Dodgers: Where Does Caleb Ferguson Fit In 2019’s Picture
When camp broke in the spring of 2018, Caleb Ferguson was a name unknown. A lefty, a 21-year-old, a former 38th round draft pick and a starter with the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. Ferguson had odds to beat. He’d go on to beat them. But, with 2019 looming, what exactly is the young southpaw’s role?
Ferguson was selected by the Dodgers in the 38th round of the 2014 draft out of West Jefferson High School. The school, home to an average of 400 students a year, is the only high school in the Jefferson Local School District, located in the small town of West Jefferson, Ohio.
A standout in a small crowd, Ferguson turned heads. Professional scouts and colleges alike wanted a piece of the hard-throwing lefty. Ferguson would commit to West Virginia University only to fall victim of an elbow injury in his senior year of high school.
He went under the knife.
Ferguson had Tommy John Surgery and the decision was made that his future would be best suited by signing his pro contract. He did just that.
Fully recovered from his operation, the extremely late round pick made his minor league pro debut with the Arizona League Dodgers. He spent all of 2015 with them, pitched in 18 games and won none of them. His ERA to end the season? 8.59.
The 18-year-old lefty struggled in his first season but it was too soon to judge his success or failures. It was a good thing it was too soon to make a judgment.
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In 2016, Ferguson flipped a switch. He spent part of the season with the Arizona League Dodgers and part with the Low-A Great Lakes Loons. In all, he pitched in 14 games and started 12 of them. He pitched 66.1 innings and improved his ERA by over six runs, finishing his sophomore season with 2.31 ERA and just five walks against 63 strikeouts.
2017 was more of the same. Ferguson spent the season in its entirety with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers’ High-A affiliate. There he dominated. In 25 appearances and a career-high 122.1 innings, Ferguson owned a 2.87 ERA and he struck out 140 batters, setting up a tri-level jump in 2018 that saw him make his major league debut in Pittsburgh in front of roughly 50 of his closest friends and family.
He got beat in his inaugural performance but from there, like in the minor leagues, Ferguson flipped a switch. He was moved to the pen and he shined there. In his 26 relief appearances, Ferguson had an ERA of 2.35. He dominated and he gained the trust of the front office.
But, storied and successful as he may be, his role for 2019 is far more undefined as one might think.
Ferguson was undeniably prominent in the Dodgers postseason run. He proved he could pitch in big situations and step up when needed. But, being so young and having the ability to start, Ferguson’s ideal role may not be as a reliever.
His minor league track record shows that the southpaw is more than capable of starting games. He knows how to work deep into outings and most importantly, he throws hard and locates the ball beautifully. In 2018 he walked a total of 29 batters.
That being said the Dodgers’ rotation is full. Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda are all locked into the starting five and Dave Roberts has already confirmed it.
Even if there is an injury, Ferguson is not the first man in, Ross Stripling is. And, while his surface numbers were really good, the 22-year-old could still benefit from some minor league seasoning.
In 2018 his major league ERA+ was 112, only slightly above average. Ferguson also had a barreled ball percentage 7.0 percent while the average major leaguer got barreled up at a 6.1 percent clip.
He was by no means bad though. Ferguson was the late season’s most productive reliever outside of Dylan Floro and it showed. However, moving back to the rotation in Triple-A would probably be the most mutually beneficial move.
There is, however, an alternative. Ferguson could still be utilized out of the bullpen and make and immediate impact out of spring training. The Dodgers would have to circumvent some roster issues as Ferguson has options while players like Tony Cingrani and Josh Fields do not. The Dodgers could easily bank on what they saw last year and put it in the bullpen.
I think that wastes his potential as a starter.
Ferguson is undoubtedly a star on the rise. A late round draft pick, a speed climb to the major leagues and immediate success are the overviewing qualities. However, in the long run, and when looking out for everyone’s best interest, Caleb Ferguson should start the year in Triple-A.