For the Los Angeles Dodgers, the beginning of Spring Training marks the opportunity for the organization to get at look at some of their young talent. Of the 31 pitchers that are reporting this week, eight of them have not had their Major League debut yet.
The Dodgers farm system has flourished over the past few seasons under the new ownership, with an emphasis placed on winning now, but also on building a sustainable plan for the foreseeable future.
The front office has patiently played the field, not daring to trade one of their top prospects, although given multiple chances to.
The fruits of their labor have paid off, with the Dodgers being ranked the top farm system by Baseball America.
To this point, Los Angeles has extended 21 non-roster invites to big league camp. Among them are a slew of pitchers including, Chris Anderson, Jose De Leon and Julio Urias.
When asked to discuss the development of Urias, the top ranked left-handed prospect, Dodgers organization pitching coordinator Rick Knapp said the southpaw went through a learning experience last season, via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“He got a wake-up call struggling at Triple-A last year and learned he has to pitch on the plate more. He’s always been ahead of the curve. Now, if we have any concern, it’s to build up the innings cautiously. It’s a balancing act. I was [Major League pitching coach] with Rick Porcello when he was with the Tigers at age 20. It might mean five-inning starts. We will manage Julio accordingly.”
The Dodgers have monitored Urias carefully, as he’s yet to toss more than 87.2 innings in a single season. His development in Triple-A Oklahoma City this season will be a crucial hurdle, with Urias going 0-1 with an 18.69 ERA over two starts in 2015 with the OKC Dodgers.
As for De Leon, the Dodgers’ 24th-round pick in the 2013 draft who has quickly progressed, Knapp said De Leon’s success is due to modifying his delivery and having a strong work ethic:
“It seems he’s come out of nowhere because he made a big change in his delivery, not throwing across his body, and he lost a lot of weight. Now he’s on a mission. He has the makeup, intensity, competitiveness and he’s figuring out the strike zone. Nothing he does will surprise me.”
De Leon spent last season with High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa. He went a combined 6-7 with a 2.99 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and averaged 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Another pitcher in the Dodgers organization who has impressed is Jharel Cotton.
The 24 year old was added to the 40-man roster last November in order to protect him from being eligible in the Rule 5 draft.
When discussing Cotton, Knapp compared him to three-time All-Star Tom Gordon:
“He reminds a lot of people of Flash Gordon. He’s not physical, but he’s athletic. He can be valuable in the Major Leagues in a lot of roles. He can do a lot of things the way Carlos Frias can.”
In 2015, Cotton saw time in four different levels, ultimately ending the season with the Oklahoma City Dodgers. With the Drillers, where he spent the majority of 2015, the right-hander posted a 2.30 ERA, .221 opponent batting average and 1.12 WHIP.