It is Monday, and you know what that means: GM Mondays! In this series we are going to play the role of GM and analyze players, positions, etc. We will take an in-depth look at the team and diagnose whether something is a strength or not. If it is a weak area, we will also look at possible ways to improve that part of the team. Today we are looking at the Dodgers’ starter depth.
Keep in mind that the depth chart today is lengthy because of the sheer number of starters the Dodgers have both on the 40-man roster, and in the farm system. I will not list depth signings (i.e. a Wilmer Font) who are highly unlikely to see lengthy time in the rotation, or players who, at this point are more likely long relievers, and occasional spot starters (i.e. Ross Stripling).
The Depth Chart
On 40-Man Roster
- Clayton Kershaw
- Alex Wood
- Rich Hill
- Kenta Maeda
- Hyun-Jin Ryu
- Walker Buehler
- Julio Urias
- Henry Owens
- Dennis Santana
Not On 40-Man Roster
- Mitchell White
- Yadier Alvarez
- Caleb Ferguson
- Dustin May
- Jordan Sheffield
- Josh Sborz
- Morgan Cooper
- Imani Abdullah
The Major Leaguers
It all starts at the top with the best of the best: Clayton Kershaw. Some naysayers may have the delusion that Kershaw is no longer the best pitcher in the Majors, but he is still clearly at the top of his game. Despite suffering some back injuries, Kershaw still ranks 4th in fWAR for starters over the last two years. And his total (11.1 fWAR) is still only a tick behind Sale at #1 during that time (12.7 fWAR) Extend that to a five year span and he is #1 by a lot (34.4 fWAR to Scherzer at 29.3). Even so Kershaw still ranks tops in nearly every advanced metric: ERA, FIP, xFIP, K-BB%, SIERA, DRA, etc. Kershaw is still the best.
Behind him is a cast of many highly talented starters, all with weaknesses, but all excellent in their own right. Alex Wood is looking more and more like one of the shrewdest trades made by this front office. Last season he made 25 starts, pitched 152.1 innings, had 2.78 ERA, and 3.4 fWAR. Not bad at all. He did show fatigue down the stretch, but that was somewhat expected. After all, he hadn’t thrown that much in two years after being mostly relegated to spot starts and relief work in 2016. Rich Hill is the ageless wonder that continues to defy father time. Though he started slowly last year, he finished with a flourish and was our best and most consistent starter come playoff time.
Beyond our top three starters is a bit more of a mystery. There are obvious choices in Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu, but both have question marks about them. While Maeda is solid as a starter he showed some great value pitching from the bullpen down the stretch as a multi-inning, high-leverage reliever. Still, he is likely to stay in the rotation in 2018. Hyun-Jin Ryu had an awesome bounce-back season, but his health still remains a question mark. He is entering his final season with the team, so a good season from him would go a long way to helping him get a decent contract after 2018.
The Major Leaguers…Sort Of
Beyond the starting five there are a number of younger pitchers on the 40 man roster that could start if the need and opportunity arises. Pitchers like Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling have spot started in the past and come up through the system as starters, but are more likely to play roles as depth and long-relievers. Even though they may appear ahead of other names on the depth chart, it doesn’t mean they would necessarily be given the starting job over someone below them. And that is where we start digging into our young studs.
Henry Owens is an intriguing name going into 2018. Once a top prospect for the Red Sox, he has had issues with control over the years and is still only 25. Rick Honeycutt is an excellent pitching coach, and Owens could potentially turn his career around and become a valuable member of the rotation.
Then there is Julio Urias. Once the teenage phenom making his debut at 19 years old, he spent last season out because of a shoulder injury. Now he is on the recovery path and could be back as early as mid-season. Many forget the fact that he is still only going to be 21 for the majority of this season. Because of that, there is a lot of optimism and reason to believe he can contribute meaningfully in 2018. Even if that role is a multi-inning high-leverage reliever for 2018.
The Blue Chip Prospects
Our farm system has a lot of talent when it comes to pitching. Four of our top 10 prospects on Dodgers Nation are starting pitchers. With that said there isn’t just top-end talent, but depth as well down into the lower levels of the farm.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) February 7, 2018
It all starts at the top with Walker Buehler. He made his debut last September, and is universally touted as our top prospect going into 2018. He has absolutely electric stuff, starting with his mid to high 90s fastball and hammer curve. If the chance arises he could very well force himself into the starting rotation, and has the talent to stay there. At a minimum we should expect him to be a rotation mainstay by 2019.
Beyond Buehler is a number of quality pitching prospects that also have top starter potential. Yadier Alvarez’s prospect star-status has wained in the last year, but his ceiling remains intact. Control issues plagued him in 2017, but the raw stuff and smooth pitching mechanics remained. He could easily make an impact as a high-leverage reliever as early as 2019.
Mitchell White may not have quite the ceiling of Alvarez, but his floor is certainly higher at this point. With strong showings in 2016 and 2017, he has vaulted himself into many Top 100 prospects lists around the industry. And many expect him to stay there. Additionally Dustin May has begun to get recognition, and could easily make every industry Top 100 list if he continues to put up numbers like he has the last two years.
The Remaining Prospects
Outside of this group of four high-quality pitching prospects are a number of other solid pitching prospects that could easily contend for top 10 prospect status on other teams. Dennis Santana starts out this group. We’ve already covered in-depth his ceiling and floor in his farm-hand Fridays piece. Currently he is on the 40 man roster, and is our #10 prospect. There is a good chance he could see time out of the bullpen this year. But it is less likely he will see time in the rotation in 2018, merely because he is so far down on the depth chart.
Caleb Ferguson and Jordan Sheffield represent high-risk starter prospects that look likely to turn into high-quality relievers down the road. Both possess multiple plus-plus pitches, but have yet to fully harness them. They represent the kind of solid, high-upside depth in the lower levels. In addition to them Imani Abdullah is another name that hasn’t seen much limelight, but could soon enough.
And lastly Morgan Cooper and Josh Sborz. Both pitchers have experience relieving and starting, and both look more the reliever type. However, they will continue to develop as starters in order to provide the best chance for the highest value they could offer down the road.
Plain and simple, starting pitching is easily the deepest position for the Dodgers. From the top of the rotation in Kershaw to the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, few teams can boast the type of depth the Dodgers do. Our rotation is one of the best right now, and could be for at least the next decade. There are enough Major League ready starters to fill up two 5-man rotations right now. Think about that. One would be Kershaw-Wood-Hill-Maeda-Ryu, and the other would be Urias-Buehler-Stewart-Santana-Stripling. This should bring confidence to any Dodger fan, and hope that the future 60 feet 6 inches from home-plate is bright.
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