A few days ago, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti let it slip that if another Dodger starting pitcher were to get injured, star prospect Rubby De La Rosa would be called up from Double-A Chattanooga to replace that pitcher. I have been quite clear about my dislike for teams not giving prospects development time at Triple-A, but the guy with the "i" at the end of his name is the General Manager while the guy with the "e" is the writer. De La Rosa being called up might not make me too happy, but those in dynasty leagues who own De La Rosa should be thrilled because the wait to get him in the lineup may end up being much shorter than expected.
If you are not familiar with De La Rosa, just watch this video, and in particular, focus on just how silly he makes Ichiro Suzuki look, not just once, but twice. The other four strikeouts are against the Tacoma Rainers part of the Mariners' roster (yes, the other 12 hitters), but rarely does anyone make Ichiro look that foolish in one at-bat, let alone twice in the same game. Still, despite the impressive showing, De La Rosa had some question marks coming into this season.
Two issues concerned me about De La Rosa before the season began. Despite working with a mid-90s fastball that even hit 100+ a handful of times, his strikeout rate last season was just 7.7, which speaks to the inconsistency with his other pitches. A pitcher with the type of live arm De La Rosa possesses should not be striking out less than eight batters per nine innings. In the video linked above, the drop in velocity of his changeup was much more effective than the location. He left the pitch up in the zone, and though he did not pay in that case, established hitters are going to crush that pitch more often than not.
A second red flag was the fact De La Rosa missed most of the 2009 season for what was initially reported as a violation of the minor league drug testing policy. As a result of that problem, De La Rosa pitched just over 16 innings in 2009 and then made the large jump to 110.1 innings last season. Anytime a pitcher makes that kind of jump in innings from one season to the next there is concern about how it will affect him going forward. So far De La Rosa does not appear to be suffering from the extra workload, but hopefully the innings jump does not cause any issues later in the summer.
De La Rosa has been nothing short of spectacular this season in the Southern League, save for his last appearance. He has a 2-2 record with a 3.08 ERA, and in 38 innings pitched, he has permitted just one home run, walked 19, and has struck out 47 batters. His 4.5 BB/9 ratio needs improvement, but the 11.1 K/9, 2.5 K:BB, and 0.2 HR/9 are great signs. For reference, he struck out just 6.9 batters per nine innings over his final 51 Double-A innings last season after skipping over High-A. Though De La Rosa's strikeout rate is getting better, the biggest key to his success has been his home run rate. In 218 professional innings De La Rosa has permitted only five home runs, and just two in 89 innings in the Southern League.
De La Rosa is not working deep into games - he has only gone seven innings once in seven starts - but he has struck out seven or more batters three different times, including a loss in which he struck out 10 while walking nobody in six innings. His last start came against a West Tennessee club that is dominating the Southern League and includes Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, and he failed to make it out of the fourth inning and walked seven batters in the start. Still, the rest of his work has still been rather impressive. I would still prefer he get work in Triple-A, but since the Dodgers affiliate is in Albuquerque, where pitchers can get lit up quicker than a Christmas tree, there is a rather valid reason to avoid sending prospects to that launching pad. Keep an eye on this situation - the Dodgers are clearly enamored with him and have him on the fast track to Chavez Ravine.
Other minor league news to note:
I wrote about Wily Mo Pena a few weeks back, and now the Diamondbacks are considering calling him up. Pena now has a .377/.446/.769 slash line with 14 home runs, 22 extra base hits, 12 walks, and 25 strikeouts in 130 at bats. Those numbers are even better over his last 10 games: .441/.537/.853 with four homers in 34 at-bats. Free Wily.
Don't look now, but Tampa's Tim Beckham is hitting .303/.379/.408 this season. He is still just 22 years old and one of the younger hitters in the Southern League, so writing him off as a bust may be a bit premature. Then again, maybe he is feeling the heat of Hak-Ju Lee down in Port Charlotte. Lee is hitting an incredible .383/.455/.551 in 107 at-bats after missing the early part of the season with an illness, but he will stay in High-A as long as Beckham is in Double-A. Now, if only the Rays could find a Triple-A shortstop that could somehow push Reid Brignac out of his massive slump.
Colorado's Eric Young Jr. is smoking hot right now, hitting .406/.560/.595 over the past ten games and going a perfect 6-for-6 on the basepaths. On the season, he's up to .372/.478/.558 with 15 steals, and he has more walks than strikeouts. Keep an eye on him as a second half speed source if the Rockies can find him playing time for him.
Texas' Neil Ramirez is impressing in the PCL. His 40 strikeouts and 15 walks in 36 innings are both good, but allowing just one home run while pitching in the hitter-friendly PCL is even more impressive. AL-only owners would be wise to sneak him on their deep reserve list.