Tommy John surgery may have pressed pause on Ross Stripling’s rapid ascent to the upper minors, but Stripling picked up right where he left off pre-surgery in 2015 on the fast track to the big leagues. Stripling showed little rust and largely maintained his stuff upon returning to Double-A, earning him a spot on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster this off-season. While he may not have the highest ceiling of Dodger pitching prospects, Stripling is a near-ready, high-floor candidate for the back of the rotation or as an intriguing two-breaking-ball reliever in the middle of a big league bullpen.
For the most part, Stripling’s stuff returned intact after Tommy John surgery, but the bar on the velocity was not that high. Stripling’s fastball generally sat 90-92 mph per hour in his Double A starts. It doesn’t have a tremendous amount of life, but he can make it run or cut on occasion and is generally pretty adept at commanding it. His command numbers were down some post surgery, which can be expected given the layoff.
Stripling’s two best pitches are his breaking balls, which he uses for certain results. The slider is best used as a ground ball generator. The break is fairly short and he can command the pitch down in the mid 80s. It’s not a swing-and-miss pitch and can be hit hard if left up, but when right, he is able to pitch deeper in starts using the slider for quick ground outs or to escape jams with runners on.
The steep 12-6 curveball was his best swing and miss pitch, and is a true out pitch. The curveball can be tough to diagnose out of hand because of his arm angle and release point, and has true 12-6 break and tremendous depth. Double-A hitters often swung through the pitch with two strikes, but he could also drop it in for called strikes when needed.
Stripling also has a solid-average change-up with adequate fade, rounding out his starter’s repertoire. He’s likely to be an off-speed heavy pitcher to get hitters off his fairly hittable fastball, but he has the necessary command of each pitch and advanced pitchability to work deep into games and conserve his stuff.
With the slider and curveball his only above average pitches stuff-wise (both flashing plus), Stripling adds a deceptive delivery to allow his stuff to play up. It’s deceptive in the sense that his arm angle is almost overhead, with the high release point for both breaking balls making it tough to distinguish the two before they break. Despite surgery, his overall arm action is clean and short in back. He has toned down the steepness of the delivery since college, but now has a more repeatable delivery.
Stripling’s 6’3 190-lb. frame appears a little smallish for a workhorse starter, but he’s plenty athletic and consistent in his delivery to hold his stuff over six innings as a starter. In small looks as a reliever in college, Stripling was able to push his fastball into the mid-90s, which makes a conversion to relief potentially intriguing for him, and perhaps his best fit in Los Angeles.
I like the combination of Stripling’s athleticism, two breaking balls, and high arm angle as a unique look for hitters out of the pen with ability to string together consistent outings command-wise. If he could bump the fastball to 93 mph+ more consistently in relief while sharpening the slider, he could be a real weapon in middle relief. I even believe he has Tyler Clippard-like upside as a relief pitcher that can pitch late in games without a plus fastball but generate high strikeout totals.
Stripling was a senior signee in the 2012 draft and as mentioned, has already had Tommy John surgery with the Dodgers, making him one of the older prospects in the Top 20 despite a relatively low professional innings total. Because of his polish coming out of college, he was able to quickly move to Double-A before the arm injury, and his successful recovery should put him back on the fast track in 2016.
Unless they move him straight away to relief, Stripling’s chances of pitching for the Dodgers early in 2016 are likely limited. He’s a future number four or five starter if they leave him in that role, putting him behind similar pitchers like Mike Bolsinger on the depth chart. As we saw last year, though, there will be ample chances for starters to to take their turn as injury fill-ins at the back of the rotation, so Stripling can provide insurance while taking turns in the Oklahoma City rotation. He could still surprise in 2016, in my opinion, if he’s tried in relief.