Further exploring the seemingly infinite amount of talent in the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ farm system, we once again stumble across the bullpen, where the organization appears to be growing stronger with each passing season.
Last month, we took a look at the rapid advancement of hard-throwing righty Jacob Rhame. Today, we’ll take a quick glance at another youngster frequently mentioned around Camelback Ranch this spring — right-handed reliever Caleb Dirks.
Dirks was born in Arcadia, California and attended Woodcrest Christian School in Riverside — a stone’s throw away from LoanMart Field in Rancho Cucamonga.
After high school, Dirks attended California Baptist University, culminating his senior season with a 4-1 record, a 2.85 ERA and PacWest Academic All-Conference honors.
His collegiate teammate, Trevor Oaks, was selected by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the 2014 draft; and as the later rounds passed, Dirks kept his fingers crossed hoping that he too would join Oaks with the Dodgers. His wish never came true, however; as he was ultimately chosen in the 15th round by the Atlanta Braves.
During his initial year in the Atlanta organization, Dirks began with the Danville Braves in rookie league, where he posted a 0.96 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP along with 16 strikeouts in just over nine innings of work.
Valuing his success in the bullpen, the Braves quickly promoted him to low Class-A Rome that same season. While in Rome, Dirks pitched 23 innings over 14 appearances with a 2.74 ERA and 21 strikeouts.
He returned to Rome to begin the 2015 campaign, and after only 10 appearances and an ERA of 1.80, was quickly ushered to the High-A Carolina Mudcats‘ bullpen. With the Mudcats, he pitched 16.2 innings over 11 appearances giving up only eight hits and no earned runs while striking out 18 batters.
Then came the trade.
On July 2 of last year, the Dodgers traded their 87th international bonus pool slot to the Braves for Dirks and minor league outfielder Jordan Paroubeck.
There was enough time remaining in the 2015 season for a quick stop with the Quakes and eventually a promotion to Double-A to finish the year with the Drillers.
For Rancho Cucamonga, Dirks appeared in 10 innings over nine games, recording a 0.90 ERA and a .998 WHIP while ringing up 18 strikeouts and allowing just one earned run. He closed out the season by posting a 1.35 ERA, a .975 WHIP, and fanning 17 batters in just under 14 innings of work in Tulsa.
Still only 22 years old, his quick success in the minors earned him a non-roster invite to the Dodgers’ 2016 spring training camp in Glendale.
Dirks doesn’t throw as hard as Rhame, but can still dial up his heater to about 94 MPH consistently. He compliments his fastball with a solid average slider and changeup. He patterns all his pitches off his fastball, and throws everything from the same arm slot. He uses his 6’4″, 225 lb. frame to create a very unorthodox, yet deceptive delivery, employing a hop-like motion as he pushes off the rubber. He keeps the ball hidden until the very last moment of the release point. His fastball doesn’t have a ton of movement, but his location points are strong, nonetheless.
While he pitches toward the back of the bullpen in the minors, his upside is more likely that of a middle reliever when he’s called up to the bigs.
Dirks fought through back issues early in camp, and although he didn’t officially appear in any Cactus League games, he was able to log some very valuable bullpen sessions and simulated situations, with the likes of special assistant Greg Maddux, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and bullpen coach Josh Bard watching him throw and offering feedback.
“I focused on trying to get ahead early in counts, and then with two strikes whether to go fastball up or to use my slider,” Dirks told Eric Stephen of True Blue LA. “For me the biggest thing is just getting ahead early and staying on the attack, not trying to be too fine around the zone, and not putting the hitters in hitters’ counts, because that’s when it can be difficult to pitch.”
Dirks was among the first wave of players cut and reassigned to minor league camp on Monday, but similar to any ambitious young hurler, found the spring experience to be invaluable. The opportunity to spend time with the big league coaching staff and veteran relievers like J.P. Howell, Kenley Jansen, Jamey Wright and Joe Blanton will prove to be extremely beneficial down the road.
Dirks will likely head to the Oklahoma City bullpen to begin the regular season, and depending on the health of the Dodgers’ relievers throughout the year, could conceivably see major league action at some point in 2016.
(Photo Credit: Tomo San/LA Dodgers)