Dodgers 2016 Season Previews: Yaisel Sierra

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A preview for the biggest unknown on the Dodgers roster in 2016, Yaisel Sierra

The Dodgers added to a massive year on the international market adding Cuba’s #13 prospect Yaisel Sierra. Sierra is a 25 year old right-handed pitcher and the Dodgers latest attempt at mastering the Cuban market. Signed to a 6 year $30 million deal in July this year, Sierra was exempt from, international signing restrictions due to his age and experience in Cuba’s national league. The deal is rather heavily backloaded in terms of future commitments with a $6 million bonus followed by a yearly salary that escalates from $1 million to $7.5 million.

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Listed at 6-1, 170, Sierra appears to be physical enough to make it as a starter after appearing in both starting and relief capacities in Cuba. His fastball sits in the 91-94 mph range, with good late life and two-seam action and has reportedly hit 97 on US soil. He’s also credited with a slider which flashes plus with “good spin and tilt” per Ben Badler. He utilised a splitter in Cuba however, he has reportedly discarded that pitch in favour of a traditional change-up. Scouts cite Sierra as having a clean arm action as well as the aforementioned plus stuff.

In the negatives column, Sierra has really struggled with his control in Cuba evidenced by a career 5.0 BB/9 as well as being credited with 11 wild pitches last season alone. Command is often held to be a function of repetition and given that Sierra reportedly pitched from multiple arm slots in Cuba, his move to a single arm slot should help him overcome this short coming. Scouts also cite a lack of pitchability when referring to Sierra which may be a more difficult hurdle for him to overcome.

2016 Role and Projections

Sierra’s role with the Dodgers in 2016 is rather unclear. There are conflicting reports as to whether the club views Sierra as a starter or a reliever. It appeared that he was being prepared as a reliever however the injury to Brett Anderson and setback for Hyun-Jin Ryu seem to have convinced the club to stretch him out as a starter. His early bullpen and live BP sessions have impressed Dodgers officials with some observers suggesting he may be an outside shot at the #5 spot in the rotation.

Multiple sources cite that Sierra is close to major league ready but it would appear that he may need some time in the minors to iron out his control problems. If he is unable to break camp with the Dodgers then Sierra will most likely have to settle for a bullpen berth given the returns of Ryu, Anderson, McCarthy and Montas as well as the presence of Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, Brandon Beach, Zach Lee as well as top prospects Julio Urias and Jose de Leon. 

Fangraphs is yet to create a page for Sierra so there are currently no Steamer projections available, as such I will attach the links to some video (here) and I’d be interested to hear your predictions in the comments below.

What Could Go Wrong?

The common narrative surrounding Sierra is that the Dodgers have gone for projection over performance. Whilst this isn’t entirely true (he posted ERA’s of 3.92 and 2.70 in 2012 and 2013 respectively) he did pitch rather poorly in his last season in Cuba (2014) where in 62 IP he struggled to a 6.10 ERA with 6.6 K/9 against 4.7 BB/9. The fact that Sierra pitched poorly in his last professional season and hasn’t pitched competitively in over year is cause for concern.

There’s also the problem of Sierra’s control as mentioned earlier. A 5.0 BB/9 is far too high to have any sustainable success in any role in the MLB. Also, Sierra’s lack of pitchability alludes to a lack of command (control refers to the ability to throw strikes, command is the ability to control the strike zone), if Sierra is unable to control the strike zone then you can expect inflated H/9 and HR/FB rates, which will call into question his ability to prevent runs.

What Could Go Right?

While Sierra’s absence from competitive baseball may question his MLB readiness, the fact that we haven’t seen him in a year allows possibility of unrecorded improvement. What I’m trying to say is, he may have got markedly better in the last year and we just haven’t seen it because there have been no recorded statistics. The fact that Sierra has impressed in his bullpens and BP sessions, lends itself to this idea.

If Sierra has or can indeed refine his command, then with his combination of fastball velocity and a plus slider, one can envision Sierra having success in a late inning role. If Sierra’s newly fashioned change-up can prove to be a serviceable third offering then, as some have suggested, Sierra could be a mid-rotation starter for the Dodgers in the near future.

Next: The Two Faces of Yasiel Puig

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