A handful of unsung pitchers climbed three levels of minor league ball this season, and Trevor Oaks came just shy of replicating the progress of the now well-known Brock Stewart. Oaks hinted at his future workhorse potential by pitching 151 innings in 2016 between the California, Texas, and Pacific Coast leagues. While he may not have the strikeout numbers that other Dodgers pitching prospects put up, Oaks nonetheless overpowers hitters in a different way that makes him an option to serve in the back end of a big league rotation.
Oaks is a fitting surname for Trevor. Listed at 6’3 and 220 lbs., Oaks has a durable frame and the strength to go deep into outings. His repertoire and control also plays a role in his pitch efficiency, but from a physical standpoint it’s easy to see Oaks pitching 200+ innings annually at the big league level. Oaks Has a simple three-quarters delivery with just a slight hesitation after breaking his hands, but he repeats himself well and has yet to show command issues.
Oaks’ calling card is a heavy sinker in the low nineties that will occasional creep higher on the gun. The ball has tumble and run to his arm side and hitters have an extremely hard time lifting the pitch. Oaks posted an outstanding 61.5% ground ball rate against upper minors hitters. The pitch is hard enough that he doesn’t have to always keep the ball down in the zone to get ground balls, but the pitch is not a pure swing-and-miss fastball.
His next best offering is an upper eighties cutter that gives him almost mirrored movement from his fastball. Hitters would also hit this pitch into the ground, and gives him his best offering as a potential swing and miss pitch for right-handers to chance away. Oaks’ slider is a fringe average breaking ball that can be tough to distinguish between his cutter, with slightly less velo but more depth.
Because he keeps the ball in the zone and on the ground, Oaks can get away with two primary pitches. His highest walk percentage in 2016 was just 3.6% in Tulsa, and by limiting free passes he can survive with a ball in play approach. Oaks also has enough velocity that he can overcome the traditional sinker-slider profile that was popular just 10 years ago, and I think his results can translate to the big league level.
There perhaps could be some question of fit with Oaks and the big league club, being that he’s not a big strikeout guy and his primary asset is pitch efficiency and durability. While it does seem odd pegging Oaks into the Dodgers’ five inning formula we’ve seen of late, he does have value in giving the pitching staff a different look from the other back of rotation options.
At the same time, Oaks would likely be seen as much more valuable in a system that asks its starters to work deeper into games while favoring a ground ball approach. A rebuilding team or a weaker pen pitching staff might be attracted to Oaks in trade, and the Dodgers are deep in Triple-A/Double-A arms approaching readiness for the big leagues.
Moving three levels does suggests that the Dodgers see a future for Oaks and are likely high on his potential as a major league starter. He could stand to improve his off-speed pitches, but Oaks is close to ready for competing for a major league role. Given the amount of starting pitching Los Angeles went through last season and the amount of built in rest they will need for pitchers like Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda, I expect to see Oaks work his way up to a big league debut in 2017.
You are not missing an article; the numbers have skipped from 19 to 17 for a reason. Eric brought to my attention last week that Austin Barnes had exceeded the service time to maintain rookie status and no longer should qualify for the list. Since you won’t be receive a Barnes profile, just know that he would have ranked sixth on the list.
While I’m not down on Barnes, I would have liked to see him knock the door down on grabbing a major league role, but his numbers roughly fell in line with previous seasons. I think he still has starting potential, but the Dodgers will be pleased to have a patient, well trained batting eye capable of plus defense at catcher and utility around the diamond.
Also, if you are trying to figure ahead where certain players might rank, be advised that Andrew Toles also exceeded his service time and was not included in this list at the start.