PHOENIX — The ultimate goal of every player in big league camp is to make the opening day roster, no matter how unlikely. Just like the aim of every team at the beginning of the season is to win the World Series, even the San Diego Padres.
But there are more realistic goals, too. Like for a starting pitcher non-roster invitee on a team with 10 major league starters on the 40-man roster, just getting noticed is great, too. For Dodgers pitcher Trevor Oaks, he has managed to stand out this spring and could make an impact in the majors at some point this season.
“I feel like I can compete here. You just have to wait for your opportunity,” Oaks said. “You just have to keep knocking on the door, and don’t let up.”
In 2016, six pitchers who didn’t start the year on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster made starts for the team, including three pitchers developed by the team.
Oaks already made a name for himself in camp when he treated the clubhouse during a morning meeting an impromptu piano concert. But the lasting memory of Oaks in camp has been on the mound.
The right-hander struck out four and walked none in 32⁄3 innings on Friday against the Diamondbacks at Camelback Ranch. That included two strikeouts of Paul Goldschmidt, which should probably earn Oaks at least a medal, if not a statue.
Oaks did allow three runs on Friday, his first earned runs allowed all spring. So far this spring, Oaks has a 1.76 ERA in 151⁄3 innings, with 12 strikeouts and three walks.
“Trevor has a really plus sinker. He’s got a great pitcher’s body that can really log innings,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He receives information well, and competes when he’s on the mound.”
The Dodgers drafted Oaks in the seventh round in 2014 out of Cal Baptist University in Riverside, and he has been successful in each of the last two years. He posted a 2.74 ERA in 24 starts in 2016 — including 10 starts each for Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
When he is on, Oaks will induce ground balls thanks to his sinker, and will work quickly.
“The tempo is huge, and it also makes the hitter uncomfortable,” he said. “They like taking their sweet time and analyzing you, analyzing the count. The faster you can go, the less they can think, and I think it’s an advantage you can exploit.”
Oaks led all Dodgers minor leaguers with 151 innings in 2016, including 20 starts of at least six innings and 10 starts at least seven innings long. In the majors, Dodgers starting pitchers outside of Clayton Kershaw had a total of nine starts of at least seven innings last year.
“It’s something that I pride myself on. There is something to be said about giving those guys in the pen a break,” Oaks said. “When you can go deep into games, guys can have more rest, and when they get rest their more sharp. When they come in for their appearances, they’re going to be dicing guys up with their best stuff.”
But despite the success, this year was still his first big league camp, so the butterflies were still there.
“I was a little nervous trying to get a feel for my place in the clubhouse, but you just have to treat them like people and go about your business,” Oaks said. “The biggest thing for me was seeing yourself there.
“When you’re in the minor leagues in camp, it is challenging to see yourself in the big leagues. It seems so far away. Just coming here, the coaching staff has been trying to build my confidence, telling me, ‘You can play here,’ and you start to believe it, and just do what you can.”
“He has that balance of being so green, so fun-loving, and so overwhelmed, but also the confidence in his own ability to go out there and compete. He knows he’s here because he deserves to be here,” Roberts said. “He balanced it. He nailed it. He’s had a great camp, and for us to put eyes on him for the first time, we are very impressed.”