In the MLB draft selecting a college senior in the top 10 rounds is generally a sign that a team is looking to save money. With the current system, teams will take seniors in hope they sign for less than their designated slot bonus, sometimes as little as $1,000, and use the savings elsewhere.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Texas A&M senior right-hander Ross Stripling in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft, they signed him for nearly $100,000 below his bonus slot, which now looks like a steal.
Stripling hit the ground running, posting a 1.24 ERA in his first 14 games as a pro in rookie ball. In 2013, he jumped to High-A Rancho Cucamonga and needed just half a dozen starts to earn a promotion to Double-A.
In less than a year, Stripling reached the high Minors and was excelling. He’d finish the season with Double-A Chattanooga, yielding a 2.78 ERA in 21 games with the Lookouts.
In 2014, Stripling was invited to Major League camp and it appeared he had an outside shot at making the big league roster. Unfortunately, he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and went on to miss the entire season.
But Stripling came back the following year with something to prove. He pitched a rehab game with Low-A Great Lakes then returned to Double-A Tulsa, making 13 starts while sporting a 3.66 ERA. He picked up right where he left off.
This year was supposed to be dedicated to continuing to build up his workload, but then a rash of injuries hit the Dodgers pitching staff. Stripling pitched in three games during the spring, allowing no runs and just one hit.
When camp broke, just two years after his Tommy John surgery, Stripling was named the club’s fifth starter. Expectations were tempered, as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt would carefully monitor Stripling during his starts, but he had other plans.
Facing the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in his MLB debut, Stripling pitched 7.1 innings of no-hit ball. It was one of the most memorable debuts in baseball history. Unfortunately, a blown save robbed Stripling of his first Major League victory.
That came a month later against the St. Louis Cardinals and Michael Wacha, Stripling’s former collegiate teammate and roommate. His second win came in a marathon game against the San Diego Padres, in which Stripling pitched the 15th, 16th and 17th innings.
In an effort to limit his workload, the Dodgers was shut down the 26-year-old for nearly one month with “lower body fatigue.” He resumed pitching in late June, joining Triple-A Oklahoma City for four appearances before rejoining the Dodgers for good after the All-Star break.
Stripling ended the season with a 3.96 ERA and a 1.1 fWAR in exactly 100 innings. He also made five appearances for the Dodgers during their postseason run.
Any player making his MLB debut is a career highlight, but Stripling’s was all the more special. Beyond throwing 7.1 no-hit innings, the rookie appeared unfazed in the hostile environment.
On a more personal level for Stripling, another memorable moment in 2016 was the game against the Cardinals as it not only was his first Major League win, but Stripling singled off Wacha for his first career hit.
There was friendly banter between the two leading up to the game, and Stripling earned a night’s dinner on Wacha’s dime.
The Dodgers pitching staff again appears as though it may be overcrowded next season, with potential trades and free-agent signings not yet accounted for. But Stripling provides some stability with his experience in the rotation and out of the bullpen and should figure into the Dodgers plans.
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