As a follower of the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the most exciting aspects of Cactus League play has always been watching the system’s top prospects compete, particularly the pitchers. The 2021 opener was especially interesting because we saw three of the organization’s most talented young arms in Michael Grove, Andre Jackson, and Edwin Uceta.
Grove, 24, is certainly the headliner of the trio, as he was a prized blue-chipper who was selected by Los Angeles in the second round of the 2018 MLB draft out of West Virginia. Jackson, also 24, lasted a bit longer in the 2017 draft, having been chosen by the Dodgers in the 12th round. The 23-year-old Uceta, on the other hand, was signed as an international free agent back in 2016 and has flown somewhat under the radar ever since.
Uceta was signed out of the Dominican Republic when he was just 16 years old in 2016, at which point he was quickly assigned to the Dominican Summer League. He finally arrived stateside for the first time in 2017, starting 14 games for Low-A Ogden in the Pioneer League, while posting a 6.59 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 14 walks over an even 56 innings.
2018 saw much better results for the lanky, 155-lb., 6-foot righty. Over 25 combined starts between Low-A Great Lakes and High-A Rancho, he tallied a 5-6 record with a 3.89 ERA and 131 punchouts over 120-1/3 innings. Despite the mediocre numbers, scouts liked what they saw in the youngster so much that he made the Top 30 Prospect List of several different major outlets.
He posted superb numbers in 2019, going 11-2 with a 2.77 ERA and 141 strikeouts over 24 starts and 123-1/3 innings of work (including two key playoff starts for Double-A Tulsa), opening the eyes of farm directors and garnering an invite to the big-league side of 2020 spring training.
According to Evan Petzold of milb.com, Uceta worked at a gas station in Villa Los Almacigos during his early teen years. The young Uceta eventually made a deal with the owner of the gas station. In exchange for his work, the owner paid for Uceta to go to school.
As a boy who often did not have food on this kitchen table, Uceta accepted the seven-hour-per-day job. He went to school like a normal child, until his uncle Mario Alberto encouraged him to pick up a baseball and pitch during his mid-teen years.
Now, he’s set to begin his 2021 campaign as one of the Dodgers’ most talented pitching prospects.
“I just feel so proud,” Uceta told Petzold during his time at Great Lakes. “I’ve been working really hard and making adjustments. It’s a new opportunity, and I have to keep getting better every day. Everybody can’t always stay on the prospect list, I have to keep doing it.”
Uceta possesses a more traditional repertoire, utilizing a fastball, a curve, a changeup, and a slider. His fastball sits in the low nineties, sometimes topping out as high as 95 MPH. His curve and slider are average offerings, but most scouts feel his change is definitely his out pitch.
According to MLB Pipeline, “Uceta began to take off once the Dodgers got him to stop throwing across his body and take a more direct path to the plate. His improved delivery has allowed him to command his pitches better, a necessity because he’s not overpowering. With a slender 6-foot frame, he’ll have to prove he’s capable of handling a starter’s workload over a full season.”
Before the pandemic restrictions went into effect last year, Uceta threw three scoreless innings over two Cactus League appearances.
Uceta will certainly get his fair share of looks this spring. Obviously, his size is a huge concern, but his performance during 2021 Cactus League play should be a big indicator of what the Dodgers have in him moving forward.