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2021 Dodgers Season Preview: Kenley Jansen, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol Lead the Bullpen

The bullpen is deep



In 2020, the Dodgers’ bullpen was an area of strength in most cases. For the first half of the season, Kenley Jansen was elite as a closer but fell back to earth. Pedro Baez seemed to have lost some velocity but was still pretty good. Blake Treinen was a good free-agent acquisition but Joe Kelly’s best moment was getting suspended. Jake McGee came back from the dead of Colorado to pitch effectively. Before injuring his elbow Caleb Ferguson was excellent and Dylan Floro had an underrated season. Adam Kolarek had an excellent regular season with a 0.95 ERA. Rookies Brusdar Graterol and Victor Gonzalez were a constant source of improvement.

This final article in our season preview series will take a look at the bullpen candidates for the Dodgers in 2021 and how things might play out.

Losses

The Dodgers lost some useful pitchers to trades and free agency. Each of these pitchers had some good moments during the season. I really wanted Alex Wood to stay as a reliever but he wants the opportunity to start and that will not happen with the Dodgers.

  • Pedro Baez – free agent signing with Astr*s
  • Jake McGee – free agent signing with Giants
  • Alex Wood – free agent signing with Giants
  • Adam Kolarek – traded to A’s
  • Dylan Floro – traded to Marlins

Sure Things

The Dodgers have a nice top-level set of relievers and seem to be determined to begin the season with Kenley Jansen as the closer. I’d really prefer the Dodgers move away from a designated closer and it seems they might be moving away from that concept. In October they had five different relievers get saves instead of just relying on one pitcher.

Related: Dave Roberts Offers Some Clarity on the Closing Role in Los Angeles

  • LHP Victor Gonzalez – the lone lefty sure thing. He proved he belongs after his performance in the playoffs last October.
  • RHP Brusdar Graterol – he throws easy 100 MPH heat and should keep on improving. He needs to miss a few more bats before he is ready to be dominant.
  • RHP Kenley Jansen – he will start the season as the closer. It is all about him hitting his spots. After the first month of the season, he started missing more within the strike zone.
  • RHP Joe Kelly – our hero has missed quite a bit of time over the last two seasons with injuries. Last season he only pitched 10 innings and sometimes seemed to want to just throw curveballs. It was weird to watch.
  • RHP Corey Knebel – 2020 was a season of recovery from Tommy John surgery as he started poorly for the Brewers. By the end of the season, he was close to his old form when he was dominant. Don’t be surprised to see him make a huge contribution in 2021.
  • RHP Blake Treinen – a free agent signing for 2020 he was used in all kinds of situations. In most cases, his job was to get out tough hitters, no matter the inning. The ball movement from him is video game-worthy.

On The Edge

The Dodgers have some nice options to fill in some spots in the bullpen. Some are rookies and some are looking to breakthrough permanently.

  • LHP Scott Alexander – The first batter he faces seems to be an issue. It takes a few pitches for his sinker to get into the zone. He usually begins missing into the right-handed batters box part of the zone. Once he gets it low and in the zone he gets a tone of ground balls.
  • LHP Garrett Cleavinger – the Dodgers got Cleavinger in a three-way trade from the Phillies. Like any pitcher the Dodgers acquire, it will be interesting to see what the development staff will do with them. Too many pitchers come from teams with poor development staffs so it might take a few months for these pitchers to show progress.
  • RHP Dennis Santana – a former starter, Santana needs to throw a few more strikes to stick in the bullpen. The arm and the pitch quality could make him an excellent reliever.
  • LHP Alex Vesia – acquired from the Marlins in the Floro trade, he is a lefty that will also benefit from the Dodgers’ player development staff. He doesn’t have an elite fastball but his spin rate and movement could make him an excellent option for the bullpen.
  • RHP Mitchell White – he’s mostly been a starter but he has a lot of nagging injuries that have caused him to miss too much time. The stuff he has though is worth a look in the bullpen.

Related: A Deep Dive into Acquisitions Sheldon Neuse, Gus Varland, Alex Vesia and Kyle Hurt

Comeback Candidates

  • RHP Jimmy Nelson – Dave Roberts considers Nelson as a rotation candidate but he could be a candidate for the bullpen. He was last effective in 2017 before wrecking his shoulder so he is a long-shot.
  • RHP Brandon Morrow – speaking of 2017, if Morrow could be healthy for just the last two months of the season, including October, he could be a difference-maker. He was so good for the Dodgers as recently as 2017.

Starters in the ‘Pen

The starting rotation could be full so Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin could end up in the bullpen or back in AAA. Either of those guys could be excellent relievers and would make the rotations of any of the other 29 teams. I expect both of them to be huge contributors in 2021.

Dark Horses

It will be tough for the following pitchers to make an appearance with the Dodgers in 2021, mostly based on the sheer quantity of pitchers.

  • RHP Marshall Kasowski – he was left off of the 40-man roster and was not selected in the Rule 5 Draft, which I fully expected. His main pitch is a very overhanded fastball.
  • LHP James Pazos – a free agent lefty from the Rockies, he relies on a sinker and a slider. If this group, he is most likely to find his way to the Major League roster.
  • LHP Enny Romero – a lefty with a long minor league resume, he’s also spent quite a bit of time in MLB. He does have a mid-90s fastball.

Deep Minor League Lefties

Over the last few seasons, the Dodgers have been collecting left-handed relief candidates. Don’t be surprised if one of these guys sneaks onto the Major League roster for a cup of coffee. I’ve written about most of these guys on Dodgers 2020.

  • LHP Logan Salow – a lefty who has reached AA, he gets a lot of strikeouts with his slider.
  • LHP Jeff Belge – a 2019 draftee with a 95 MPH fastball and a wicked slider.
  • LHP Alec Gamboa – the Dodgers will also build him up to be a starter but another 2019 draftee.
  • LHP Justin Bruihl – see my interview with him.
  • LHP Darien Nunez – an Aroldis Chapman clone who was signed out of Cuba in 2018.

Tommy John September Returns

As was stated at the beginning, Caleb Ferguson was really dominant for the Dodgers before going down with TJ surgery. The Dodgers also signed Tommy Kahnle as a free agent who also had TJ surgery in 2020. If they were starters there would be little chance they could contribute in 2021 but some relievers are able to come back within 12-13 months.

There is a chance that one or both could finish the season with the Dodgers but the odds are low.

Surprise Breakout Candidate

I’ve had the chance to get quite a few looks at Gerardo Carrillo in his time at Rancho Cucamonga. Nobody has worked harder to get to the point he is at right now on the 40-man roster. He is still listed at 154 pounds but has put on about 25 pounds of muscle and can touch 100 MPH with his fastball. Looking at the video below you can see he has a nice variety of pitches. Although he is targeted as a starter he could be nasty out of the bullpen.

October Bullpen

I know some of you want Julio Urias to be the closer for the Dodgers as a replacement for Kenley Jansen. He will get a chance to be a starter and could be elite. However, October is different. Dave Roberts didn’t cling to having Jansen as a closer and five different relievers got saves in the post-season. The way the Dodgers continue to have depth in the starting rotation and the bullpen they should be able to attack other teams with a lot of quality pitchers.

Back to Julio, there is no reason the Dodgers cannot employ him in October as they did in 2020. He can pitch in the 3rd or 4th spot (depending on the length of the series) and be ready to dominate in a later game. In a playoff series, it is possible for hitters to get used to seeing the same relievers so it will be important to keep showing different pitchers as needed while also using the staff with the proper matchups.

Final Thoughts

The Dodgers bullpen should be as good or better than it was in 2020. One important key was how well Dave Roberts managed the bullpen in the post-season. He learned lessons from the past and from the previous games as the series moved forward. His decision to not use Kenley Jansen in the last two games of the World Series was crucial. Now, he might even have more weapons available throughout the season and into the postseason.

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

Comments

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  1. Graterol and Gonzalez adding experience will help their growth. Knebel will hopefully hit his stride by October. May and Gonsolin if used properly will eat innings mid to late game. Jansen has velocity issues but more importantly Jansen has control and movement problems. Jansen’s velocity dips he attempts to throw harder and his cutter flattens out. Plus with Jansen his control is all over the place. Watch Jansen pitch. How often does he come close to the pitchers target compared to other pitchers?
    Morrow is a definite candidate to breakthrough this year. Dodger bullpen should be great.

    • Tmax. It appears that although Roberts named Jansen the closer to begin the year, and most knew he would, Kenley will have a bit of a short leash because as ya pointed out there are other options ,especially if and when October rolls around.

    • It has been quite obvious that Jansen does NOT hit the catcher’s target. Ask my wife. I yell at the TV every time he pitches…!

  2. “The Dodgers have a nice top-level set of relievers and seem to be determined to begin the season with Kenley Jansen as the closer.” Translation: Be prepared for “L’s” on the calendar fans.

  3. It’s May, May needs to get a chance to show his stuff in the closer roll. Because his stuff is wicked. If he has the right mind set to be a closer then he could very well be the next game over Gagne.
    GO DODGERS!
    PHILIP

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