DODGER PITCHERS ARE (o)K AT THE LOWER LEVELS

Todays Post is by Always Compete.  I think he brings a wealth of information and we are fortunate that he has agreed to write for LA Dodger Talk.  Enjoy!

I am a minor league junkie and when discussions find their way to the lower level players like Shea Spitzbarth and Andrew Istler, my interest gets piqued.  Shea Spitzbarth and Andrew Istler are two pitchers I became very familiar with last year as the Great Lake Loons climbed and scratched their way to the Midwest League Championship.  While most baseball people were concentrating on Yadier Alveraz, Imani Abdullah, and the end of the year appearances of Walker Buehler, Jordan Sheffield, and Mitchell White, there were other outstanding pitching performances throughout the year by several other unheralded pitchers at the full season low A level team.

International signees Dennis Santana (20), Leo Crawford (20), and Victor Gonzalez (21), as well as 2014 38th round draft choice Caleb Ferguson (20) all spent significant time (if not the full year) in the Midwest League, and for most of the year they pitched very well. Dennis Santana has found his way into at least one of the Dodgers Top 30 prospect lists, and both Leo Crawford and Caleb Ferguson are making noise and moving up. Undrafted free agents Wes Helsabeck (24), and Gavin Pittore (23) and 2015 13th round draftee Michael Boyle (22) all pitched well while at Great Lakes and each earned summer promotions to Rancho.

However, it was Shea Spitzbarth (22), Andrew Istler (24), and Dean Kremer (21) who were the instrumental relievers that played THE pivotal role at the end of the season and throughout the playoffs, and deserve their exposure.  During the playoffs, both Istler and Kremer were the multi inning relievers that kept the games in check, while Spitzbarth was a late inning closer.  For the 10 game playoffs:

Pitcher

Innings Runs BB

K

Kremer

10.0

1 1 6

Istler

8.0 0 0 6
Spitzbarth 4.1 0 0

6

While I do not get too excited (positively or negatively) about metrics for low level A ball, each of their ERA’s were miniscule, but what really stood out was their K/BB ration, not only for the playoffs but for the entire year.  Bobby Cuellar is one of the more highly respected pitching instructors in all of baseball who has spent much of his career at the ML and AAA levels, was asked by the Dodgers in 2015 to come in and teach the pitchers at the lowest levels.  Yes another FAZ move that will pay dividends down the road.  Cuellar checked his ego at the door and the “kids” are getting tutelage from the instructor who taught Johan Santana his devastating changeup.  Cuellar stresses throwing strikes, and it showed with the Loons in 2016.  The Loons were second in the league with 1,193 K, and their 420 BB were only 38 behind the league leader, and the trend really showed in the playoffs.

I have no idea whether any of the less heralded Loons pitchers will ever make it into the LAD dugout, but both Spitzbarth and Istler will hopefully continue to take advantage of the spotlight they have put themselves in.  Having not pitched above low A Ball, there is virtually no chance either will make the 25 man this year.  Both should be in Rancho, and this is where careers start to emerge.  Stand out in High A, and they start to distance themselves from the pack as they climb to AA and beyond.  While Spitzbarth and Istler are getting noticed in Glendale, Kremer is also in the news as both he and Ike Davis are part of the upstart Israeli 2-0 WBC team, the lowest seed in the tournament.  —Always Compete

Posted by Mark Timmons

We started LA Dodger Talk in 2001. This site is about giving another perspective outside of the average day-to-day reporting. We don't do game recaps or such things -- lots of sites do that well. I value sabermetrics, but don't think they are the "end-all-be-all.". This is where you should start your day as a Dodger Fan. Welcome! We'd like to hear your voice.

This article has 32 Comments

  1. Putting guys on the radar–love it.
    .
    A few games ago while Spitzbarth was pitching the announcers, after only his second pitch, went from spring-game babble to startle. It was like someone pinched them. Two awesome curve balls followed by a great fastball and I was ready to put Spitzbarth on the 25.
    .
    I will go out on a limb and say Spitzbarth can make the 25 this year.

  2. Mark, on the last thread you said you would trade Alvarez and Calhoun for a healthy and productive Gray. While the Dodgers might benefit from a “good” Gray this year, Alvarez is that guy before he becomes that guy that we all talk about.
    .
    I have been high on Alvarez before he pitched in his first game. For me, he is a keeper.
    .
    The Dodgers could soon have two Koufax-Drysdale combinations simultaneously in Kershaw-Buehler and Urias-Alvarez. I am more than confident that Kershaw, Hill, Maeda will be a great playoff rotation and if Urias is available for the post season, he would either add a fourth playoff starter or crash the top three should one of them tire or fall to injury. So, I wouldn’t trade for Gray now and I doubt that the Dodgers will need him in August either, regardless of how good he pitches this year.
    .
    I remain a Stewart fan as well.
    .
    Mark, if you want Garth from Baltimore then I would offer some combination from Baez, Avilon, Hatcher, and Kazmir. In fact, all four can be traded without me missing them, not so much that I don’t like them but because there are other pitchers I would just as soon see in the bullpen.

    1. This is the rotation I want to see in 2018-2019:

      1. Kershaw
      2. Urias
      3. Buehler
      4. Alvarez
      5. Stewart

      1. Me too.
        .
        I have enjoyed watching the Dodgers on Extra Innings and thought I would save some money and get games on my chrome book as well and signed up for MLB.com. I tried to cancel but didn’t do so within 5 days and now I am stuck with a much inferior package and Chrome books can’t be used.
        .
        I do not recommend MLB.com.

  3. Good post today! Periodic updates from the minor leagues would be a welcome addition here, something that Think Blue also does well. The fast tracking of all players but pitchers in particular bodes well for the future. There will be cost controlled youth sprinkled with higher paid vets that will gradually bring payroll out of luxury tax territory. It’s a great time to be a Dodgers fan with a competitive team year in and year out and kids on the way! Faz has put the team in a terrific position now and in the future. Mark, you are doing a fantastic and appreciated job!

  4. Well done AC – I certainly have more interest in the minor leagues since your input, and obviously getting to see them all perform in ST (those games that are shown!).

    I’m not so sure about Maeda, thought he was poor in the post season & needs to come back stronger.

    I see a playoff rotation of Kershaw, Hill & Urias. I’m hoping that if we are “all in” this year, then if necessary there will be no hesitation to bring in a quality arm at the TD.

    1. We have been “all in” as much as possible since Friedman arrived, but our Farm System was middle of the pack. You can’t really be all in if you don’t have a top farm system. You can bet your sweet bippy that if Cole Hamels was available in 2016, FAZ would have swooped him up. They could not afford the price in 2015.

      I get lots of e-mail and one person asked me this yesterday:

      “There is this guy who keeps saying that the Dodgers front office fools to sign Kazmir, McCarthy and Anderson. He said: Instead of buying 3 crappy pitchers for $16MM each, they could have signed a couple for $20MM or even $25MM each. What would you say about that?”

      My response was: I’d say the guy is delusional. It’s a classical case of circular thinking. If that were actually the case and the Dodgers could have signed Johnny Cueto for 3 years at $75 million instead of Scott Kazmir 3 years at $48 million, of course they would have done that. But, here’s the problem: Johnny Cueto and guys like him get 5 to 7 year deals. It’s stupid to lock yourself into long term deals with pitchers (Greinke, Price, Cueto, et al), so you have to deal with the blind, crippled and crazy for a short term. It’s “THE BRIDGE” to the next wave!

      It’s the same deal here. Our farm system has the depth to make deals that we couldn’t two years ago. But, guess what? It worked and we are closer to THE NEXT WAVE!

      1. OK – what about Kershaw for 7 years? And what if he opts out after 2018?

        What about the 5 or 6 years they offered Greinke?

        Would you rather have someone who can pitch like a star for 3 or 4 years, even if you have to overpay for them or pay them for 6 years, or someone like McCarthy who was signed for 4 years but who has produced 00000?

        IT ISN’T PRODUCTIVE TO SIGN A PLAYER WHO PRODUCES NOTHING, EVEN IF YOU GET THEM CHEAPLY.

        1. Anderson and Kazmir won 24 games their first years and they made 70% of what Greinke made.

          Would FAZ have signed Greinke for 5 or 6 years or was that just to drive the price up to keep him from the Giants? We don’t know.

          I would make an exception for Kershaw, but he’s the only one.

  5. Very well done Always Compete. Like you, I enjoy keeping tabs on the kids in the minors. The information you shared on Cuellar was insightful, and while I was aware that he was with the organization, I did not know some of the background information you provided. It is some of the “little things” like hiring Cuellar that make FAZ as good at their jobs as they are. I’m going to be following these kids more closely in the future.

    Please do let him become a “fixture” Mark!

  6. AC

    Everything you write is well thought out, and compassionate, whether you are talking about a minor leaguer or a major leaguer, so keep up the good work.

  7. I would like to thank all of you who have responded. Admittedly I have a tendency to get a little wordy, and I am not much of a creative writer, so I was relatively nervous as to how this would be received. So thank you all.

    1. You are not too wordy. You are more of a wordsmith and you explain your position very thoroughly. PERFECT!

    1. Turner getting knee lubricated. Hope that works for him as well as it did for Greinke’s elbow in 2015.

    2. That’s two bad outings in a row for Hill. The Dodgers were in on Greinke. They set a number and stuck with it. Honestly, I think they finished 3rd. However to say they were just driving up the price seems totally inaccurate especially considering they offered to bring him back in a trade and still be willing to pay him $25 million a year.

      You can’ pick and choose which year’s of Anderson you want to use to compare to Greinke. Anderson was a fine gamble at a moderate contract the first year. Offering him a QO was stupid and that’s they year that should be compared to Greinke’s. Anderson of 2016 and Kazmir of 2016. Greinke will bounce back. He’s never going to put up the same numbers in that ballpark, but he will have a solid season in AZ. Kazmir was a panic move when the F’d up on Iwakuma.

      Like MJ and I have stated, Kazmir has a chronic issue that is going to pop up constantly. Hopefully, he can manage it, but I expect him to have a warm seat on the DL for a lot of the season.

      1. Hawkeye

        I think we were number three, in the Greinke sweepstakes too.

        And that is why Greinke was happy to see the Dbacks, in the running, besides just offering more money, because Greinke didn’t want to hear about, going to the Giants.

      2. I heard that the Dodgers offered to assume half of Greinke’s contract when they talked to the D-Bags last year. It was a slap in the face to Derrick Hall , the President and CEO of the D-Backs who was a former Dodger. There is bad blood there and that’s all I can say.
        .
        I disagree that offering Anderson a QO was stupid. Until 2016, no one had ever EVER turned down the QO. I did not think Anderson would take the QO and most baseball people did not think it either. You are one of about three people who felt that way… and you were right.
        .
        FAZ has been in on lots of players (and they have to be) to keep the price up, but they have NEVER given a big deal to an aging player like Greinke. They will roll the dice for contracts less than $50 million (Occasionally-Kaz and Mac) but they don’t make the long-term dope-fiend moves.
        .
        They took risks, they knew it. Some failed… a lot failed, but they are not hamstrung by those little contracts like the contracts of Greinke and others. In the scheme of things it’s not a big deal.

        About this time last year, the D-Bags were the Darlings of the baseball world. All FAZ did was win another division and almost get to the Series. Yes, they did not make it, but the got one step closer.

        I maintain that signing the blind, crippled and crazy for 20 cents on the dollar of what the Greinke’s make is the smartest move… even if it fails.

        I subscribe to the scoreboard theory.

  8. his is the rotation I want to see in 2018-2019:

    1. Kershaw
    2. Urias
    3.Alvarez
    4. Santana
    5. Buehler
    Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 40 | Overall: 45

    Signed as a shortstop for $170,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Santana batted .198/.312/.256 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League that summer. Moved to the mound afterward, he got roughed up for a 6.42 ERA during his U.S. debut in ’15 but fared much better when he advanced to full-season ball last year. He finished third in the low Class A Midwest League in strikeouts (124), and he would have ranked first in opponent average (.209) and second in strikeout rate (10.0) had he not fallen just shy of qualifying.

    Santana has an electric sinker that sits at 93-95 mph when he starts and reaches 98 when he relieves, and he could throw harder as he gets stronger. He has trouble commanding it, in part because of the life that yielded a 1.5 groundout/flyout ratio in 2016. His hard slider shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch and he also uses an improving changeup.

    Santana throws across his body from a low slot, which makes it difficult for hitters to pick up his pitches but also for him to command them. While the Dodgers figure to continue using him as a starter to give him innings and experience, he projects better as a reliever in the long run. With the way his sinker and slider could play up in shorter stints, he has closer upside if he delivers enough strikes.

    1. Santana is an interesting project. I’m not sure he will be ready that quick, but he is on that radar. He has a great arm.

      Welcome Mike!

  9. am going to see the Loons play in Fort Wayne, IN in mid-May. Hope to see many of these young guns pitch. Are there any good sites for info on the minor leagues on a on-going basis that of which anyone is aware? Really feel good about the present and future of this franchise but would like to have a number 2 pitcher with better durability than Hill and similar skills for post-season. Can’t hurt to dream.

  10. Nice work, AC.

    What do you make of Yusniel Diaz? He’s sixth ranked prospect but his numbers don’t impress, especially for being in a hitters league.

    1. I really have no opinion on Diaz right now.

      Indecision may or may not be part of my problem.

    1. I have to believe that even if Gutierrez is 0-50 he will make the team and Thompson needs to start at OKC.-

      Just my opinion.

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