Well, this is it, the final chapter of the Dodgers Depth Chart Analysis. Relief pitching, ah, that fickle beast. Some of the guys listed below may very well see Los Angeles someday, but most probably will not. Rather than break them all down, I’ve lumped a lot of guys together, largely due to the “meh factor” and/or the lack of available info beyond their basic stats.
Once upon a time the minor-league reliever was going nowhere. Times have certainly changed with the specialization of bullpen roles. Now pitchers are thrown into relief straight off the bat following the draft and can sometimes rocket to the big leagues that way (see Rodriguez, Paco). So who could be next to help the Dodgers’ relief corps? I split it up between the handful of lefties first and the long list of right-handers below.
Paco Rodriguez: The Dodgers’ second-round pick in last year’s draft, Rodriguez rocketed from the University of Florida bullpen to Los Angeles in the span of four months. He skipped the two hitter-friendly teams (Rancho and Albuquerque), going a combined 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA and five saves in 21 games between Great Lakes and Chattanooga. Utilizing what Baseball America described as “deception” in his delivery and “funky arm action,” Rodriguez utilizes a high-80s cutter to get right-handers out. His fastball ranges from 88-93 mph, which he also complements with a “sweepy” slider and occasionally a changeup. Rodriguez will fight for a bullpen spot with the Dodgers this spring, but if he gets squeezed out, he could end up with the Isotopes or the Lookouts.
Michael Antonini: 2012 was a tough year for Antonini, whom the Dodgers acquired from the Mets for Chin-Lung Hu back in 2011. He got called up to the Majors twice but never threw a pitch, then he lost his rotation spot in Albuquerque and finished the year in the bullpen. He also had some sort of offseason surgery, so the timetable for his return in 2013 is unknown. Antonini went 2-7 with a 5.71 ERA in 30 games (13 starts) for the Isotopes. He seems likely to remain a reliever, but based on the paucity of available starters for Albuquerque, he could still start from time-to-time this season if he is healthy.
Kelvin de la Cruz, Thomas Melgarejo, Wilmin Rodriguez: The trio of southpaws signed as minor-league free agents this offseason. De la Cruz is more of a long reliever who went 5-8 with a 4.92 ERA in 30 games (18 starts) at Double-A Erie (Tigers) last season. He seems likely to hold that swingman role at Chattanooga to start this season. Rodriguez struggled with Fresno (Giants), going 5-5 with a 5.92 ERA in 37 games (three starts). He gave up four unearned runs on three hits and a hit batter in one-third of an inning against the Isotopes back on May 24; he will fight for a bullpen spot with Albuquerque. Melgarejo was originally signed by the Dodgers out of Mexico in 2005. He has spent most of his pro career on loan to Mexican League teams. He will be a longshot for a bullpen spot with Chattanooga or Rancho this year.
Cole St. Clair: The veteran lefty, now 26, put up so-so numbers with the Isotopes (3-3, 4.24 ERA in 41 games). A former seventh-round pick out of Rice in 2008, St. Clair did make three starts last year and could get stretched out this spring. The odds are he will be back in Albuquerque for a second season.
Geison Aguasviva: A 25-year-old Dominican, he had a fairly good year with Chattanooga (2-5, 2.53, one save in 50 games). In most years, that would be enough to earn him a promotion, but he will likely have to beat out some veterans in spring training.
Eric Eadington: The Dodgers signed him as a non-drafted free agent out of Harvard in 2011 and so far all Eadington has done is get outs. The 25-year-old sports a fastball that sits 89-93 mph and touches 95. He has a mid-to-upper-70s slider as well. He went 4-3 with a 3.63 ERA and 26 saves last season, striking out 77 in 67 innings. Eadington projects this season as the closer, or possibly co-closer, at Chattanooga, where he finished 2012.
Jordan Roberts: More than a standard LOOGY, the 27-year-old Roberts held his own in the hitter-friendly California League last season. Roberts threw 88 1/3 innings in his 38 appearances, going 8-0 with a 3.67 ERA. He is a former 28th-round pick out of Embry-Riddle back in 2008, so while that might scream “organizational arm,” he should push forward to Chattanooga this year and could eventually present himself as a cheap relief option for the big-league team.
Daniel Coulombe, Michael Thomas: The two southpaws spent most of last season at Great Lakes with different results. Thomas, 23, finished the year at Rancho and was a combined 4-2 with a 1.59 ERA and five saves, striking out 73 batters in 62 1/3 innings. Not bad for a former 35th-round pick out of Rider back in 2011. Coulombe was the Dodgers’ 25th-round pick last summer out of Texas Tech. He started at Ogden and finished with the Loons, going 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA and one save in 23 games. He struck out 37 in 25 1/3 innings. Both figure to open 2013 with Rancho.
Gregg Downing, Kazuki Nishijima: The primary lefties at Ogden, along with the since-released Michael Drowne, both should move up to Great Lakes despite so-so numbers. Downing, 22, went 3-0 with a 5.33 ERA and two saves in 54 innings over 21 appearances, including three starts. Nishijimi, who signed as an amateur out of Japan in 2010, was 8-1 with a 4.67 ERA. He threw 47 1/3 innings in just 16 games, so he is not a traditional LOOGY.
Josh Wall: The 26-year-old made his Major League debut in 2012 after racking up 28 saves for the Isotopes. He struck out 52 in 53 2/3 innings, largely thanks to his big, mid-80s slider. Wall seemed reluctant to utilize his 93-94 mph fastball, which tended to get a bit too straight in the Albuquerque air. A former second-round pick back in 2005, he was a starter until the Dodgers moved him to the bullpen full-time at Chattanooga in 2011. He may not project as a closer in the Majors, but he should return to close for the Isotopes this season.
Blake Johnson, Luis Vasquez: A couple of organizational arms, Johnson seems far more likely to pitch again for Albuquerque this season. Johnson, 27, was a second-round pick by Los Angeles back in 2004, but he was later dealt to Kansas City. He returned to the Dodgers organization last spring and started the season in Chattanooga before moving up. Overall, Johnson went 5-4 with a 4.77 ERA and one save in 42 games (five starts). He pitched well for Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League, going 2-0 with 0.69 ERA, allowing one earned run in 13 innings. Vasquez, 26, was savaged for a 7.47 ERA in 53 innings between Albuquerque and Chattanooga last summer. He may not make it out of spring training.
Juan Abreu, Hector Correa, Gregory Infante, Hector Nelo: Three veterans picked up during the offseason, the first three via free agency and the latter by the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Abreu, 27, ranked as high as the Astros’ No. 19 prospect after 2011, according to Baseball America, but he fell on hard times in 2012 and finished the year in the Blue Jays’ system. Between Oklahoma City and Las Vegas, Abreu posted an ugly 6.80 ERA. Correa, 25 in March, was the Marlins’ fourth-round pick out of Puerto Rico back in 2006. He was traded to the Giants for Ronny Paulino prior to the 2009 season, but never got past Double-A, and appeared in just eight games (three starts) at Single-A San Jose last year. Infante, 25, appeared with the White Sox in five games in 2010, showcasing a 96 mph fastball, but he has yet to make it back to the Majors. He appeared in just 20 games at Charlotte last season, going 4-1 with a 3.55 ERA and one save. Nelo, 26, was rated as having the best fastball in the High-A Carolina League in 2011 when he pitched for Potomac (Nationals). He put up good numbers (1-6, 2.73 ERA, 16 saves) with Double-A Harrisburg last season, but as colleague Clint Hulsey told me, his high-velocity fastball is awfully straight and tends to play up, not a good recipe for a potential Isotopes reliever. All four will likely vie for one or two spots in the Albuquerque bullpen this spring, though Correa might end up at Chattanooga or even Rancho.
Steve Ames: A promising arm, Ames was an afterthought in the 2009 draft as a 17th-round pick out of Gonzaga. Since signing, however, all he has done is get outs. John Sickels rated him as the Dodgers’ No. 15 prospect entering this season after he went 3-3 with a 1.56 ERA and 18 saves, striking out 72 batters in 63 1/3 innings at Chattanooga last year. Ames, 25 in March, was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and could make the jump to Albuquerque or return to Chattanooga if the Dodgers fear the effect altitude might have on his low-90s fastball. He also sports a good slider that sits in the mid-80s. For his career, Ames now has 236 strikeouts and just 35 walks in 172 2/3 innings of work.
Red Patterson: In an unusual move, the Dodgers took Patterson, 25, and moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2012. While he responded well, going 7-1 with a 3.07 ERA and striking out 71 batters in 70 1/3 innings at Chattanooga, it was odd because he had put up good numbers (12-5, 3.69) the year before as a starter between Rancho and Great Lakes. Patterson threw for the Isotopes in the playoffs last year and seems like a good bet to remain in Albuquerque this season.
Javier Solano: The Mexican native has shown promise in his career, but has yet to advance past Chattanooga. He threw 62 2/3 innings over his 38 appearances with the Lookouts last year, going 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA. Solano’s fastball sits 88-91 mph and can touch 93. He also has a mid-70s curveball and a fringy changeup. He will battle for a spot in Albuquerque’s bullpen this spring.
Chris Withrow: A former first-round pick, Withrow was taken with the 20th selection in 2007 out of Midland (Texas) High School. He has good stuff, with a fastball he can run up to 98 mph, but he has always lacked the command. The Dodgers gave up on him as a starter last year and he will now be a full-time reliever. FanGraphs still rates him as the Dodgers’ No. 8 prospect, with Keith Law and John Sickels both pegging him at No. 9. Withrow went 3-3 with a 4.65 ERA and two saves last season, striking out 64 in 60 innings. Though he is on the 40-man, he seems more likely to return to Chattanooga than move up to Albuquerque, at least at the start of the season.
Ryan Acosta, Freddie Cabrera, Steve Smith: The trio of mediocre middle relievers at Rancho last season, they are pretty much all organizational filler. Cabrera, 23, at least has youth on his side, but he also posted a 6.34 ERA in 66 2/3 innings for the Quakes. He figures to return to Rancho this year. Smith, 26, is a former non-drafted free agent out of New Mexico. He finished last year at Chattanooga and should open there if he can battle his way into a spot. Smith went 4-2 with a 3.79 ERA and three saves in 61 2/3 innings overall. Acosta, 24, joined the Dodgers organization as a free agent in 2011, got released on April 5 last year, then ended up re-signing on April 21. He went 4-2 with a 4.30 ERA, striking out 79 in 67 innings for the Quakes. He will also vie for a Lookouts roster spot.
Jose Dominguez: A promising arm if he can keep himself out of trouble, Dominguez finished last year at Chattanooga but will have to earn his way back there. The 22-year-old Dominican was ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 20 prospect by MLB.com. He struck out 87 in 79 innings between the Lookouts and Loons, but he finished just 4-4 with a 4.90 ERA and five saves. He has a plus-plus fastball that sits 96-98 mph and hits 100, but unless he develops his fringy curveball into an out pitch he will remain a velocity-only guy and likely never advance to the Majors.
Yimi Garcia: The de facto closer at Great Lakes last year, Garcia finished the year with Rancho and was 6-5 with a 2.92 ERA and 16 saves overall. He struck out 82 in just 52 1/3 innings, using a delivery described as “unorthodox” by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, who ranked him as the Dodgers’ No. 14 prospect. He has a live fastball and a slurvy slider with average command. Garcia figures to be the Quakes’ closer to open 2013.
Joel Lima, Juan Noriega, Juan Rodriguez, Matt Shelton: A quartet of organizational arms who spent the bulk of their 2012 seasons with Great Lakes. Lima, 23, had a 4.52 ERA in 77 2/3 innings with the Loons. Noriega, 22, was signed away from Monclova of the Mexican League in 2011. He went 3-2 with a 2.78 ERA and one save in 68 innings. Rodriguez, 24, was the third player acquired from Boston in the three-way trade that sent Trayvon Robinson to Seattle in 2011. It seems safe to say that he will not follow Tim Federowicz and Stephen Fife to Los Angeles after Rodriguez posted a 6.34 ERA in 38 1/3 innings last year. Shelton, 24, has pitched well for a former 24th-round pick out of Sam Houston State. He went 3-5 with a 2.81 ERA and two saves while striking out 70 in 67 1/3 innings last year.
Jharel Cotton, Carlos De Aza, Alan Garcia, Sawil Gonzalez, Scott Griggs, Owen Jones, Craig Stem: The right-handers who made up the bulk of the bullpen for Ogden last summer, they are a mixed bunch. Cotton, 21, is the most promising of the bunch, though he threw just 15 innings with the Raptors, posting a 1.20 ERA and striking out 20 batters versus three walks. A 20th-round pick out of East Carolina, he sports a low-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup with plus potential. He could get stretched out as a starter this year. Griggs, 21, was an eighth-round pick out of UCLA, where he was the Bruins’ closer. He could hold that role in Great Lakes this year. The rest seem like organizational arms and will compete for spots with the Loons in front of Griggs.
Aris Angeles, Jordan Hershiser, Travis Jones, Jackson Mateo, Sean O’Connell, Ricky Perez, Samuel Taveras: The primary relievers in the Arizona League last summer, this group is also a mixed bunch. Hershiser, 24, is the son of the former Dodgers great who battled injuries throughout his college career at USC. He had a 2.55 ERA and struck out 20 in 17 2/3 innings. Jones, 23, is a converted catcher who used to play in the Royals’ system. Perez was solid in July, racking up nine saves, but got slammed in August and finished with an 8.46 ERA in 22 1/3 innings. The rest are organizational arms only.
Scott Barlow: The Dodgers’ promising sixth-round pick in 2012, Barlow succumbed to Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2012. Barlow, 20, will likely open in extended spring, but if he can rediscover his big-breaking curveball again, he can move back into the prospect picture.
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Well, that’s all for the depth chart series. For pure fun (or possibly as a sign of insanity), I will throw out my projected rosters for Albuquerque, Chattanooga, Rancho Cucamonga, and Great Lakes while Mike is wrapping up his vacation. It should be fun to speculate on who ends up where, and then have the Dodgers do their usual thing and make me look like a fool for ever trying to project things before a single exhibition game has even been played.