No pitcher has done more to improve his prospect stock this season than Caleb Ferguson, who makes his major league debut on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Few would have expected he would even reach the major leagues this season, yet injuries have led the Dodgers to this point, and Ferguson’s polish gives him a solid chance to answer the challenge. While Ferguson may not have the ceiling of fellow debutant Denis Santana, Ferguson does have a pair of above average big league pitches and enough command to get hitters out at the big league level.
Though just 21, Ferguson has a very mature build and mound demeanor. He is listed at 6’3 and 215 lbs. but appears bigger and more imposing on the mound. He’s not the most athletic pitcher in the system but his delivery is very simply and he repeats it well, albeit with a longish arm action. Ferguson works quickly and attacked hitters at the Double-A level aggressively with his two primary pitches.
Ferguson primarily pitches off of his high spin four seam fastball, which sits around 92 mph in the early innings but he can reach 94 mph when he needs it. His velocity did tend to tail off to 90-91 mph in the middle innings but he didn’t show signs of laboring in his mechanics or command. His fastball has slight armside run, and he primarily pitches up in the zone and can keep the ball above the barrel. The fastball wasn’t a true swing and miss pitch, but he was able to keep hitters from squaring it up much.
Ferguson’s primary strikeout pitch is a high-spin curve ball that is more notable for its tremendous depth than it’s velocity. His curveball sat between 73-76 mph but broke late and steeply on hitters. He had some issues keeping the pitch in the zone when I saw him, but hitters also struggled to square it up. Despite the spin and break depth, he could stand to add some velocity to the pitch to sharpen the break.
Ferguson has a change up but uses it sparingly and throws it quite firm in the mid to upper 80s. The change up was also the pitch hitters were most likely to put in play. He doesn’t need fade to be effective, but will need to show better control to keep from catching too much plate with the pitch.
While Ferguson is still young, he’s fairly maxed out physically, and I don’t see too much growth in terms of arm strength. His attack plan is fairly polished with high “rising” fastballs and big bending curves, and he isn’t afraid to consistently challenge hitters in the zone. This will be key as he breaks into the minors as many pitchers start to nibble instead of attack.
Despite his breakout this season, Ferguson’s ceiling remains a solid number three or four starter, and he might find it tough to match the strikeout rates he’s produced in the minors at the big league level. He should still have the stuff to keep hard contact down and doesn’t beat himself with too many walks. He has a high floor and is close to being ready for a more permanent big league role.