Looking at the Dodgers’ Fifth Starter Options

For the second straight year, multiple injuries have caused uncertainty in the Dodgers’ starting rotation heading into the season. After struggling to offset the early losses of Hyun-Jin Ryu to major shoulder surgery and Brandon McCarthy to Tommy John in 2015, Los Angeles loaded up on starter depth and retained virtually their entire stockpile of talented pitching prospects in the offseason. The Dodgers entered spring training with six solid starters in Ryu, Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, and ace Clayton Kershaw. That enviable depth quickly eroded as Ryu was held back in rehab and Anderson suffered a slipped disk in his back that is slated to keep him out three to five months.

Manager Dave Roberts confirmed today that the other starters listed above would comprise the other four-fifths of the opening day rotation – despite some concerns about Kazmir and Wood:

The fifth and final starter spot, however, is still up in the air. Fortunately for the Dodgers, this is the exact type of situation they prepared for. There are five candidates to make the opening day rotation in the fifth slot, and they’re currently locked in a spring training battle to earn that spot:

Mike Bolsinger

Acquired from Arizona for cash considerations before last season, Bolsinger transformed from a nobody into a key role player for the 2015 Dodgers when he was pressed into service as their #4 starter after the injuries to Ryu and McCarthy. From May 12 until July 29, Bolsinger posted a 2.92 ERA and 2.93 FIP while striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings. The junk-throwing righty has performed well so far this spring, allowing 2 earned runs with more strikouts (6) than hits (5) in nine innings pitched. His track record as the best “break glass in case of emergency” option on this list should only help his chances.

Zach Lee

The one-time top prospect in L.A’s farm system finally made his big league debut on July 25, 2015 against the New York Mets, who had scored five runs combined in their past three games. They scored seven in 4.2 innings against him en route to a 15-2 romp. Lee was sent back down to Triple-A soon after and didn’t throw another MLB pitch last season. Despite the fact that his prospect stock has dropped in recent years and his first taste of the majors was a disaster, there’s still plenty of reason for optimism. Lee’s 2.70 ERA with the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2015 would have led the Pacific Coast League if he hadn’t fallen just short of the innings threshold to qualify. He’s had a decent spring so far, allowing four earned runs in eight innings over three starts. Lee should be fine as a back-end starter in the long term, the only question is whether he’s ready in the short term.

Brandon Beachy

At one point, Beachy led the major leagues in ERA. That was in June 2012, before he was forced to undergo the first of two Tommy John surgeries, among a myriad of other struggles. Even though Beachy only made two unimpressive big league starts in 2015 and spent the rest of the year in Triple-A, the Dodgers were apparently sold on his upside enough to bring him back on a one-year deal. Beachy looked solid in his first two spring outings before getting lit up against the Diamondbacks on Friday, allowing 6 earned runs in 2+ innings of work. Also working against Beachy is the fact that, unlike Bolsinger and Lee, he’s not already on the 40-man roster and would have to be added to it if he wins the fifth starter job.

Julio Urias

A few weeks ago, it seemed as if the Dodgers’ current top pitching prospect was a long shot to see any time in the big leagues before a possible September call-up. In the wake of Anderson’s injury and Ryu’s rehab struggles, however, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wrote that Urias’s big league debut may be closer than expected. Roberts later confirmed that the lefty was “in the mix” for the fifth starter spot. Although Urias is by far the most talented name on this list, there are plenty of reasons why he should start the season in the minors instead. Urias only threw 87.2 innings last season, missing over two months due to an elective eye surgery. He also averaged fewer than five innings per start in the games he did pitch. The 19-year-old phenom struggled in a late-season promotion to Triple-A as well, showing that he may still have to adjust to that level of competition before he’s ready for the show. The Dodgers seem to agree, since they sent Urias down to minor league camp on Thursday after he allowed four runs in an inconsistent three innings in major league spring games.

Jose De Leon

The Dodgers’ 24th-round pick in 2013 broke out last season, winding up with a 3.64 ERA in 16 Double-A starts while striking over 12 batters (!!!) per nine innings. Giving him the fifth starter job right out of the gate poses many of the same pros and cons as Urias – De Leon is talented, but still raw. It’s likely his innings limit will be higher than Urias’s, but the righty has never pitched above Double-A to this point. De Leon will probably be brought along at a slightly faster pace and could even get a call-up over the summer, but it’s doubtful he’ll see any MLB action right out of the gate. The Dodgers also optioned him to minor league camp on Thursday after he allowed five runs in six spring innings.

Right now, Bolsinger seems like the frontrunner of the pack, with the best spring training performance and most major league experience under his belt. All five pitchers, however, could contribute to the Dodgers in 2016, and I fully expect Lee, Urias, and De Leon to make their mark in the majors soon.

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