After reading the title of this article, your best reaction would be to question the title and remind yourself that Spring Training is still underway. The games that count do not start for two weeks from the writing of this article. Have we already forgotten that this Los Angeles Dodgers team is built on depth?
To date, Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu are reeling under injury recovery. Youngsters Julio Urias and Jose De Leon were sent to minor league camp. Brandon McCarthy is due back a week or two before the 2016 All-Star break. Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw. Scott Kazmir, as expected, is gaining back his velocity. Kenta Maeda has delivered as we hoped. Alex Wood has comeback from forearm soreness. Mike Bolsinger has a strained oblique and will not be ready for the opener. Thankfully, no one in the bullpen has fallen to injury (please cross your fingers with me).
So where do the Dodgers stand? Well, the Dodgers need a fifth starter. Starters one through four are set in Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, and Wood, in that order. As bad and unfortunate as injuries are, it is nice to see Alex Wood get a shot in the rotation.
President Andrew Friedman was interviewed by Alanna Rizzo and said the team was looking at external and internal options for a fifth starter. Internal options include Zach Lee, Carlos Frias, and Ross Stripling. External organizational preferences are unknown at this time. Freidman did say in the interview that the team would somewhat prefer internal options because Ryu is due back in May and McCarthy in June. It would be unwise to bring in another starter through a trade with so much internal talent available. However, Freidman did mention that depth is always good thing. Who knows what Freidman will do next and that is exciting.
Let us look at the three internal options being considered by the Organization:
- Ross Stripling, twenty-six years old, is a starter/reliever, having pitched a career high 127.2 innings in 2013. He did not pitch at all in 2014 due to injury. He pitched 71.1 innings in 2015 at the Double A level. He has an impressive 3.06 earned run average in the minor leagues.
- Carlos Frias, also twenty-six years old, is a starter/reliever. He pitched 32.1 innings in 2014 and 77.2 innings in 2015. His professional innings are all at the Major League level with the Dodgers. He has a less than impressive career 4.66 earned run average, but he does have the most Major League experience of the three internal options being considered.
- Finally, we come to Zach Lee. Lee is two-years younger than Frias and Stripling. He has always been a starting pitcher since he was drafted by the Dodgers with the 28th pick in the First Round of the 2010 Major League Draft when the team convinced him to forgo playing quarterback at Louisiana State University. He has by far the most innings pitched with 646 minor league innings. He had a 2.70 earned run average last year with an 11-6 record, while pitching in the batter friendly Pacific Coast League with the Triple A Oklahoma City Dodgers.
In deciding between Lee, Frias, and Stripling, Lee is the obvious choice from a durability standpoint. Lee has logged at least 100 innings pitched since he became a professional in 2011. He has 109, 121, 142.2, 150, and 123.1 innings pitched at three minor league levels through the 2011-2015 seasons, respectively. He also has the lowest earned run average by a wide margin in 2015, the most recent season.
Even if Stripling and Frias earn the job, they are temporary options more likely slated for the bullpen based on their arm strength and performance. Frias may have the upper hand over Stripling and Lee because he pitched in the Dodgers rotation last year and filled in well before tiring mid-season.
Personally, it would be nice to see the Dodgers give their 2010 first round pick Zach Lee a shot at the number five spot in the rotation. He has been blocked from pitching in the rotation for some time with so much talent ahead of him. In any other farm system Lee would be more recognized and likely pitching in a Major League rotation.
Lee, like Stripling and Frias, are right handed pitchers so each of them would balance the lefty leaning rotation. Whoever is chosen or acquired as the fifth starter, it is getting exciting in getting ready for the “Double Lefty K” strikeout combination of Kershaw and Kazmir, with Japanese righty Maeda, Wood, and possibly Lee completing a strong and young rotation. Kazmir is the veteran at thirty-two years old. Kershaw is twenty-eight, Maeda is twenty-seven, Wood is twenty-five, and Lee, as mentioned, is twenty-four years old.