From Clayton Kershaw to Chad Billingsley to Rubby de la Rosa (a recent victim of Tommy John surgery), the Los Angeles Dodgers have displayed a knack for developing top-flight pitching talent. The newest hurler to emerge is Nate Eovaldi, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg in what should be LA’s strong wave of young, cost-controllable talent. Other names to tuck away for future reference include Allen Webster, Zach Lee, Garrett Gould — and recent first-round pick, Chris Reed.
Eovaldi is probably the least-heralded prospect of the group. A former 11th-round selection in 2008 out of high school in Texas, he would have gone much higher if he hadn’t been slowed by Tommy John surgery in his junior year. He received an over-slot deal and has not had any major issues with his elbow in pro ball. Breaking out in 2011 at double-A, Eovaldi did a nice job of keeping runners off base (6.64 H/9) and struck out his fair share of batters (8.65 K/9). On the downside, the 21-year-old is a fly-ball pitcher and has struggled with his control (4.02 BB/9). Eovaldi is probably in the majors a little early, but his mid-90s fastball has a lot of promise; he just needs to learn to better-control his secondary pitches and learn the value of changing speeds.
Webster, another 21-year-old, has moved through the minor league system after being stolen in the 18th round of the 2008 draft out of a North Carolina high school. He was nabbed by the same scout, Lon Joyce, who also discovered outfield prospect Jerry Sands in the 25th round of the same draft. The right-hander has split 2011 between high-A and double-A. After dominating high-A ball, Webster now has a 4.00 FIP (4.75 ERA) in 77.2 double-A innings. His strikeout rate is still respectable, but it’s dropped from 10.33 to 7.18 K/9. With a fastball that can touch the mid 90s and a solid changeup, the consistency of his curveball is the primary thing that’s keeping him from becoming a solid big-league starter.
Despite entering the 2011 season with zero pro innings, Lee was considered by most talent evaluators as the organization’s top pitching prospect. The club’s No. 1 draft pick in 2010, he was considered tough to sign away from Louisiana State University, where he would have played both football and baseball. Lee has held his own so far this season in low-A ball, where he’s posted a 3.67 FIP (3.41 ERA) in 95 innings. He has a strikeout rate of 7.96 K/9 and has shown above-average control (2.65 BB/9) for his experience level. Lee has a well-rounded repertoire that includes a fastball that can touch 95 mph, a curveball and a changeup.
Taken out of a Kansas high school in 2009, Gould was a projectability pick. With a big, strong pitcher’s frame, he should add velocity as continues to fill out and he currently sits in the 88 mph to 92 mph range. He also flashes a potentially plus curveball and a developing changeup. Having only recently turned 20 and already in his third pro season, Gould has made huge strides low-A ball this year. The right-hander has shown good control (2.83 BB/9) while missing his fair share of bats (7.69 K/9). His FIP currently sits at 3.28 (2.35 ERA) in 114.2 inings.
Reed was a fast mover up the board as the 2011 draft approached. The left-hander showed the ability to reach the mid-90s and has an impressive slider and a promising changeup. He’ll need time to better-command his secondary pitches, though. The organization used its 16th-overall selection to take him and likely will develop him as a starter — even though he only made one start in three years at Stanford University. If he doesn’t have the consistency and overall game for the starting rotation, Reed could develop into a high-leverage reliever.
The Dodgers’ organization has seen some well-publicized pitching washouts — Ethan Martin, Chris Withrow — in recent years but there’s still much to get excited about as the prospects continue to develop in the minor-league system or move to the majors. There should be a plethora of impressive arms at Dodger Stadium in the future.