Los Angeles Dodgers Scouting Report: Pitchers and Catchers

Seth Victor@sh_vicContributor IIIJanuary 29, 2013

Los Angeles Dodgers Scouting Report: Pitchers and Catchers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers and catchers report to camp on February 12—just two weeks from today.  While much of their roster is set, some new additions mean that there will be some interesting performances to keep an eye on as February and March unfold.  With that said, here is a look at each of the Dodgers pitchers and catchers that will be in major league camp.

Juan Abreu

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    Abreu is a non-roster invitee (NRI) from whom not much should be expected.  He has made just seven appearances in the big leagues, and his performance in the minors leaves a lot to be desired—387.0 innings, a 4.65 ERA, and a 1.9/1 K/BB ratio.  If he makes the team, it will be a major surprise and probably a sign of something gone horribly wrong elsewhere.

Steve Ames

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    Ames is a young right-handed pitcher who spent all of last season at AA and is on the 40-man roster just as a protection against this past winter’s Rule 5 draft.  Over the last couple years, he has developed into a solid reliever in the minors, and he may prove valuable should the Dodgers need help at some point during the season.  However, he is unlikely to make the team out of spring training. 

Josh Beckett

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    Beckett was acquired on August 25, 2012, from the Boston Red Sox.  But while last season was his worst year by xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, explained here) since 2006, he was significantly better with the Dodgers than he was with the Red Sox.  His strikeouts went up and his home run rate went down.

    Obviously, he will never be the dominant starter he was for the two World Series rosters he led (2003 Marlins, 2007 Red Sox).  His average fastball velocity is down more than 3 MPH since 2007, and he’s relying less and less on it as he gets older.  But he’s reinvented himself enough to be an above-average third or fourth starter, which is all the Dodgers need him to be.

Ronald Belisario

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    In 2009, Belisario was a key member of the Dodgers bullpen.  However, since then, he’s had a variety of performance and personal issues that have conspired to keep him out of the team's immediate plans.  He missed the 2011 season because he couldn’t get a visa and then subsequently served a 25-game suspension for PEDs.  But in the end, his performance (2.54 ERA and 8.75 K/9 last year) is enough to make him a presumptive member of this year’s bullpen.

Chad Billingsley

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    Billingsley was drafted and developed by the Dodgers and has had an up-and-down career with them.  He has always had flashes of dominance, and the fact that he can’t replicate them more often has long frustrated fans.  However, he was much better towards the end of last season, as he won his last six decisions before being forced out of the August 24 game versus Colorado with an injury.

    The main question surrounding Billingsley is that elbow injury.  Signs are good, however, that he will be ready for Opening Day and will be able to avoid surgery.  If that is in fact the case, the Dodgers would be well within reason to expect another slightly above-average season from Billingsley, although he may be forced further towards the back of the rotation by Beckett and Ryu.

    It is for this reason, in fact, that his role is the most complicated.  If he is healthy, he could be the fifth starter, forcing Lilly, Harang, and Capuano to the minors, the bullpen, or another team.  But if Ryu falters, Billingsley could be the fourth starter, which opens the door for a member of the aforementioned trio.

Chris Capuano

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    Capuano was shockingly effective for the Dodgers last season, as both ERA and FIP tell us it was his best year.  His strikeout rate dipped, but so did his walk rate, which enabled him to keep more runners off base.  The numbers don’t indicate he was spectacularly lucky, as both his LOB% (percentage of runners that reach base and are stranded) and BABIP (batting average on balls in play) were only slightly better than league average.

    Expecting another such season from Capuano is probably unrealistic, given that he was never that good before.  However, he also hadn’t pitched in the NL West since his rookie year in Arizona, so the ballparks in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego will certainly help him.  Even accounting for some regression, Capuano should be just slightly below league-average, which is certainly more than good enough for a potential fifth starter or long reliever in the bullpen. 

Hector Correa

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    Correa is another NRI, and he has never made an appearance above AA.  He is nothing special, and indeed he struggled at High-A in the Giants organization last year.  He is at camp with an opportunity to make a minor league roster and will not factor in the major league team’s plans.

Kelvin De La Cruz

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    De La Cruz is another NRI who has never made an appearance above AA.  He was an intriguing prospect five years ago, as Baseball America had him ranked #7 in the Indians organization in 2008, but he never developed into anything and has fallen off prospect rankings entirely.  He will not make the team and is fighting for a minor league spot.

Scott Elbert

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    Elbert, after showing promise as a young pitcher, has turned into a capable left-handed reliever.  However, he is injury-prone, and this offseason has been no exception.  He just underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow, which puts his availability for spring training and Opening Day in doubt.

    In addition, the presence of Ryu and Beckett will likely force Capuano and/or Lilly to the bullpen, which means Elbert isn’t necessary as the only lefty in what is always a righty-heavy pen.  If Elbert isn’t healthy and productive right away, he may be squeezed out of a job.

Stephen Fife

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    Fife was a pleasant surprise in 2012, when he was called up for five emergency starts and posted a 2.70 ERA over 26.2 innings.  However, he is considered a marginal talent at best, and was a throw-in in the 2011 Erik Bedard-to-Boston trade.  The Dodgers’ new depth in the rotation means he will likely not feature at all in 2013, unless a truly horrific spate of injuries forces the Dodgers five deep at the back of their rotation. 

Zack Greinke

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    Greinke is the Dodgers’ biggest offseason acquisition, and he comes with high expectations.  He won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award, but he’s no longer that pitcher.  Instead, he’s settled in as one of the top fifteen or twenty pitchers in baseball, rather than a top-five hurler.  He consistently strikes out more batters than league average while walking fewer, which bodes well for his projections.  He’s also quite durable, having made at least 28 starts in every season since 2007.

    Greinke is maddeningly inconsistent, though, as he occasionally has an absolutely horrendous start that one wouldn’t expect given his talent.  He also has had a FIP lower than his ERA in every season since his Cy Young year, which might indicate some tendency to lose focus or an inclination towards letting the big inning get out of control.  Regardless, Greinke is one of baseball’s elite starters, and the Dodgers’ ability to slot him in behind Clayton Kershaw will make him one of baseball’s best No. 2 starters.

Javy Guerra

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    Guerra began last year as the closer, but struggled mightily after a hot start to the season.  From April 17 to May 13, Guerra posted an 8.00 ERA and blew three saves, after which he lost the closer job to Kenley Jansen.  He appeared to get back on track after the All Star break, as he posted a 1.89 ERA from July 13 to September 2.  His star-crossed season continued, though, as he went to the DL with a strained oblique.  After all that, he is still expected to be in the Dodgers’ bullpen to start the year, albeit in a more limited role than he filled last year.

Matt Guerrier

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    Guerrier is another member of the Dodgers’ deep bullpen.  He was a long-time reliever for the Minnesota Twins and was signed by Los Angeles prior to the 2011 season.  He has always been a workhorse, with five years in a row (2007-11) of 70 appearances or more.  Last year, however, he was hurt for much of the season; he missed much of April and all of May, June, and July.  He finally made his return on August 31.

    Guerrier is wholly unspectacular.  His career average for K/9 is 6.01, and while he had some excellent years with the Twins, he has been remarkably mediocre for much of his career.  However, that’s better than most middle relievers—and the Dodgers’ depth at the back of the bullpen means that he won’t be counted on for anything later than an occasional seventh-inning appearance.

Aaron Harang

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    Harang is another of the Dodgers’ candidates for the fifth starter job.  Although he was out-pitched by Capuano in terms of both FIP and xFIP in 2012, he was still only slightly worse than league average.  At this point in his career, Harang has settled into exactly what he was last year—a solid big league starter who is perfectly capable of being slotted into the fourth or fifth spot in a rotation.

    Given that, then, Harang probably has more value to other teams than he does to the Dodgers, who have four candidates for the last two rotation spots.  Because he showed last year that he still can be productive in the big leagues, he is likely to be traded, as he simply doesn’t fit into the Dodgers’ plans this season.

JP Howell

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    Howell was just signed this offseason, and gives the Dodgers even more left-handed relieving.  He will join Paco Rodriguez, Scott Elbert (if healthy), and either Ted Lilly or Chris Capuano as potential options for manager Don Mattingly.  Howell is best known for his role on the 2008-09 Tampa Bay Rays, where he posted back-to-back ERAs under 3.00.  Since then, he’s been noticeably up-and-down, and he missed the entire 2010 season with a shoulder injury.

    However, he proved last year that he can still be a valuable member of a bullpen.  Despite the admittedly small sample size, it’s worth noting that he posted a .198 batting average against versus lefties last year.  For a Dodgers bullpen that spent much of last season with just one lefty, he is a welcome addition.

Gregory Infante

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    Infante is an NRI who is in camp on a minor league contract.  He did pitch in AAA last season, but was unimpressive and is unlikely to make an impact with the Dodgers.  He had one short five-game stint with the White Sox in 2010 but failed to impress.  He will be in the minors come April.

Kenley Jansen

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    Jansen is a dominant arm in the bullpen, and gives the Dodgers a very welcome power arm for the eighth inning.  Although he performed quite well in the closer role for much of 2012, his heart scare in September prompted the Dodgers to give the honor to Brandon League, who took the job and ran with it.  Thus, although Jansen would undoubtedly like to close, he will begin the year as the presumptive set up man.

    Jansen is a strikeout machine, posting a career K/9 of 14.58.  In addition, his control has improved as he’s become more experienced, with his walk rate falling from 4.36 per nine innings in 2011 to 3.05 in 2012.  This makes him a valuable commodity at the back of the bullpen.

Clayton Kershaw

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    Kershaw is the Dodger with the least to prove.  He won the NL Cy Young Award in 2011 and finished second last season.  He has topped 200 strikeouts and 200 innings pitched in each of the last three years.  And this will be only his age-25 season.

    He’s the ace of the staff, and the Dodgers need him to be that if they wish to make a run at the World Series.  He has dominant stuff and has certainly proved his worth over the past few years, but injury issues plagued him at the end of last season.  However, he claims his health problems are behind him.  If that’s the case, the Dodgers have the rarest of commodities in baseball—a true ace. 

Brandon League

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    League was rewarded for his performance at the end of last season with a four-year, $27.5 million contract.  GM Ned Colletti also named him the closer heading into this season.  League has been inconsistent at times, but he posted a 2.30 ERA for the Dodgers after Seattle traded him on July 30.  He was also able to save six games after taking over the closer’s role from Kenley Jansen at the end of August.

    League is a known commodity, which gives him a certain value.  He is not a dominant closer in the mold of Mariano Rivera, but he has certainly had success, and his performance at the end of last season is reason for optimism.

Ted Lilly

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    Lilly made just eight starts last year, as he made his last appearance May 23 in Arizona.  However, the Dodgers expect him to be ready for spring training, where he will challenge Harang and Capuano for the fifth starter role.  Lilly has a track record of being better than both Harang and Capuano, so it seems likely that it would be in the Dodgers’ best interests to make him the fifth starter.

    ERA-, which converts ERA to a scale in which 100 is league average and lower is better, says that Lilly has been better than league average every year but one since 2005.  Thus, the Dodgers should reasonably be able to expect an ERA around 3.90 (because league average last year was 3.96).  Such a performance would give Los Angeles one of the deepest rotations in baseball.

Matt Magill

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    Magill is another pitcher who was added to the 40-man roster as protection from the Rule 5 draft.  However, unlike Ames, he is a legitimate prospect, with a possible future as a back-of-the-rotation starter.  Again, due to the Dodgers’ pitching depth, he will not make the team this season.  He is, however, someone worth keeping an eye on for the future.

Matt Palmer

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    Palmer has a total of 185.1 big league innings under his belt, though they have been unimpressive.  He has bounced among several organizations and is just in Dodgers camp as a filler member of the roster.  He will undoubtedly start the season in the minors.

Paco Rodriguez

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    Rodriguez was the first member of the 2012 draft class to reach the big leagues.  However, that was due to Elbert’s injury, which made Randy Choate the only lefty in the bullpen.  This season, with the added depth in the pitching staff, Rodriguez will likely have to out-pitch Capuano and Lilly to make the team.  Indeed, his best shot at being with the Dodgers out of spring training is Ned Colletti deciding that Lilly and Capuano have more value as starters and either trading them or sending them to AAA to continue to start.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

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    Ryu is the biggest question mark on the entire Dodgers roster.  He comes highly regarded from Korea, but there have always been questions about how well performance in the Asian leagues (Japan, Korea) translates to big league success.  Thus, it’s more valuable to look at the scouting reports than at any numbers he’s posted previously.

    ESPN.com’s Keith Law believes that Ryu is more suited to the bullpen long-term, but it’s worth noting that not all scouts hold the same point of view.  It’s believed that Ryu will get a shot to earn the fourth starter’s spot, and indeed he will likely begin the season in the rotation.

Shawn Tolleson

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    Tolleson spent much of last season with the Dodgers, where he made forty relief appearances.  He was effective at times, but struggled notably with his control, walking 4.78 batters per nine innings.  The returns of Guerrier, Guerra, and Jansen to full health likely make him expendable.

Josh Wall

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    Wall made seven appearances with the Dodgers last year, and struggled in that short time.  It is worth noting, of course, that just 5.2 innings aren’t enough to tell us what Wall will be in the future.  But, as with Tolleson, the Dodgers’ new depth in the bullpen makes him unlikely to have much of an impact in the majors unless injuries force him to be called on.

Chris Withrow

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    Withrow is an intriguing prospect.  He was added to the 40-man as protection from the Rule 5 draft, but he retains prospect status, with Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks ranking him number eight in the system.  Parks also said on Twitter last week that Withrow is someone with whom patience could pay off.

Eliezer Alfonzo

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    Alfonzo is an NRI and will have an opportunity to fight for the backup catcher spot.  He last played in the big leagues in 2011, missing all of last season after dealing with a drug suspension and then playing in the Mexican League.  He has never showed an ability to be patient and get on base, and his power has been below league average since 2006, so any value he might bring would have to be defensively.

Wilkin Castillo

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    Castillo has very limited big league experience, having not made a major league appearance since 2009.  He has never demonstrated a particularly advanced bat in the minor leagues, and is not thought of as a fantastic defensive catcher, either.  He hasn’t been particularly well-thought-of in a few years and is unlikely to make the team.

Ramon Castro

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    Castro has been a long-time backup catcher but is likely near the end of his run.  He is 36 years old and didn’t play professional baseball in 2012.  He has some value as a defensive catcher, but his inability to make an impact means he will be facing an uphill battle to make the team.

AJ Ellis

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    Ellis is one of only two catchers on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, and he is pretty much guaranteed the starting catcher’s role.  He had a breakout year in 2012, posting 4.1 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) and becoming a fan favorite in Los Angeles for his patience and ability to take walks and deliver timely hits.

    A career backup prior to last season, Ellis, who will turn 32 this year, is unlikely to be the Dodgers’ catcher of the future.  However, there is a decent chance that he can replicate last year’s success given that much of it was OBP-driven, and much of his minor league track record indicates that he has a natural ability to get on base.

Tim Federowicz

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    Federowicz is the leading candidate to get the job of AJ Ellis’ backup.  He was brought over in 2011 from Boston.  Per Fangraphs.com, Federowicz is the Dodgers’ No. 12 prospect and is known for his defense.  As a cheap but highly-regarded member of the Dodgers organization, he is likely to break camp with the team, where his defensive skills will make him immediately valuable.

Jesus Flores

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    Flores is the most viable challenger to Federowicz.  He was a competent backup in Washington last season, as he was needed to step up when starting catcher Wilson Ramos went down injured.  He played 83 games last year and was passable defensively, but his offensive production was quite poor.  He will need to show something in camp if he wants to make the team.