Taken as a likely under-slot signee with the 74th pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Joshua Sborz upped his profile by pitching his way to the Most Outstanding Player before finishing the season as a part of the California League Champions’ bullpen. Sborz’s on-field success and quick work of the low minors has led me to bump up his rating from my pre-draft rankings, but that has come primarily with a bump up of his floor, with his ceiling still looking roughly the same. Sborz’s ultimate potential will be determined by how he responds to the development staff’s attempts to refine his delivery and the success of his conversion from relief to starting pitching.
Sborz jumped between starting and relieving while at Virginia, but the Dodgers drafted him with the intention of returning him to the rotation. It’s easy to see physically why he should work in the role. Sborz is a well-built 6’3, 225 lbs. that isn’t in need of any additional physical projection. He has demonstrated solid arm strength in college and was often used as a multi-inning reliever, so stamina should not be an issue in converting to starting.
The delivery, however, could cause him problems. Two things will likely stick out to you the first time you watch video of Sborz pitching. The first thing is what’s come to be known as the "Virginia Squat" or "Crouch" or "Sit" depending on who you listen to discuss the initial motion of bending the knees to the athletic decision. While this can look a little jarring compared to a traditional delivery, this isn’t a significant concern. The exercise puts the pitcher in the athletic position and keeps the pitcher from locking out his knees, affecting his balance. I haven’t seen enough Virginia pitchers in pro ball to see if they eventually do away with this movement, but it’s not anything of concern (judging from the Quakes video, it looks like he doesn’t do this anymore).
The second aspect of Sborz’s delivery that should stand out is the length of his arm action. Supposedly, the Dodgers are working to cut this down, but the current length could be detrimental to his overall command and can give hitters a long look at the baseball before release. The action gives a choppiness to his delivery, as the initial motion looks hurried before slowing down for the long arm stab in back.
What comes out of that delivery is generally pretty good, but has varied from starting to relieving. Sborz’s fastball is generally in the low 90s but can reach 95 mph in relief. He doesn’t have much run on the pitch but it looks like he can cut it and despite the arm action, will fill the strike zone with the pitch.
I’ve seen two variations of breaking ball from him. The best looks like a tight slider with steeper tilt than most pitches, likely due to his high arm angle. I’ve also seen a more traditional looking breaking ball with standard curve shape that he doesn’t always show the same feel for it’s spin. The tighter pitch should be his swing and miss breaking ball.
Sborz also flashes an above average changeup in the mid to low 80s that he throws with arm speed and shows slight fade. The three-pitch mix (four if you count the slower breaking ball) plus his ability to shape his fastball should give him enough of a repertoire to start, however in the past the velocity and sharpness has dipped when he’s been stretched out.
I’ve placed a high-floor grade on Sborz, because the fall back option of relief is a viable option, but as a starter, the question remains just what type of ceiling he has in that profile. As a starting pitcher, he’s perhaps similar to Ross Stripling as a number four or five with an atypical high release deceiving hitters. He does demonstrate better arm strength than Stripling and if he could pitch more consistently around 93 mph in the rotation, he might ultimately be a better option there. However, I wonder just how much of the arm action you can tame (if you even want to, I’m not a huge fan of drastic alterations on deliveries for high picks) and I think he can contribute quickly and more effectively in relief.
For now, he’s a starting pitcher and might be ready for Double-A to start the season. In a limited sample from last season, Sborz pitched to a 50-percent ground ball rate and limited hard contact. Forcing weak contact and limiting free passes will be key as he stretches himself out in a starting role. The Dodgers could always quickly reverse course and rush him through the bullpen. He demonstrated the bulldog mentality and competitiveness needed to pitch in the later innings last season in the Collegeand could be a capable middle/late major league reliever by 2017.
Like Chris Anderson and Jharel Cotton ahead of him, I think Sborz has more value to the Dodgers in relief, but I don’t mind the attempt to develop him in the rotation. He’ll be a young 22 years old to start next season and has already cleared the lower minors in his debut season. There’s plenty of time to let him develop in either the California or Texas League, and the organization depth should allow for patience in his conversion to starting and adapting to minor adjustments in his delivery. I like him better now than I did when he was drafted, but watching these variables play out in the 2016 season will give us a better idea of Sborz’s true ceiling and future role on the big league club.