Who is Ross Stripling?

When the Los Angeles Dodgers’ fifth starter job was opened up by an injury to Brett Anderson, I suggested five candidates for the role.

As my luck would have it, none of those was the guy who won out:

So, who the heck is Ross Stripling?

Stripling is one of several talented arms in the Dodgers organization who has fallen under the radar thanks to the prominence of names like Julio Urias and Jose De Leon. Also hurting him – both literally and figuratively – was a torn UCL sustained in 2014 spring training that forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery. Before his injury, the Texas A&M product was rocketing through the minors on the way to a possible big league starting role as early as that same season. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Stripling’s recovery from TJ was relatively smooth and the quality of his pitches barely took a hit, which helped push him over the likes of Zach Lee and Carlos Frias according to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts:

To give you a better idea of what that four-pitch mix looks like, here’s what SB Nation’s David Hood had to say about Stripling’s offspeed stuff back in December:

Stripling’s two best pitches are his breaking balls, which he uses for certain results. The slider is best used as a ground ball generator. The break is fairly short and he can command the pitch down in the mid 80s. It’s not a swing-and-miss pitch and can be hit hard if left up, but when right, he is able to pitch deeper in starts using the slider for quick ground outs or to escape jams with runners on.

The steep 12-6 curveball was his best swing and miss pitch, and is a true out pitch. The curveball can be tough to diagnose out of hand because of his arm angle and release point, and has true 12-6 break and tremendous depth. Double-A hitters often swung through the pitch with two strikes, but he could also drop it in for called strikes when needed.

Stripling also has a solid-average change-up with adequate fade, rounding out his starter’s repertoire…

…With the slider and curveball his only above average pitches stuff-wise (both flashing plus), Stripling adds a deceptive delivery to allow his stuff to play up. It’s deceptive in the sense that his arm angle is almost overhead, with the high release point for both breaking balls making it tough to distinguish the two before they break.

While giving glowing praise of his secondary offerings, Hood also made it clear what Stripling’s weakness is — his fastball, which has never been able to pass 92-93 mph in his pro career as a starter and doesn’t have consistent movement either. This means that if Stripling is to succeed as a major league starter, he’ll have to rely heavily on his offspeed stuff. The 2012 fifth rounder is also relatively small and not exactly durable (especially coming off Tommy John), meaning it’s unlikely he can go more than six innings per start at the very most. Roberts even told reporters that Stripling would have an innings limit this season.

If that profile sounds familiar to Dodger fans, it should — Stripling is basically filling the same role that Mike Bolsinger did last year. Like Stripling, Bolsinger worked around his unimpressive fastball by relying on his offspeed stuff, especially his curveball. In fact, Bolsinger was first in line for the fifth starter role before straining his oblique while warming up for a March 20 Spring Training start. The timetable for his return is still unknown.

Even before Stripling was able to work his way into the rotation, he was already generating some light sleeper buzz, and Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times had this to say about the 26-year-old back on March 13:

Stripling isn’t a sleeper anymore, however. The Dodgers have entrusted him with their fifth starter role as they gear up to compete for their fourth straight division title. He’s looked solid in spring training, with eleven strikeouts and only eight hits allowed over eleven innings with most of his five earned runs coming at the tail end of a late start against the San Diego Padres. Even though he may not have a ceiling nearly as high as Urias or De Leon, Ross Stripling is showing all the signs of becoming a valuable role player for the 2016 Dodgers.

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