The arthroscopic surgery required to repair the bulging disk in Brett Anderson’s back will keep the left hander out a minimum of 3-5 months. That opens a big hole in the Dodger’s rotation and the club is still deciding who is best to fill it. The Dodgers have fungible options like Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, and Brandon Beachy. You all know how I feel about Bolsinger, and the Dodgers are still not sure if Frias will be a starter or a reliever but they have made a vow to pick a role for him and stick with it.
Beachy is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery but has gotten off to a good start with two scoreless innings in Monday’s loss to the Indians. He made only two lackluster starts with the Dodgers in 2015 and his health is a huge question mark. He’s looked good in the early goings but the odds of coming back from multiple Tommy John surgeries are extremely difficult.
The other options are the kids. Top pitching prospects Jose De Leon, Zach Lee, and Julio Urias figure to get plenty of action this spring to earn themselves a spot in the big league rotation. Urias has been slowed by a sore groin, but is nearing a return soon. He threw two innings of live batting practice on Tuesday making 30 pitches. The Dodgers are hoping he can pitch as soon as Friday against the Angels.
De Leon made his spring debut on Saturday and was impressive tossing two scoreless innings and whiffing four. Zach Lee who has fallen considerably in the Dodger’s depth chart pitched two scoreless innings as well on Sunday against the Giants.
The Dodgers have to decide whether one of the kids is ready for big league action or if it’s not the right time in their development. If it’s the latter then they would have to choose between Bolsinger, Frias, or Beachy. None of those options are ideal.
A lot of people have theorized that the three prospects should start the season in the minors because they have never pitched a full season even in the minors. Maybe it would be a bad idea to have them transition to pitching in the majors every fifth day because they are too young to be putting all those innings on their arms. Some people believe that it would be better for their development if they built arm strength in the minors where there is less pressure and they can limit their pitch counts.
That might actually make some sense because Urias has never pitched more than 87 frames in a season and De Leon has never pitched more than 114 innings in a season as well. Urias is only 19-years old, De Leon is 23, and Zach Lee is 24. Lee may actually be a better choice because he’s spent more time in the minors, he’s older, and has more innings on his arm.
There’s another school of thought to consider. The kids may be more ready for big league action than you think. If you remember those incredible Atlanta Braves clubs from the 1990’s that dominated the National League with outstanding pitching, did so by letting their pitchers throw consistently.
Tom Glavine threw 168.1 innings in his second professional season for the South Atlantic League Sumter Braves. He then threw 186 innings in his third professional season. During his second season with the Braves in 1988 he threw 195.1 innings. John Smoltz pitched 146 innings in his second professional season and 130 innings the next year. In Smoltz’s second big league season he tossed 208.1 innings. Those guys ended up being just fine.
The point I’m trying to make is about how the Braves developed their pitchers. The Braves had a philosophy of letting their pitchers throw. Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone and manager Bobby Cox believed in multiple regimented bullpen sessions between starts and never relied heavily on pitch counts. Those guys were rarely ever hurt and went on to have hall of fame careers.
The point is the Braves didn’t baby their pitchers. They weren’t afraid of letting their pitchers pitch. I’m not saying that the Dodgers are babying their young prospects. Not at all. Of course you want to be careful with your prized young talented arms. I’m not saying that Urias and De Leon have to make 35 starts and pitch 200 innings. What I am saying is that in order to build arm strength, you have to pitch. In order to pitch, you have to ya know…..PITCH. There is only so long those guys can stay in the minors. These guys have to get used to pitching a full season at some point.
There is always risk involved when a young pitching stud is transitioning from the minor leagues to the majors, and there is always fear that they might blow out their arms. Most people believe that the Dodgers should keep the innings down to prevent injury. Of course you don’t want to overwork the kids, but we’ve seen in recent years that that isn’t always a fool proof method of preventing injuries. Think Jose Fernandez.
The Dodgers have a hole to fill in their starting rotation and multiple young pitchers knocking on the door. Remember Clayton Kershaw didn’t even pitch two full minor league seasons before he was called up to the majors. Perhaps it’s time to let the kids do what they are supposed to be doing for the next 15-20 years of their baseball lives, and that’s pitch.