Despite a full 40-man roster at present, the Dodgers are likely to make room for two key pitching prospects by Monday’s deadline to set reserve lists in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft — Dennis Santana and Trevor Oaks.
The headliner to this year’s need-to-protect crop is Santana, who had a coming out party in 2017, out-pitching more notable names in the California League and finishing up in the Double-A Tulsa playoff rotation. Santana has an electric arm that is close to being big-league ready and a repertoire that could feature in either the rotation or the bullpen.
The long and lean right hander pitches out of a low three-quarter delivery that he repeats well when healthy, but he will flatten out his pitches when fatigued. I saw him before he was rested for a stretch in Tulsa, and the results didn’t quite match the scouting reports. Santana’s heavy fastball has reportedly reached the upper 90s, but I saw it more 90-94 mph. Even without premium velocity, the pitch is heavy enough to limit hard contact and he can extend outings without his best stuff because of it.
When he keeps his arm slot consistent, Santana will show a plus slider with depth. He can quickly rack up strikeouts when the pitch is right, and Santana’s changeup shows promise as a worthy third option, with plenty of fade from his arm action.
Santana ran hot and cold with Tulsa, but some rest and mechanical fixes really brought about his best production in the playoffs. Santana’s upside on the mound is some of the best in the system, and his velocity and life will be just as appealing in the bullpen should he not stick in the rotation. Santana needs to show more consistency from start to start in what should be a return engagement to Tulsa, and the Dodgers have enough pitching depth that would allow Santana one more full year in the minors before a full-time call up. He could appeal to the 2018 club as a potential playoff relief arm if he shines in September.
Oaks might have made his major league debut earlier had he not missed an extended portion of the 2017 season. Oaks doesn’t have the ceiling of Santana, but is one of the safer prospects in the system with a profile that portends to big league success. Oaks’ primary calling card is a heavy sinking fastball that I’ve seen range between 91-95 mph. It’s one of the heaviest fastballs in the system and he has consistently produced plus ground ball rates.
His secondary offerings aren’t as special. Oaks has shown the makings of a solid changeup, but his primary off speed is a cutter-like slider that is shorter in depth than you would expect from a typical slider, and like the fastball, is conducive to getting ground balls.
Oaks has a durable build and when healthy is capable of eating innings for a big league club with an efficient repertoire and attack plan. His arm action is clean and his mechanics are simple and repeatable. Oaks has largely limited free passes in his professional career, but lacks the strikeout production of other top Dodger prospects, and best fits in a middle/back-end rotation role.
Oaks should serve as rotation depth for the Dodgers in 2018, though his highest appeal could be to another club that is not quite ready to give up on starters going three times through a lineup. In the middle 2000s a pitcher with Oaks durable build, pitch efficiency, and ground ball rates would have consistently pitched 215+ innings. For now, Oaks should provide a steady presence in a fill-in role.