Editor’s note: Chris Jackson checks in with a look at the lefty starting pitching in the Dodger organization. Not only are there several intriguing names in here, there’s the ongoing return from perhaps my favorite under-the-radar Ned Colletti deal ever: actually getting something back for the clearly about-to-be-DFA’d Dana Eveland.
Left-handed pitchers who can get outs are prized possessions. They are often given far more leeway than their right-handed counterparts in terms of development and staying in rotations. Command is prized over stuff, for the most part, if only due to the fact that lefties with great stuff are few and far between. Yet command is never something that one can come by easily, which is why far too many southpaws end up pitching in relief instead of remaining as starters.
Like most teams, the Dodgers have far, far more right-handed starting pitchers in their farm system. The dearth of lefties here should not come as a shock, but merely as a stark reminder of the reality of the rarity of an effective enough lefty being able to start. Though their numbers are small, there is at least some talent in this group. There may not be another Clayton Kershaw on the farm, but few teams have any lefties of that caliber developing in the minors.
This small group is highlighted by a couple of talented but vexing former high draft picks, a promising arm who has yet to pitch much, and a few overachievers hoping to sneak into the picture. Despite a lack of numbers, there is talent in this collective.
Fabio Castro: One of the few veterans signed to a minor-league deal this offseason, Castro seems destined for the Isotopes’ rotation despite a 2012 campaign he would like to forget. The 28-year-old Dominican started last season at Sacramento for the A’s, only to get raked over the coals (6.92 ERA in 51 1/3 IP) and then get sent down to Double-A Midland. In the end, he gave up 145 hits and 68 walks in 125 1/3 innings combined, racking up 14 losses. Plenty of minor-league vets have signed with the Dodgers, gone to Albuquerque, gotten blown to smithereens, and earned their release before the All-Star break. Castro is the early favorite for that auspicious status in 2013.
Aaron Miller: As mentioned earlier, Miller fits the role of “vexing ex-high draft pick” quite well. The 36th overall selection out of Baylor in 2009, Miller cost the Dodgers $889,200 and has yet to put it all together. An undiagnosed sports hernia hampered him throughout 2011. In turn, he was kept on a fairly strict pitch count at Chattanooga in 2012. He made 25 starts, but only threw 121 1/3 innings while going 6-6 with a 4.45 ERA. Though FanGraphs ranked him as the Dodgers’ No. 11 prospect, most other sites were pretty down on Miller. His once promising fastball now sits in the 89-92 mph range, though that was an improvement on the 86-90 range it sat in during most of his injury-plagued 2011 campaign. Miller has an average slider and a fringy changeup, which has led plenty to suggest the bullpen lies in his future. He figures to return to Chattanooga as a starter to open 2013, but that staff is getting crowded, so he will have to continue to earn the right to start.
Rob Rasmussen: Undersized lefties are not as rare of a commodity as undersized righties, but Rasmussen still faces an uphill battle to remain a starter. At 5-foot-9, he looks more like a middle infielder. Rasmussen was drafted in the second round in 2010 out of UCLA, where he was the No. 3 starter behind current uber prospects Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. The Marlins traded him to the Astros in the ill-fated Carlos Lee swap last summer. Houston, in turn, sent him to the Dodgers in the deal for John Ely. Rassmussen ranked as high as No. 13 on FanGraphs’ list for the Dodgers. His fastball sits in the 89-92 mph range and can touch 94. He has a plus slider, but his curveball and changeup are just average at best. He went 8-11 with a 4.25 ERA between Single-A Jupiter (Marlins) and Double-A Corpus Christi (Astros) last season, so he figures to open at Chattanooga. The Dodgers will keep him as a starter as long as possible.
Chris Reed: The Dodgers’ first-round pick, No. 16 overall, in 2011 was selected as much for his signability as his talent. A closer at Stanford, the Dodgers moved him to the rotation, but the results have been mixed at best so far. With blister problems and arm soreness, coupled with a strict pitch count, Reed struggled through 70 1/3 innings with Chattanooga and Rancho Cucamonga last season. He was just 1-8 with a 3.97 ERA and 67 strikeouts. Baseball America still tabbed him as the Dodgers’ No. 6 prospect, while FanGraphs had him at No. 2. Reed’s fastball sits in the low 90s, topping out at 95 mph. His spike slider is his out pitch, but overuse is the likely culprit behind his blister problem. Reed needs to work on his changeup and/or cutter if he hopes to remain a starter. Much like Miller and Rasmussen, Reed figures to start as long as he is able to. He also figures to join those two, plus right-handers Zach Lee and Andres Santiago, in an all-prospect rotation at Chattanooga.
Onelki Garcia: The wild card among the pitchers, Garcia is as much as an international man of mystery as his Cuban position player counterpart, Yasiel Puig. Despite throwing all of two innings with Rancho Cucamonga, three playoff innings with Chattanooga, four innings in the Arizona Fall League and 10 1/3 innings in the Puerto Rican Winter League, scouts are very high on Garcia. Unable to circumvent the draft and aim for free agency like most Cuban defectors, the 23-year-old was taken in the third round of the draft last summer. His fastball runs 90-95 mph with good sink. He has a plus 12-to-6 curveball that could play out of a big-league bullpen now, but if he hopes to remain a starter, he needs to refine his changeup and slider. With a strong spring he could force his way into the crowded Chattanooga rotation, or he could end up the ace at Rancho.
Jarret Martin: The more promising of the two minor-league players the Dodgers acquired from Baltimore for Dana Eveland last year, Martin endured some ups and downs while pitching mainly for Great Lakes. Martin went 4-6 with a 4.65 ERA in 18 starts overall, including two rough outings with Rancho. He was limited to 81 1/3 innings by injuries. While he struck out 80, he also walked 51, so refining his command will be a major issue in 2013. An 18th-round pick out of Bakersfield JC in 2009, Martin has exceeded expectations so far. His fastball sits in the low 90s and can touch 95. It has some sink, which will help him in the thin, dry air at Rancho this season. He has an average curveball and a below-average changeup.
Jake Hermsen: An organizational pitcher at best, Hermsen battled his way through 12 starts at Ogden last summer. The 23-year-old was taken in the 28th round out of Northern Illinois and was thrown into the fire with the Raptors. He finished 1-6 with a 4.24 ERA, allowing 64 hits in 51 innings. Hermsen struck out 37 and walked 16. He will fight for a rotation spot with Great Lakes this spring and should have a leg up on his right-handed competition.
Miguel Sulbaran: The Venezuelan, who turns 19 in March, proved to be a pleasant surprise last summer. He went 6-3 with a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts in the Arizona League, only to find things a little rougher in one start at Ogden and two at Great Lakes. Sulbaran finished the year with a 3.82 ERA in 68 1/3 innings. He struck out 69 and only walked 14. His fastball usually sits in the 88-91 range, touching 92. He features a curveball and a slider, though odds are he’ll drop one as time goes on, and a potentially plus changeup. Despite his age, he should compete for a rotation spot with the Loons.
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That wraps up the lefty starters. Lefty relievers will be bunched in with their right-handed counterparts, but the jumbo-sized right-handed starters story will come first.