If recognition and accolades were the strongest measure for future success, Josh Sborz might already be the highest achiever in the Dodgers’ system. Sborz earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series in 2015 in pitching Virginia to a National Championship over fellow Dodgers Walker Buehler (and Phil Pfeifer, since traded) and Vanderbilt. He followed that year up with a Pitcher of the Year award in the California League last season, while also reaching Double-A. Where Sborz may lack in elite pure stuff, he more than makes up for it with pitchability and durability, and is one of the safer depth arms in the organization.
Josh Sborz has one of the more unique deliveries in the system. He entered pro ball with an extremely long arm action and shoulder tilt that defied assumptions that it would both hamper command and show the ball too easily to the hitter. Video from 2016 looks like he’s tempered that arm arm action some, but Sborz still pitches out of a high three-quarters slot with quick arm speed. He’s also ditched the “Virginia crouch” from his delivery, but still maintains an athletic stance throughout.
Sborz was tried as both a starter and reliever in college, with the bulk of his success coming from the back end of the Virginia pen. He has enough pitches to pitch from the rotation and the Dodgers have started him on that track. Sborz’s fastball will occasionally flash plus, reaching the mid 90’s in relief, but still is above average as a starter with some heft from a steep plane.
Sborz’s best pitch is a tight slider that can be tough to pick up out of hand. The break from his release point is sharp down in the zone and can be used as both a swing and miss pitch and to induce ground balls. He has great command of the pitch and will throw it in any count.
Sborz will also show a slower curve that has inconsistent break and will occasionally pop out of hand. Sborz also has a changeup that his behind his two primary offerings and could be ditched if he pitches in relief. Sborz can be effective with his two primary pitches because he can command them both and hitters struggle to pick of the slider coming out of the fastball slot.
Sborz certainly has the durability to pitch in the rotation. His arm rebounded quickly in college from appearance to appearance despite multiple inning outings, and Sborz still reached 125 innings last season despite a late season switch to the bullpen. That move was likely made to manage his innings, given that Sborz had not reached that number in any previous season. Sborz is well built at a listed 6’3 225 lbs. and and has refined his delivery to be more repeatable pitching in the rotation.
Should the Dodgers keep Sborz in the rotation, his upside is like that of a fourth or fifth starter, but one capable of eating innings. He’s not quite on the level of Brock Stewart in terms of arm strength, but he’s managed to post solid strikeout totals as a pro. Sborz’s value to the Dodgers might be greater in middle relief, where his stuff moves up a tick and his ability to rebound quickly and pitch multiple innings fits nicely with the Dodgers’ current bullpen usage.
Sborz’s high floor and adaptability makes him equally valuable in trade as he is in retaining. His level of competitiveness and his track record of rising to the occasion would satisfy many general managers as a complementary piece in a large trade. Likewise, these intangibles make sense to a Dodgers organization looking to get over the hump in returning to the World Series.
While Sborz lacks the ceiling of the pitchers above him on the list, he’s almost a safe surefire pro as a back end starter or middle inning reliever. His compete level could make him a quality late inning pitcher if his fastball and slider make velocity gains from a switch to the bullpen. For now, Sborz will likely return to Tulsa and take a spot near the top of the Drillers rotation. He’s not far from being a finished product and could see major league time as early as 2017 should the need arise.