A Dodgers Dilemma
With Chad Billingsley going on the 15 days disabled list and Zack Greinke and Chris Capuano both already on the disabled list, the Los Angeles Dodgers turned to Steven Fife to make a start against the Baltimore Orioles. Fife was far from impressive but still managed to get his team into the 5th inning before needing the pen. Dodgers fans are clamoring for relief from all the injuries that are affecting the starting rotation, which was viewed as a strength coming into the season. The Dodgers do have a few interesting arms in both AA and AAA but the question is whether these pitchers are ready to face major league hitters and succeed. Should the Dodgers stick with Fife until one of their veterans is ready to come off the DL or do they look to the minors for a starter with greater upside than Fife? Let’s take a look at a few of the popular minor league options.
Zach Lee is having a great start to his 2013 season pitching for the Chattanooga Lookouts, the AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The box scores indicate that Lee is dominating AA hitters. Having seen Lee twice in 2012 and once this season, he has matured as a pitcher since last year. With that said, he is not ready to face major league pitching yet. His two seam fastball has been phenomenal this season; however, he has not developed a secondary offering that would prevent hitters from sitting dead read on his fastball.
During his April 15th start against the Birmingham Barons, the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, only a handful of the 85 pitches he threw resulted in a swing and miss. The Barons lineup is filled with a group of swing and miss types, from Dan Black to Trayce Thompson, but Lee struck out three batters in six innings of work and was only able to strike out Black swinging. Lee just doesn’t have that secondary pitch that bats will miss. The slider doesn’t have any downward break to it. If he can get the pitch to consistently break away and down to righties, he would generate a lot more strikeouts. The curveball, his other breaking ball, is used effectively to change speeds and eye levels. However, until he develops his pitches further, he is not an option for the Dodgers.
On April 11th, 2012 Chris Reed pitched into the 6th inning for the first time as a professional. The conversion from college reliever to starting pitcher has taken a significant step in the right direction. Like Lee, I saw Reed twice in 2012 and once this season. Despite having an arsenal with more potential than Lee or Matt Magill, Chris Reed shouldn’t be in consideration for a call up to fill Chad Billingsley’s spot. Along with an increase in innings for Reed, he has shown a significant improvement from his 2012 campaign.
During Chris Reed’s April 16th start against the same Birmingham Barons line up, I was impressed by the development of his secondary pitches since the previous season, especially his changeup. Last season, Reed was unable to keep right handed hitters off of his two seam fastball, but his changeup has alleviated those concern. Also, his slider was more consistent and his body language on the mound has improved. Three pitches that project to be above average or better is a good place to be for the young left hander, but he shouldn’t be considered an option for any 2013 MLB starts. For one, he has only made three starts in his minor league career that has exceeded five innings. It’s also likely that he is on a strict pitch limit given with his expected uptake in innings pitched this season.
Matt Magill has been solid to start the 2013 season pitching for the Dodgers affiliate in Albuquerque. He continues to showcase the ability to induce swings and misses with his slider, striking out more than a batter an inning. But, he has also flirted with disaster by allowing an exorbitant amount of base runners. In 15 innings, 22 base runners have reached base.
Last season, Magill was unability to consistently command his fastball. In three of five starts that I scouted in 2012, he struggled with his command. His fastball is merely an average major league offering; however, if he’s unable to throw the pitch for a strike, major league hitters will just lay off his good slider and his above average change up. Magill will turn into a nice, back end starter but his lack of command will be exposed quickly by most major league lineups.
What should the Dodgers do?
Ranking the three options, Matt Magill, despite his command issues, should be the next minor league starter the Dodgers’ call up. Simply, Magill is the only one of the three that can rack up innings without caution by the Dodgers while also generating swings and misses. That could change as the summer goes on as Lee receives additional seasoning and works on his secondary pitches. It’s unlikely that Chris Reed will make a major league start during the 2013 season, having only accumulated 77 1/3rd innings over his previous two professional seasons. Hopefully, Chris Capuano is ready to come back from his strained calf relatively soon. If the Dodgers believe it will only be a few starts till Capuano is ready, it makes sense that the Dodgers stick with Stephen Fife for the time being. While Fife isn’t the sexy answer, he did enjoy limited major league success in five starts last season. Also, the Dodgers won’t stunt Fife’s development if they skipped his turn in the rotation, which is a common practice for swingmen put into similar situations. If Fife is exposed and Capuano takes longer to recover from his strain, it will be time to call for Matt Magill.