TDG’s Triple Play: Los Angeles Dodgers!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure! Follow Bob (@BobOsgood15), Paul (@3cardmonte13) and Joe Drake (@JDrake349) on twitter and read their analysis here at the site!
Pitcher: Ross Stripling, Age: 30, Position: SP
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
February 4, 2020: A whirlwind of 24-hours begins when rumor has it that the long-awaited Mookie Betts trade to the Dodgers is in motion. After briefly collapsing in my kitchen over the first homegrown perennial all-star since an equally unappreciated Jon Lester was traded out of my home city, news started trickling in of all the dominoes that would fall as a result. A third team was involved, the Twins. A fourth team may be involved, the Angels. Betts, Alex Verdugo, David Price, Brusdar Graterol, we’ve got chaos … Kenta Maeda is finally free! Joc Pederson … Ross Stripling!
With Maeda and Stripling getting out of the Dodgers organization, Maeda would be presumably less hampered in Minnesota by his incentive-laden contract, and Stripling, the quintessential swingman, would have a great opportunity to join an Angels rotation looking for reliable starters. Two pitchers getting a significant bump in value in a shallow, injury-laden pitching landscape out of nowhere right before Draft Season. And for Stripling:
Incredibly, the Red Sox were blindsided by the physical of a 265-pound pitcher with a history of elbow and shoulder problems and moved on from Graterol. In the meantime, the Angels got sick of waiting for everybody else and backed out of the deal that would have brought them Pederson and Stripling, which then forced everyone to stay inside their houses for 90 straight days. What a pity.
Show The Man Some Rosspect
I don’t believe that any pitcher in the league has been more under-utilized throughout his career than Ross Stripling. Throwing 91 MPH, Stripling has relied on a four-pitch mix of Fastball, Curve, Slider Change, with an occasional Sinker. In four major league seasons, ranging from 74 to 122 innings pitched, Stripling has never posted worse than a 3.96 ERA. His career ERA of 3.51 and WHIP of 1.196 spans 136 appearances over wildly varying innings, which includes 52 games started and 22 games finished.
Honing in on the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Stripling threw a combined 212 2/3 innings with some ridiculous totals for someone who is not considered a Top-100 fantasy starter and who was not slated to be in the Opening Day Dodgers rotation:
65 G, 36 GS, 12-10 record, 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 4.8 BB% (1.78 BB/9), 26.2 K% (9.69 K/9), .250 BA against, 3.44 FIP. Don’t hurt ’em, Ross! While the win total does not reflect his other statistics, many of Stripling’s starts have been three or four innings due to transitioning from the bullpen. An all-star in 2018, Stripling went into the break at 8-2, 2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP over 95 innings but ultimately did not make the playoff roster come October. Stripling admitted with Nick Pollack in a June 2019 Pitcher List interview that he “ran out of gas” after his early-season workload plus pitching in the all-star game. “I tried to make some starts after the all-star break and didn’t have anything … We get in the playoffs, I don’t make the playoff roster, and rightfully so. I hadn’t done enough lately to show them that I deserve to be on the playoff roster … but it hurt, and it hurts to go out there and have to sit on the bench and watch the team that you had poured blood and sweat for all year to compete for a World Series.” Stripling handled the entire situation with a great level of maturity, a player many of us hope will succeed in the long run.
With a fastball of 90-92, Stripling has relied on his off-speed stuff as his most effective pitches throughout his career. In 2019, his Curve allowed a .167 BA and .241 SLG, with an .074 ISO, an “out pitch” used for 46 of his 93 strikeouts. Fangraphs gave an 8.8 pVal to the pitch in 2019 (12th best Curve of anyone with 70+ innings) and a 6.1 pVal in 2018. In his first two seasons, Stripling’s slider had the highest value, including a 6.9 in 2017.
“It’s Like I Never Left”
Where does the Stripling story end? Getting traded and needing to come back to the same team is never comfortable. On the aforementioned Pitcher List podcast after moving back into the rotation in July of 2019, I found it interesting when Stripling mentioned, “My heart’s always been with starting so I’m pumped to get another chance to be back in the rotation. I hope I can stay in the rotation, but when you’ve got the talent and the guys in the rotation that we have that’s not always the case. So, take every opportunity that I can get and roll with them.” Stripling has said all the right things for years, but you get the vibe that this offseason he was ready to move on and take on a more substantial role elsewhere. “It was such a win-win really for me when you look back at it. You get a chance to go to an Angels team that has an unbelievable lineup…and then a rotation that needs help, a pitching staff that needs help…I’m a 30-year-old man, I’m not a 24-year-old kid waiting for an opportunity…My window is theoretically closing, and to get a chance to go and make some starts like that is a big deal,” Stripling told the Scribes of Summer podcast. Stripling was not in the rotation plans back in March. However, in a 2020 partial season, as many arms as possible will be necessary with each game taking on 2 to 3 times the importance of a normal season. A swing-man will be more valuable than normal. I think that Stripling will stay in Los Angeles in 2020 but with two arbitration seasons remaining after this, it might be the right time for a trade this winter.
Being drafted lower than starters like Steven Matz and Reynaldo Lopez around pick 320, I have more shares of Ross Stripling than any other pitcher in 2020. Usually available in the reserve rounds, the risk of the draft position is low if he is someone you need to cut, while the floor is safe as a ninth pitcher on a roto team as an ERA and WHIP stabilizer, with potential for K’s and Wins when in the rotation. As starting pitchers with a track record go, I think that Stripling can be bought very low for teams looking to 2021 and beyond, with the hopes of a trade out of LA.
Hitter: Will Smith, Age: 25, Position: C
Analysis by: Paul Monte
Summer, summer, summertime
I didn’t want to do it. I looked through the loaded Los Angeles lineup and had so many choices. Two names stood out; one was Justin Turner. Still a very good hitter but 35-years-old, a lost 2020, I’ve been here before. Then there was a catcher, I didn’t want to wade into those waters again. The pull was too strong, here were go again.
Na na na na na na na nana, Gettin jiggy wit it
Will Smith, not the actor or the closer, but the catcher jumped up the TDG catcher rankings from 21 in 2019 to sixth in 2020. Quite a leap for a guy who came out of the gate smoking in his rookie season and fell flat on his face as 2019 ended. Smith does have a history of bouncing back and making the needed adjustments in his second go around. Undrafted out of High School, the Louisville, Kentucky native went to his hometown college and turned himself into a first-round pick in 2016. After struggling to end the season in High-A in 2016, he made the adjustments and played well to open 2017. He finished 2018 by reaching Triple-A where he hit .138/.206/.218. You guessed it, 2019 was much different, .268/.381/.603 with 20 home runs while cutting his K% down from 37.8% to 18.1%. His first taste in the majors ended with Smith hitting .183 and striking out 27.6% of the time.
Here come the (Robot) Men In Black
One of the common sentiments shared by baseball analysts in both real-life and fantasy baseball is that the robot ump is coming, and it will be here sooner rather than later. This has been mentioned in several different draft previews as bat first catchers are getting a nice bump in the rankings as their defensive value no longer plays a huge role in their scouting grades. Smith never had an issue with his defense, ranking above average in Pop Time to 2B and his Framing skills. That’s usually an added plus for a catcher, especially in the NL as you do not have to worry about lost at-bats due to a late-inning defensive replacement. I’m still on the fence about how much the robot umps will change the game for catchers, obviously framing will be negated but there are still several other aspects to the position that will be valuable. Kyle Schwarber will not become an all-star catcher because a robot ump is in place.
Oh-kay, here’s the situation
I can see the allure in Smith, I can squint, look at his track record and see him bounce back and become a top 6 catcher in 2020 and beyond. I can also see a sophomore slump, a timeshare with Austin Barnes that had become a topic of conversation in spring training as Smith struggled badly with the bat. What I do not see is him taking another large leap forward to put himself in the top 3 catchers’ category, and if you are drafting him as the sixth catcher off the board there is very little upside baked in. He must make those adjustments, or you are losing value with the pick. I’ll pass at this price and go another route several picks later. The final tiebreaker on Smith over Turner was simple, I got to spend 10 minutes researching Will Smith lyrics for the section headers. Beautiful.
Prospect: Josiah Gray, Age: 22, Position: RHP, Level: AA
Analysis by: Joe Drake
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to talk about Josiah. Now, I’m not here to get biblical with you, but I’m most certainly going to preach a little bit. I think it’s the right thing to do when a good player isn’t getting enough love and our friend Josiah “Jojo” Gray certainly fits that mold. Gray is an athletic 6’1”, 200-pound right-handed pitcher who made a big splash in his first season in the Dodger organization. Despite being named the Dodgers’ minor league pitcher of the year for 2019 and having the pedigree of a second-round pick in the 2018 MLB draft, Josiah just doesn’t seem to generate the same kind of buzz other up and coming minor league pitchers do. I’m writing to you today to change that.
Our hero’s story begins in an unlikely place: as a two-way prospect from the northeast – a region notorious for raw, risky prospects. Gray left high school undrafted and with only one college offer from a Division II school in upstate New York (LeMoyne College). Fast forward a few years and a lack of promise at the plate and a little success on the mound meant that Gray would be a full-time pitcher in his junior year. It was the right choice. Gray flourished (1.25 ERA in 93 innings, 105 Ks), and combined with his exposure in the CCBL the previous summer, the Cincinnati Reds felt confident enough to make the DII pitcher the 72nd overall pick. Oh, and did I mention his fastball sits in the low-90s with life and he has an above-average slider? Yeah, that helps.
Josiah and the Dodgervilles
After a nice 52 inning debut season with the Reds in rookie ball, Gray was shipped out west to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with fellow prospect Jeter Downs and MLB pitcher Homer Bailey. That spring, Gray picked up right where he left off with Cincy and started ascending prospect lists. He bulldozed his way through 3 different levels last summer, leaving a swath of dazed and confused minor league hitters in his wake. Josiah mowed down 147 hitters via strikeout over 130 total innings with a 2.28 ERA,2.48 FIP, and a 16% SWINGING STRIKEOUT RATE. SIXTEEN PERCENT! Only 3 other pitchers age 21 or younger (with at least 100IP) managed that in 2019: Brailyn Marquez, Jhoan Duran, and some guy named Mackenzie Gore. Good company, I’d say.
As you know, the entire theme of this writeup is that I’m buying Josiah Gray for the 2020 season and beyond. To reiterate, Gray is an athletic 6’1”, 200-pound righty who sits in the low 90s, touching 97, with an above-average slider, a touch-and-go changeup, and good command. His delivery looks pretty easy and repeatable with good extension. What separates him from others, for me, is his relatively short pitching track record (2 years full-time) and how quickly he’s progressed already. Couple that with being able to work with one of the best player development staffs in the world now that he’s a Dodger, and I’m feeling confident that Josiah has a great shot to maximize his potential.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, that doesn’t mean he projects as an ace. His stuff is good, but not great, and while I disagree with the notion that he’s undersized, he certainly does not have a workhorse frame. With that out of the way, it’s easy to see Gray as a near-lock to be an MLB contributor whether in the mid to back of the rotation or out of the pen. One way or another, I think you’re getting an MLB guy here.
|NL WEST||NL CENTRAL||NL EAST|