One year ago, Shawn Tolleson was pitching for the Class A Great Lakes Loons. The Dodgers' 30th round draft pick in 2010 out of Baylor began a rise that has now seen him pitch for four minor league levels in just over a calendar year. The latest promotion for Tolleson came Thursday with a promotion to Triple A Albuquerque.
"His consistency, his work ethic, I think all those things play into it. This kid has come in on a mission. He has exceeded even his own expectations to a certain degree," said De Jon Watson, the Dodgers head of player development. "He's going out and giving it to us every night. I can't say enough about his character and makeup."
After he was drafted and signed in 2010, Tolleson went to the Ogden Raptors in the rookie level Pioneer League, where he was hitting 88 to 91 MPH, per Watson, and touching 92. Tolleson allowed just two runs in 17 games with the Raptors, and struck out 39 in 29 innings, with just five walks.
Last year continued more of the same for Tolleson, who struck out 105 while walking just 18 in 69 innings across three levels, with a 1.17 ERA. He was named the Dodgers 2011 minor league pitcher of the year.
"His fastball command has been consistent at every level, with every challenge we have put in front of him. His slider, or cut fastball, is plus," said Watson. "He's commanded both sides of the plate, and has had success no matter where we put him."
Tolleson also had a spike in velocity last year, and now pitches at 93-96 MPH consistently, with a power slider as his out pitch. Could the 24-year old be a major league closer?
"It's hard to say who is and who isn't [a closer]. For us, we had Javy [Guerra] down in Double A setting up for us, and he comes up here and saves 20 games," Watson said. "It's all about need, opportunity, and timing."
Tolleson began this year in Double A Chattanooga, the same place he ended last year, and had 19 strikeouts and four walks in his 13 innings this season before getting promoted. In 57 innings with the Lookouts, Tolleson had a 1.57 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 15 walks. Watson knew it was time for another promotion.
"It's time for another challenge. It was not much of a challenge for him in the Southern League," Watson said. "We are trying to put him in arenas that continue growing the player and challenge the player to shrink down the learning curve once he gets here. Pitching in that ballpark is going to force him to be on his A game every time he walks out there."
Tolleson made his Triple A debut on Friday night and allowed three runs in his one inning, giving up three hits and a walk, and also had a wild pitch. The hitter friendly environment will present a new challenge to Tolleson, one that Watson thinks he's ready for.
"Josh Wall has pitched well there [3.52 ERA, nine saves, 15 strikeouts in 15 innings with Albuquerque], and they were together on the same team last year [in Chattanooga], so he has a bullpen mate that he can lean on for some advice and guidance. [Pitching coach] Glenn Dishman has been with us and done a tremendous job with our pitching staff there," Watson said. "I think he's prepared for the opportunity."