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Jose De Leon, Jharel Cotton, Caleb Dirks impress in Tulsa

Jose De Leon retired all six batters he faced on Thursday in his return from the disabled list.
Jose De Leon retired all six batters he faced on Thursday in his return from the disabled list.
Photo: Rich Crimi | Tulsa Drillers

It isn’t often you can see two Dodgers pitching prospects go back to back in the same game, but Thursday night’s Double-A Tulsa game was a unique opportunity to take in several talented arms in the system.

Jose De Leon

Coming off the disabled list, you could have expected a bit of rust from De Leon, but his stuff was pretty on par with what I had seen previously. De Leon’s fastball sat between 90-94 mph, pitching more frequently at the upper end of that spectrum, but showing plus late life at 92 to 93 mph. He challenged hitters in the zone with the fastball quite frequently, working it inside and outside, and occasionally up, but he did not get the fastball down consistently in the zone. After a long opening at bat of several foul offs, the fastball became a better swing-and-miss pitch for the remainder of his start.

De Leon threw a couple of breaking balls and change-ups during the outing. The slider is still just an average pitch for me, thrown around 84 mph with a tighter break profile but I don’t see it missing bats as much as being used to induce grounders when down. He showed a get-me-over curveball that is also fringe to fringe average.

The change-up remains De Leon’s best secondary offering, and while he used it just sparingly, he did flash one plus change to Bubba Starling for a swing and miss. The pitch stands out for the arm speed which he generates on the pitch, adding deception to the fade he gets on the ball. Between the late action on the fastball and the deception on the change, these two pitches will be De Leon’s primary strikeout weapons at the next level.

De Leon’s mechanics were in line with previous outings I’ve seen. He has a short arm action and hides the ball well, and keeps a consistent release point with all of his pitches. His delivery is repeatable and while I wouldn’t categorize it as athletic as I would Urias’ it still checks off all the boxes you’d expect from a pitcher with excellent body control.

Overall, it was a positive outing for De Leon in his return, but doesn’t really change my opinion of his future. I think he’s an excellent number three starter prospect with strikeout potential on two pitches and the delivery to maintain consistency from start to start.

Jharel Cotton

Cotton pitching in relief of De Leon was the perfect "two birds" scenario for me last night. His red hot return from the disabled list has him moving up many published prospect lists and has raised his status in the eyes of fans, but I’m a little skeptical if his profile has really changed.

The biggest question on Cotton I had was answered when he touched 95 mph a few times on my gun. While he showed he has the velocity in him when he needs it, he pitched more frequently between 89-93. The pitch has more arm-side run when thrown at the lower range of that velocity, but his delivery gives him added deception. Cotton kept the pitch around the zone, and caught too much of the plate at times, which is where he ran into trouble.

Both of Cotton’s secondaries have their moments but both teeter between fringe and average. Cotton’s curve has big break and will hook late on hitters when he throws it well.  He telegraphs the pitch by dragging his arm behind his body on the pitch more so than he does the fastball. Cotton will take some off the breaking ball to give it a loopy "show me" break.

Cotton’s change-up might be the better of the two secondaries, and he gets tremendous fade on the pitch. However, the fade is often too much, falling completely out of the zone if hitters refuse to chase. Ideally, his arm speed would be better on the pitch to improve deception.

As mentioned, Cotton’s mechanics can look a bit rough. He flies open early quite often, dragging his arm late to the plate with a pronounced pronation of the wrist to run the fastball or the curve back toward the plate. He finishes closed off toward first base side and because he’s rarely completely in line with the plate, I think his overall command suffers.

The benefit to his mechanics is that he gets a fair amount of deception from the release and arm angle. His fastball seems to jump on hitters quickly and I believe this look would be most effective in shorter spurts. He’s had too much success to move him now to the pen, though for the level of performance you would expect from a Dodgers’ regular starter, Cotton’s best path to the big leagues might be in relief.

Caleb Dirks

The lesser known part of the bounty in Los Angeles’ international pool money trade with Atlanta, Dirks has put up impressive numbers since arriving and has seemed right at home in a late relief role. Dirks showed the demeanor if not the results you would expect from a late reliever Thursday night, though I believe his stuff was better than the box score reflected.

The first thing you will note about Dirks is the delivery. Dirks employs a Wallden/Capps-type jump or lunge toward home plate, though not as pronounced as Carter Capps. He keeps his front shoulder closed off and throws slightly across his body, which helps him hide the ball and all his fastball to jump up on hitters.

The fastball was 93-94 mph consistently Thursday night. It is a little true, so he attempts to work it on the corners, and especially down. Though he threw quite a few balls, I actually thought he should decent command of the pitch, or at least the potential to command it above average.

Dirks was primarily a two-pitch pitcher on the night, but the other pitch, the slider, was an average to above average secondary. He threw the pitch around 84 mph and it featured good tight tilt away from right-handers, but not so much break that he can’t put it in the zone. Neither pitch is an out-and-out plus pitch, but the combination of command and the deception in the delivery make Dirks a solid middle-inning relief candidate.