The Dodgers had a questionable bullpen for much of the 2019 season, despite leading the National League in reliever ERA (3.85; tied with San Francisco). Kenta Maeda, normally a starter, was the best reliever they had in the postseason but he goes back to the rotation in 2020.
With the very possible loss of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill from the 2019 rotation, some bullpen pieces will be given the opportunity to be starters. So far, the Dodgers have signed Blake Treinen as a free agent to add a new option to the bullpen. This article will take a look at all the bullpen options that are in the organization as of this writing.
The following bullpen options are most likely to be on the Opening Day roster and to be relied upon for key roles right out of the box. One thing, is that most come with some type of question mark.
- Pedro Baez – He is a free agent after 2020 but he has solidified his role as someone who can get some tough outs. His brief playoff outings in 2019 did bring back some bad memories as he gave up 4 hits to 7 batters.
- Kenley Jansen – Jansen is still slotted in as the closer but that could easily change. His last periods of greatness and consistency were in 2017. Hopefully, another season removed from his heart condition and some weight loss will allow him to come close to his former self. What has been nuts is we’ve seen appearances where he is throwing 93-95 MPH then in another appearance he is throwing 89-91 MPH.
- Joe Kelly – Kelly had a horrible April and was pretty darn good from May through August. He had some type of mysterious injury in September and was not very good in the playoffs. Even in his one good inning it was strange because he threw all breaking balls. He had no business throwing another inning after that weird, yet effective inning. Kelly has the potential to be either excellent or awful and can change on a month-to-month basis.
- Adam Kolarek – Our LOOGY (Left-handed One Out GuY) might have to re-adjust with the new (and awful) three-batter minimum. He will probably be used with two outs with a lefty coming up as if the batter makes an out then he has faced his minimum. His performance against Juan Soto in the playoffs was amazing. Somehow, he needs to find a way to get out some right-handed batters.
- Blake Treinen – The new guy was one of the best pitchers in 2018 but lost some command while battling some injuries in 2019. He is a good risk as I advocated signing him. If he re-discovers his 2018 form then Jansen will have to battle to keep his closer role.
The following players are targeted as candidates for the starting rotation. We already know that Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw are sure things. After that, it gets complicated.
- Tony Gonsolin – I’ve been a big fan of Gonsolin as a reliever. His fastball/split-finger mix are ideal. One problem with the splitter is that it can be tough on the arm if it is not thrown correctly. I see him as the future closer.
- Kenta Maeda – Kenta was easily the best part of the bullpen in the last part of the season but he will be a starter again to begin 2020. I fully expect him to be a key part of the September and post-season bullpen in 2020.
- Ross Stripling – Stripling has had plenty of success in many roles with the Dodgers. He will probably get an opportunity to start (he’s earned it) and I expect him to get at least 15 starts in 2020.
- Julio Urías – Urías will be on an innings limit (my guess is 150) so he will probably spend some time in the bullpen also. If he were to be a starter in the playoffs then he will need a break at some point in the season. This would send him either to the bullpen or the Phantom Injured List.
The following players were used quite a bit in the 2019 bullpen but they were not on the playoff roster. In my mind that means that the Dodgers don’t consider them as essential bullpen pieces going into the 2020 season.
- Caleb Ferguson – The big lefty has a bunch of potential with a 94-95 MPH fastball and a nice curveball. However, he lost faith in his curve in 2019 and hitters sat on his fastball. The biggest problem was his command. If he recaptures his 2018 command and curveball confidence he will be a big factor in the 2020 bullpen.
- JT Chargois – “Shaggy” has a 95-96 MPH fastball and also throws a slider in his two pitch mix. He does pretty well against right-handed batters but lefties cause problems. Chargois is out of options so he has to make the big league roster or the Dodgers risk losing him.
- Dylan Floro – Some of Floro’s pitches are like a video game. The movement is amazing. There are times where he looks unhittable. There are too many times when he can’t get that nasty stuff over the plate and that’s when the struggles begin. If he could get just a bit more consistency he could be a huge asset in 2020. Remember, he started the 2019 season in a dominant manner.
- Casey Sadler – Sadler was a pleasant surprise in 2019 after being acquired from the Rays. He had a 2.33 ERA for the Dodgers in 27 innings while getting his first Major League save. His fastball is 92-94 MPH and he throws both a slider and curve. Like Chargois, he is out of options.
- Scott Alexander – Alexander missed a lot of the season with an arm injury. Before he was hurt he was missing a lot with his location. His bread and butter is a sinker but he was missing up in the zone way too much. I like that he gets ground balls but he seems to have issues with the first batter he faces as he finds his location. He does have two minor league options so don’t be surprised if he starts the 2020 season in AAA.
A Bunch Of Rookies
I took a look at the 40-man roster to get some additional candidates. I also took a look at the minor league rosters to find some more candidates so there might be some names you won’t recognize.
- Victor Gonzalez – He started the season in A ball but made it all the way to AAA. Some said he could be a candidate for a role in the bullpen in 2019 as a lefty specialist. It didn’t happen but the Dodgers added Gonzalez to the 40-man roster for the 2020 season.
- Marshall Kasaowski – Although he hasn’t reached AAA yet, Kasaowski is well regarded. In his minor league career, he has struck out 177 batters in only 107.2 innings. The weak spot is that he has also walked 66. Once the walks go down, expect him to be in the Majors soon.
- Darien Nunez – I saw Nunez pitch in relief for the Quakes in single A. His mechanics are similar to Aroldis Chapman but he doesn’t quite throw that hard. However, he does throw hard enough and he has that “look” of a guy who could be a big leaguer. He is 27 as they signed him in 2018 out of Cuba.
- Dennis Santana – Santana had an awful 2019 as nothing seemed to go right. He ended the season in the AAA bullpen and had some success. Like other young pitchers he needs to reduce his walks but I really like him as a reliever.
- Josh Sborz – Sborz made his debut in 2019 and had some decent outings along with a couple of not-so-good ones. He’s a former starter who made the bullpen switch in 2018. His fastball is around 95 MPH and also throws a slider also.
- Logan Salow – Salow is one that many have not heard of but I saw quite a bit of him at Rancho. He is a lefty that has a knack for striking guys out but is under the radar. I expect to see him in AAA at some point in 2020.
- Jordan Sheffield – For some reason the Dodgers left Sheffield off the 40-man roster and for some reason no other team took a chance to snag him in the Rule 5 draft. Walks have been an issue but the stuff is electric. His shift to the bullpen started in 2018 and it is the best spot for him.
- Mitchell White – White is a top 10 prospect and has mostly been a starter. His results as a starter are mixed but there is something that screams reliever. He can hit 97 MPH sometimes but I could see his stuff playing up in the bullpen.
Some Final Thoughts
The bullpen for the Dodgers has a lot of candidates but many of them are question marks. It’s clear they could use a sure thing or two. If a few things go right this could be an excellent bullpen. Blake Treinen is key. If Treinen is back to his 2018 form and Jansen is still struggling then the closer spot is in good hands. The Dodgers have a good, yet questionable, top 5 in their bullpen with a lot of competition for the last 3 spots. My sleeper candidate to make a huge impact in 2020 is Caleb Ferguson. 2019 was such a tough year for him but I can see him flushing that season down and being a key member of the bullpen.