When the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Josh Sborz 74th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, he was coming off a sensational, stock-boosting run at the University of Virginia, leading the 'Hoos to a College World Series title through a neverending strip of spotless relief work.
Of course, once he arrived in the system, they were presented with an immediate conundrum. Was that clean-sheet ERA during a junior season spent mostly in relief enough of a reason to keep Sborz in the bullpen? Or should caution be thrown to the wind while inserting him back into the rotation, which he'd dabbled in while at UVA (again, before finding his highest standard of success)? Teams don't draft middle relievers 74th overall, after all.
Ultimately, the Dodgers took things slow, seeking balance. They gave Sborz only 22 professional innings following his CWS run -- and today, that would probably be considered overkill. The next season, he broke out, throwing 125 innings of 2.81 ERA ball across 30 outings, but just 19 starts. In 2017, a special year throughout the organization, he was a full-time starter, making 24 of them at Double-A Tulsa across 116.2 innings.
And then, on a dime ... never again. Sborz made exactly 46 relief appearances in both 2018 and 2019, converted into a fairly regimented one-inning arm. He received only limited run with the big club in both '19 and 2020. Sborz the starter? Sounds fairly valuable, especially after the team invested two years in his development at the position -- years that paid dividends and resulted in minor-league All-Star appearances. Sborz the reliever, not called upon to provide much length? A much easier roster casualty, especially when a big-name signing like Trevor Bauer requires a corresponding move (oof).
Sborz's recent history is pockmarked with roller-coaster seasons, minor-league reboots, and garish ERAs. But somewhere, deep inside the righty, lied both the tenacity of a CWS closer and the, "Want the ball? Come get it, then," mentality of a starter. Sborz unlocked both during the Rangers' magnificent playoff run, covering the final seven outs of the Fall Classic to cap off his star-making performance.
Seven outs, huh? Yeah, he hadn't done that since 2017 in the Dodgers' system. You know, before they opted out of the experience.
Former Dodgers pitcher Josh Sborz reached heights with Rangers he hasn't since 2017
Not every article has a, "Should've seen that coming!" thesis. This is not to say the Dodgers made an obvious, in-the-moment mistake when they turned Sborz into their Bauer casualty. This is not to say the Dodgers made a long-range gaffe, either. Even Sborz himself probably didn't believe this moment would be his again, as recently as three weeks ago. He had the 2015 CWS. That would have to be enough.
But it is ironic that the Dodgers had Sborz the Starter, made him Sborz the Reliever overnight, toyed with his role, messed with the man, and eventually shucked him off the roster in exchange for a headcase, delaying his rise. Watching Sborz try to cover the ninth of a World Series clincher after covering four outs across the seventh and eighth was genuinely shocking. But it didn't shock Sborz. And it shouldn't have shocked anyone in the Dodgers' front office from 2015-2019, either.