Considering the current state of affairs surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen, second-year relief prospect Shawn Tolleson is providing fans with a gleaming ray of hope as he continues to dominate opposition in an extremely impressive fashion.
Many followers of the Dodgers may not have even heard of his name. Some may remember him from last June's draft, where he was selected in the 30th round out of Baylor University.
Regardless, at the rate he's mowing down opposing hitters, Tolleson is quickly climbing atop the radar of coaches and scouts across the country.
Upon being drafted last summer, Tolleson reported to the Dodgers' Pioneer League affiliate, the Ogden Raptors, where he tallied 17 saves in all 17 opportunities he was given. In 26 games and 28.2 innings of work, he posted a 0.63 ERA and a 0.767 WHIP while allowing only five walks and striking out 39.
So far this season for the Single-A Great Lakes Loons, he's 8-for-8 in save chances and hasn't allowed a run in 8.2 innings. His 21 strikeouts calculate to an astonishing 21.8 K/9 ratio.
For those who do follow Tolleson closely, they know that he was held in the same regards as fellow Texas native Clayton Kershaw when entering his senior year at Allen High School. Ironically, Kershaw and Tolleson were teammates on the 2005 USA Junior National team.
Kershaw would eventually proceed to become the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft. Tolleson, however, fell victim to a devastating elbow injury early in his senior high school year and ultimately accepted a scholarship to pitch at Baylor University.
In 2007, Tolleson sat out his freshman season at Baylor as a redshirt while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which was conducted in March of 2006.
He recovered nicely and never looked back—he amassed dozens of both team and Big 12 Conference honors during his three years pitching at Baylor. In addition, he was named to the Big 12 All-Academic first team twice.
Tolleson, who was a starter for his entire career before arriving at Ogden, was shifted to the Raptors' bullpen because the pitching staff was already set with five solid starters. He was successful early in middle relief and was quickly moved to the closer's role—a move that Dodgers management wouldn't regret.
In terms of his pitching repertoire, Tolleson keeps it simple. He uses two pitches—a four-seam fastball that peaks at about 95 mph and his own version of a two-seam cutter that has the speed of a typical slider.
At 23 years of age, Tolleson is a bit older than most of his counterparts in the Midwest League. Despite being the most effective closer on the Dodgers' farm, he's still drawing comparisons to Kershaw, who is now in his fourth season in the bigs. Regardless, Tolleson doesn't let his age affect his outlook.
“I’m not worried about it,” Tolleson told Hugh Bernreuter of The Saginaw News in an interview. “The Dodgers will make that decision. I just need to keep getting people out.”
At his current rate of success, it's conceivable that Tolleson could make the jump to Double-A ball at some point this season. From there, it's not uncommon for the Dodgers to let some pitchers forgo a stint a Triple-A before being called to the big-league roster.
Some scouts feel he may need to develop another secondary pitch to succeed at the higher levels, but for now, his progression speaks for itself. With a 21.8 K/9 ratio, he certainly seems to be on the proper path.
With the current struggles in the Dodgers' bullpen, Tolleson's name will be popping into the news more and more as time moves forward.
And if he continues to make opposing hitters look foolish, he may be in line for a Dodger debut sooner than many think.