Pitchers and catchers just reported to Camelback Ranch and around this time of the year, the Dodgers’ rotation usually becomes a question among fans. Luckily, the team is in a good spot for at least the next 3 years.
Let’s take a look at how it’s shaping up and who they could target in the future seasons. This will mention free agent targets and suggestions but the projections will only include players under contract for the season.
The 2019 rotation is likely set so there isn’t much here to discuss. Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Rich Hill are locked in as the top 4 starters this season. Trailing them, the team has multiple options in Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias, and Dennis Santana.
The Dodgers do need Kershaw to regain some of his velocity to remain an elite pitcher in the game. If he doesn’t regain his velocity, the hope is that he can still be an effective pitcher with his control and movement. No matter what Kershaw we see, Buehler looks ready to take over as the staff ace and establish himself as one of the best arms in baseball.
A prospect to watch is 24-year-old right-hander Tony Gonsolin. Gonsolin was originally a reliever but the Dodgers converted him to a starter and it has worked out well. He has a fastball that sits in the mid to upper 90s with a curveball, slider, and spliter. If he doesn’t get a chance to start, he could also be a weapon out of the pen as a multi-inning reliever.
According to MLB Pipeline, “The athleticism that served Gonsolin well as a position player also helps him find the strike zone on a regular basis. Los Angeles originally planned on developing him as a multi-inning reliever this year but couldn’t ignore the fact that he has all the ingredients to become a mid-rotation starter. He has contended for the Minor League strikeout lead and advanced to Double-A in July.” If you aren’t familiar with him yet, you should get to know him.
Kershaw, Buehler, Ryu, Hill, Maeda
Following the 2019 season, Ryu and Hill will be free agents. Kershaw, Buehler, and Urias should have rotation spots locked up for 2020. This is likely the season they allow Urias to pitch without an innings limit so he should be a big factor for them. Unless any trades happen, Stripling, Maeda, and Santana should see a good amount of innings in the 2020 rotation. Gonsolin could also make an impact if they decide to use him as a starter instead of a reliever.
If the Dodgers want to add an arm, Justin Verlander would make a lot of sense for them. They would likely be able to get him on a short term deal and Verlander has expressed interest coming to Los Angeles in the past (he lives here). To me, this seems more likely than signing a player like Arenado or Rendon because they don’t have to give him a 5+ year deal. With Ryu and Hill becoming free agents, that opens up about $34m for the team. Verlander would be a perfect fit for the rotation.
Other top free agent starters include Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, and Stephen Strasburg (opt-out).
The prospect to watch for this season is Dustin May. May has quickly risen through the Dodgers’ prospect rankings and he could be ready to take a starting job sometime in 2020.
According to MLB Pipeline,
“[The Dodgers] had him shift from a four-seam fastball to a two-seamer, which has jumped 3 mph this year to 92-97 mph while generating a lot of groundouts with its run and sink. He threw both a curveball and a slider as a high school senior with little differentiation between the two breaking balls… May has developed a hard cutter that reaches the low 90s. Though his changeup is in its early stages and is too firm at this point, he shows some aptitude for the pitch. For a pitcher who’s just growing into his tall frame and works with a slingy delivery, he throws a surprising amount of strikes, and the Dodgers love his pitchability and competitiveness.”
May is the team’s top pitching prospect and he is someone fans should be excited about.
Kershaw, Buehler, Urias, Maeda, Stripling
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2021 should look really similar to the 2020 rotation. No starters from the 2020 season are scheduled to become free agents in 2021. May should be ready to take a full time roll this season so expect him to be on their roster early in the season.
If the Dodgers decide to target a free agent starter, they will be able to choose from Jacob DeGrom, Trevor Bauer, James Paxton, Robbie Ray, Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Arrieta, Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana.
In my opinion, Bauer is the most likely one on that list because he has been very open about his intent to only sign 1-year deals with the highest bidder. It could also help that he’s a local guy who went to UCLA.
The prospect to watch is Josiah Gray. Gray was acquired from the Reds for Yasiel Puig. He projects as a back end starter with middle of the rotation upside. According to MLB Pipeline,
“Gray has a quick arm that delivers fastballs that sit at 90-95 mph and reaches 97 with running action, and he maintains his velocity deep into games. He flashes a plus slider with good shape, though he’s still learning to command it.”
Kershaw, Buehler, Urias, May, Maeda
2022 is the season where things start to get more interesting. This is the season Kershaw is scheduled to become a free agent. Under contract, the team will have Buehler, Urias, Maeda, Stripling and the current prospects (May, Santana, Gonsolin, etc.)
The 2022 free agent group includes Kershaw, Aaron Nola, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Chris Archer, and Mike Foltynewicz. Kershaw is the most likely of them to sign because it’s clear he wants to retire a Dodger and the ownership wants that to happen. But since he isn’t under contract for this season, he won’t be included in the projection.
The prospect to watch is Michael Grove. Grove was the Dodgers’ 2nd round pick in 2018. According to MLB Pipeline,
“His fastball ranged from 92-96 mph with running action and his high-spin-rate slider sat in the mid-80s with tremendous depth.”
He projects as a middle of the rotation starter with upside.
Buehler, Urias, May, Maeda, Stripling
The Dodgers have the core of their rotation locked down for the next few seasons. There are a lot of high upside prospects down on the farm who should all make an impact at some point. If they decide to bring in a free agent, they will have a lot of quality options to choose from. Their rotation outlook is bright and fans should be happy knowing the team isn’t going to be desperate for starters any time soon.
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