One thing the Los Angeles Dodgers have come to put a tremendous value on in recent years is depth, particularly within their pitching staff.
For that reason, every winter they sign a number of pitchers with Major League experience to Minor League contracts and stash them with Triple-A Oklahoma City until they are needed at the big league level.
One of those signings for the 2018 season was right-hander Zach Neal, who pitched in parts of two big league seasons with the Oakland Athletics in 2016 and 2017.
Neal had a solid spring with the Dodgers, and after a plethora of injuries in the month of April, his contract was selected and he appeared in his first and only big league game of the season on April 3 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He tossed an inning that night at Chase Field, allowing two hits and a run. Shortly after that, he was designated for assignment and on April 17, the Dodgers traded Neal and Ibandel Isabel to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Ariel Hernández.
Neal went on to appear in 18 games (three starts) with Triple-A Louisville in the Reds organization, pitching to a 5.90 ERA and 1.39 WHIP with 23 strikeouts and three walks in 39.2 innings.
Despite trading him to the Reds, the Dodgers kept Neal on their radar and wound up re-acquiring him later in the season. On July 4, they brought back Neal along with another familiar face in Dylan Floro as well as international bonus pool space in exchange for James Marinan and Aneurys Zabala.
Neal pitched in 14 games (11 starts) with Oklahoma City in 2018, pitching to a 3.82 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Overall in 101 Minor League innings between the two organizations, Neal yielded a 4.63 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 68 strikeouts and 15 walks.
Neal’s best start of the season with Oklahoma City came on Aug. 18 against the Iowa Cubs. On that night, he tossed six shutout innings while allowing just three hits. He struck out seven without issuing a walk.
On Oct. 11, Neal declared for free agency so he is officially available on the open market. It is unlikely that he will find a Major League deal anywhere, but as was the case in 2018, someone will sign him to add organizational pitching depth and it is possible that he makes an appearance at the big league level at some point in the 2019 season.