The Dodgers starting rotation is still in question with time running out on the 2017 Spring Training.
A constant theme for the 2016 Dodgers was filling the gap in the starting rotation. 15 different players started on the bump for Los Angeles, coming via trades, signings, and the occasional call-up. They strung together win after win with that motley crew of pitching but no team wants to make that a year to year trend. This year, those same questions remain and it isn’t clear in the long run who will grab a hold of the fourth and fifth starting roles. One solution may be enough this season and all they have to do is look below to the blossoming roots of their farm system to find it.
The first time I saw Trevor Oaks throw was in 2014 when he was a senior at California Baptist University. He had been a force on the mound all year in the NCAA’s Division II West Region, one of the best in the nation at that level. He started CBU’s opening round game of the West Region Championship against Cal Poly Pomona with scouts scattered throughout the stands and radar guns all locked on the 6’3″ righty. I was watching with my teammates because we were playing in the next game and had heard Oaks’ name all year in numerous stories of his dominance. Needless to say, we were all analyzing as much as the scouts were in the stands.
His first inning was not ideal. Three runs on three hits in a deflating top half for both his team and everyone expecting him to do what he had been doing all year. However, over the next eight innings, Oaks proved to me, everyone in the stands, and most importantly the Dodgers, that he was all that he was made up to be. Eight straight one-two-three innings with no runs, no walks, five strikeouts, and one hit which was canceled out by a double play a batter later. It was as if the first inning had never happened. The most vivid memory I have was of his fastball command. Corner after corner, paint after paint, consistent in velocity and height. That style still reigns true today for the Riverside native.
Fast forward to 2017
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Oaks has joined the Dodgers’ big league club for spring training and has continued to be that same force he was in college. After being selected in the 7th Round of the 2014 draft, he’s spent the last two years moving his way up the Dodgers’ farm system. By the end of 2016, he had gone from High-A Rancho Cucamonga to the AAA club in Oklahoma City, posting a combined 2.74 ERA for the year in 151.0 innings.
Oaks has kept the ball rolling into camp for the boys in blue. So far this spring, his official numbers are 7.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA, seven strikeouts, and three walks. He also started an exhibition matchup with Japan which served as the country’s tune up to the World Baseball Classic. In that start, he went another three innings and again allowed no runs. That’s over 10 total innings this spring, some against depleted lineups and some of the best players in the world. Either way, no runs have crossed that plate.
Oaks’ stuff already looks like a major league starter’s. His command is still sensational, ranked best in the Dodgers’ farm system, by MLBPipeline.com, as a 60 on the 20-80 scale. The velocity is there too – Oaks tops out at 96 but will sit between 92-95 for the majority of his starts. His best secondary pitch is his cutter which he can run nicely into lefties and he compliments that with a changeup that sits about 10 mph below his fastball. He also has a slider but it still needs work.
Currently, Oaks sits at 19th on MLBPipeline’s Dodger prospect list. He will more than likely start the year back in Oklahoma City’s starting rotation. But how long he will last there is the real question. With the uncertainty of all the Dodgers’ pitchers considered for the end of the rotation, a pitcher who prides himself on being just the opposite would certainly be a sight for sore eyes. We will see how the start of his season goes but if he continues the trend he’s set so far, it may just propel him to Chavez Ravine with a chance to spot start and possibly even more.
The Cubs used a six-man rotation for parts of last year and it was certainly evident in their playoff matchup with LA. Both teams have the starter depth, Chicago’s is more talented, but the idea remains the same: Save your best arms. Clayton Kershaw, the world’s best arm, is coming off a season plagued with injuries and could certainly use the rest throughout the season.
Oaks has his work cut out for him but his numbers speak volumes about his ability. From everything I’ve read, heard, and watched about him, he seems like the type of player that is more concerned with the name on the front of the jersey than the one on the back. But speaking of jerseys, Oaks wore 88 on his back all spring. 1988 was the last year the Dodgers won the World Series. A coincidence? Well, you’d have to ask him.