can be equally as effective in relief, giving the Dodgers even more big league bullpen options. In 2019, Gonzalez traversed three levels of the Los Angeles farm, producing a combined 5-2 record with a 2.31 ERA and 93 punchouts in 89-2/3 innings over 38 appearances, 13 of which were starts. His strongest pitches are his four-seam, slider and change, with his heater often touching speeds of 96 MPH.

In the final spot is 32-year-old righty Justin De Fratus. The native of Oxnard, CA made his MLB debut for the Phillies as a relief pitcher back in 2011, but has not seen any major league action since 2015. Over those five big league seasons with the Phillies, he made 191 appearances—all in relief—producing a 4.08 ERA and a 3.83 FIP alongside 170 strikeouts over an even 194 innings. His best year in the majors came in 2014, when he appeared in 54 games, posting a 2.39 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP with 49 strikeouts over 52-2/3 innings. After spending subsequent time in the Rangers, Nationals, Padres and Mariners farm systems, the Dodgers signed De Fratus to minor league deals at the beginning of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, utilizing him primarily as a starting pitcher.

All that said, the right-handed dominant rotation shapes up like this:

  • Tony Gonsolin
  • Mitchell White
  • Dennis Santana
  • Victor Gonzalez (L)
  • Justin De Fratus

There’s probably a good chance the Dodgers sign another veteran starter or two to provide major league depth at the fringe, possibly pushing one of the aforementioned arms into an exclusive relief role. Furthermore, Ferguson may begin the season around the Triple-A scene, providing both OKC and the parent squad an extremely versatile swing man. Management has hinted that Ferguson may continue to be groomed strictly as a reliever, but that could depend on the organization’s need in the majors. Consequently, righty Josh Sborz probably fits into the same boat.

Several other starting pitchers who could make impacts at the Triple-A level at some point during the 2020 season are 22-year-old right-hander Josiah Gray, 22-year-old southpaw Leo Crawford and 21-year-old righty Edwin Uceta.

Last September, the Dodgers named Gray the 2019 Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher of the Year.


28 thoughts on “Projecting a Preliminary Starting Rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City

  1. Hard to draw any real conclusions here until we see if any other starters are signed or traded for before ST. I would guess that May will wind up in OKC if he isn’t part of the 5-man rotation on opening day. On the other hand I could definitely see Gonsolin making the club as a bullpen piece to start the year.
    I think this could be a make or break year for both White and Santana, assuming that neither is included in a trade. They both have strong potential but at some point you have to fulfill your potential or step aside for someone else.


      1. Others might tell you he’s had his phone on mute this entire off season. I, however, am not one of those people. I view Andrew like a duck on the water. Calm on top but moving furiously underneath where no one can see. As a matter of fact I think I’m going to change his nickname from Olaf the Magnificent to Ducky.
        Get your tickets for Coachella now folks and see that great new band Ducky and the Shlemmings. I think they’re looking for a guitarist Bear if you decide you’d like to join. 🙂


    1. I’ve read May or Stripling as #5 and my choice is May. Stripling has been on the fringe for what feels like a long time and a couple of years ago looked like he had arrived. I too use him out of the pen as he is the one guy there that could go multiple innings. The “long man” is seldom referenced anymore but in today’s game of 5 inning starters I would think a bridge from there to your 8th inning guy would be valuable. Santana is going to be 24 in April and unless a light goes on I don’t see him on our ML roster.

      I think somebody in that group is going to step forward. Last year my pick was Gonsolin. I don’t know Uceta and Crawford well enough, Sborz has the stuff but not the command. I think Gonsolin is on the team so I’ll go with Gray. His WHIP is where it needs to be and even though it looks like he will start at AA I don’t believe he will stay there long. He’s too good for AA ball. It’s also time for Mitchell White to step up. His WHIP concerns me, but he’s 25 now and though his K rate is where it needs to be his command apparently isn’t. I already traded him a couple of times so it’s now or be gone as far as I’m concerned.


      1. I definitely think Gray should get a ST invite. Although not likely, it certainly isn’t impossible that he could be so impressive that he takes that last leap and starts the year here in L.A. I really hope they don’t trade him but teams have certainly got to be asking about him in all the various talks AF is having about Betts, Lindor, etc.
        I just hope they don’t rush him too quickly. Who will ever forget 2016 when our long-time favorite Brock Stewart pitched in RC, Tulsa and OKC and was then brought to L.A. We don’t want Gray’s career path to mirror Stewart’s, although I’m guessing that most experts think that Gray has a much higher ceiling.


      2. Just read this:

        “There were 11 relievers who signed for multiple years last season. Six had zero or negative WAR (Baseball Reference version). Just two improved on their WAR from 2018 to 2019, and just three ([Zack] Britton, [Adam] Ottavino and Justin Wilson) improved their ERA.”

        Yous just can’t trusts releevers.


      3. When I saw that online this morning I immediately phoned AF and told him to hold off the Hader trade for 24 hours and think about it some more.


  2. I think I’d like to see what Gonsolin can do out of the pen next year. We have Urias, May and Gray along with Buehler that gives us a bright future starting group but who do we have in the pen for the future. Also would like to see if White and Santana’s stuff plays up out of the pen. If it’s too risky to trade for relievers then we have to develop them in our system


    1. We have a group of young talented pitchers from which to choose. That said, I believe AF will look for a veteran but not reach for one. Relievers are on the whole a unreliable lot. Those who sign large contracts often don’t live up to them. I’m quite certain the Friedman Group have the algorithms on the subject and the subjects. I think they learned from the Jansen signing and don’t intend to make the same mistake twice. It’s been my contention for a long time now that looking for the next Mariano Rivera is a fool’s errand. It’s about matchups. The last 9 outs are about matchup algorithms. We just need a manager who is better at reading them. Close by committee, 1,2 or 3 outs at a time. The first team that figures this out will be the trend setter. We are currently set up for it.


  3. Where is everybody this morning? Scoop, Bear, you guys OK? Not coming here and finding Scoop’s morning commentary is like missing that first cup of coffee.


      1. Good timing.

        I’m still waiting to see what, if anything, manifests from all the talk. I’m not the least bit surprised we didn’t overpay for a guy who didn’t want to play here (Cole) and not all surprised Strasburg decided to stay on the East Coast. We don’t need Rendon and I hope Anaheim stays at .500 with him. I am a bit surprised some of our young guns didn’t work out. I really thought Santana and White were going to be better. Oh well. Keep coaching them up.


    1. Thanks for the link, Jesus. I’m wondering if Santana’s move to the bullpen is permanent. I think I’m gonna give him a yell this week to see if he wants to chat. He’s always been receptive to my questions in the past.


    2. The two things I found most interesting in the chat were Santana’s numbers being so much better out of the bullpen last year (I knew that would probably be his ultimate destination but didn’t know what a huge difference there was last year) and the fact that he thought Downs’ best position with the big club would be third base. I only remember people speaking about Downs as a shortstop, second baseman or possible center fielder. Kyle seems to think he has a good arm but somewhat limited range.


      1. I find it hard to believe that a player can swipe 37 bases in a season based on instinct and savvy. I don’t care what level you’re playing—to steal that many, you have to have decent quickness and speed.


      2. The thing that bothered me with Downs was the fact that he has been struggling with fly balls. Hopefully, he’s been putting extra-extra time in over the winter in that regard.


      3. He stole 37 bases in 2018 but only 24 last year. I think as he gets older (he’s now reached the ripe old age of 21), he’s slowing up. I guess you can have quickness on the bases that doesn’t necessarily translate to the infield (reaction time, etc.). Or Kyle could be totally full of it since he seems to be the only one who thinks Downs’ future is at third. As with so many other opinions and predictions, time will tell.


  4. Sorry I am late to the dance. Fighting a killer toothache. But I will be fine. Snooze ya lose, Hudson signs a 2 year pack with the Nats. A couple of stocked bullpens in the east now. Atlanta and DC loading up. Castellanos looks like he might be headed to Texas. No hot Dodger rumors on the board.


    1. Hope you get that toothache taken care of Bear. They can be real torture.
      With regard to stacking a bullpen, remember what the Rockies did a couple of years ago? How did that turn out?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will, thanks, and that was last year they did that. McGee has been around a couple of seasons as has Davis. They actually were not too bad in 18. But last year the wheels fell off of the baby carriage. I think the guys the Nats and Braves have signed have a little better resume and will be pretty decent. Just like us signing Treinen. Just how good will he be, we do not know. Just saw the absolute dumbest trade package on twitter. Some guy, a Yankee fan said the Dodgers should trade. wait for it,….Gonsolin, May, Ruiz, Urias, and Verdugo for ….Clevinger and Hand. I nearly choked on my pop tart.


      2. Funny you should mention the Nats and Braves. I just saw a power ranking that had them above us. Maybe it’s happening. Maybe the NL is catching us?

        I still look for something to happen.


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