At the onset of every new season, as Spring Training finally rolls around, we get excited about baseball finally being back and in the case of the top 10 or so teams, the possibility of winning a World Series. We tout our prospects all off-season as being “the next big thing,” but even the most talented of prospects often don’t pan out. Every team and every fan wants their farm system full to the brim with game-changing prospects that set the world ablaze, hoping their guy is the next Trout or Kershaw. What we often overlook are the role players play. The guys that come up through the system and are just steady consistent players are the ones that really keep the team running. It’s not as sexy as having a 1 – 9 of all future Hall-of-Famers.
Specifically looking at the Dodgers, the one thing that kept the team running through the record number of injuries was the insane amount of depth. Not every single guy coming through was a Seager caliber player. They were for the most part great, but none of them really looked like top prospects in the way that Corey was.
Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart were great stable back-end of the rotation guys giving us quality innings when we needed them most and keeping us in the race for the division. Andrew Toles and Charlie Culberson were much-needed utility players that added stability to a lineup being decimated by injuries. They all had flashes of greatness and can easily be seen as contributors coming into this next season.
None of the aforementioned guys got the coverage of a top prospect. They were often overlooked and not paid much, if any, attention. Taking the road less traveled, I want to look at this season’s set of guys who I think can have the impact Stripling, Toles, Stewart, and Culberson had last year with none of the notoriety.
First up is the 25-year-old reliever Ralston Cash. He was a 7th round pick in 2010 and was meant to be a starter but was transitioned to being a reliever after an early hip injury, he wasn’t gonna be able to cut it as anything but a reliever. His stats are pretty good posting a 2.87 ERA across 69 innings split between Double A Tulsa and Triple A OKC. He struck out roughly one – third of all batters he faced and stranded base runners at a rate of 75 percent. By all accounts his best pitch is a mid 90s fastball followed by a decent curve and slider. Neither of his secondary offerings are all that great and his command isn’t anything special but what you get with Cash is the kind of player that can give you quality innings in the middle of a game. Also taking into account his ability to limit contact and strand runners, he may be able to grow into a late inning setup guy who can be an emergency closer. He’s capable of working multiple innings in one outing and he has the kind of repertoire a reliever needs to be successful. Given that the Dodgers want to limit Urias’ innings this year, the tendency for the starters to not last very long in a game, and the likelihood of injury to one of our established bullpen guys Cash is very likely to make it up to the majors sooner rather than later. I envision Cash slotting in right behind Romo mainly taking middle innings likely bridging the gap between a short start and the 8th inning but I can also see him being a setup man in the near future if he can continue his minor league success in spring training.
Second up is Trevor Oaks a 24-year-old 7th round pick. Trevor is essentially going to be one of the first starters to get called up if our plethora of other starters all go down. He isn’t on the 40 man roster just yet but I have a feeling that may change as the rotation picture begins to come into focus. Just to be clear, I think it’s doubtful he makes the 40 man straight out of spring training but I think if anyone goes down throughout the year he’ll be the first to get the call. Lots of people are higher on Chase DeJong but Oaks had an incredibly fast rise from Single A to Triple A last year climbing up the ladder and posting up solid numbers at each stop. DeJong may have struck out people at a higher rate (22% to Oaks’ 18%) but he also allowed slightly more walks and each of his pitches individually only profile as average at best. I think it would be wise to use Oaks initially, allowing DeJong more time to develop, and take advantage of his ability to strand runners and pitch to soft contact. He is in a lot of ways like Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart; back-end of the rotation type guy who’s going to keep you in a game, and keep you from missing your regular starter.
Finally, O’Kyea Dickson the power hitting 27-year-old 1B/OF. Dickson is a bat first type of players who is something of a defensive liability. He isn’t a terrible fielder but he also isn’t all that great in the OF and is just passable at 1B. My bold prediction for him is that he’s gonna be the primary back up to Gonzo coming into the season if he can continue to hit the way he did in OKC last year. I understand why you might think I’m crazy for saying that but let me make my case. Dickson sported a .328/.398/.596 with 18 home runs and 64 RBI across 329 at bats exclusively at OKC last year. While Bellinger may be projected to be better and he might be more versatile and an asset defensively, the fact still remains that he only played in three Triple A games last year. The front office being cautious and wanting all of their up and coming stars to develop fully, may elect to keep him in OKC until September so he can reach his potential. In addition to that Dickson is a right handed batter. The problems the Dodgers faced last year when up against lefties is not a secret and the front office was willing to give up De Leon for Forsythe in an attempt to fix the problem. If Dickson were to show off his power as well his ability to hit for decently high average, they may keep him as the primary 1B backup and 5th outfielder. Dave Roberts has also publicly said he wants to give Gonzo regular rest so he’s ready for the post season. Also, the Dodgers don’t currently have a big bench bat a la Alex Guerrero anymore. This makes sense for a lot of reasons and I think it’s one of the reasons Dickson was even invited to spring training in the first place. In a lot of ways, he can be the poor man’s Edwin Encarnacion. It is also dependent on his spring training performance whether he makes it onto the 25 man. If, and I recognize that it’s a big IF, the 2016 Triple A Dickson shows up to spring training I think the front office puts him on the 25 man as the primary back up to Gonzo and occasional outfielder much like Scott Van Slyke was a few years ago.