De Jon Watson, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ vice president, player development, was back in Albuquerque this weekend to watch the Isotopes. Prior to Saturday night’s game Watson sat down for an extensive interview about the current Isotopes and the other players coming up through the Dodgers’ farm system.
Anytime fans in Los Angeles and elsewhere tend to complain about Albuquerque, it is usually the effect the city’s dry air and elevation has on the pitching staff. This season in particular the grumbling has been focused on the numbers posted by pitching prospect Zach Lee (6-8, 4.93 ERA).
Watson and the Dodgers, however, are not nearly as concerned. They look beyond the stats when analyzing a pitcher’s performance.
“I think it’s been a good learning process for Zach,” Watson said. “He’s facing much better hitters than he faced at Double-A. He’s really understanding how to use his mix, read swings and really incorporate his full mix. He’s not truly a power guy, per se, so he’s got to use all four of his pitches and execute at the right times with the right pitches. From that standpoint, I think he’s gaining ground and getting better.”
Watson said he has been impressed at Lee’s composure. For a 22 year old, Lee has not let the tough games get to him.
“One thing I do know is that his work ethic has been phenomenal the whole year,” Watson said. “Pitching in the PCL is not an easy place for a young guy to come and try to continue growing and learning his craft. You have to work on keeping the baseball down in the bottom of the strike zone and I think he’s getting better at that.”
One pitcher who was expected to be in the rotation with Lee was Matt Magill. After some early struggles, Magill has found himself in the bullpen, where Watson feels he has righted the ship.
“There’s been some mechanical adjustments there to the point where he’s definitely under consideration to possibly get back into the rotation because he is commanding the baseball better,” Watson said. “Secondary stuff is still sharp and has finish to it. He’s starting to get that look of determination, of wanting to put hitters away.”
Watson also had praise for two right-handers in the rotation. Carlos Frias will pitch Sunday’s series finale against Sacramento, while Red Patterson started Saturday.
“(Frias’) ability to put the ball on the ground when he’s in tough situations, it’s hard to find those types of guys with that type of stuff,” Watson said. “So I do think there’s some upside there and definitely some growth in his overall skillset.
“Red Patterson has been Red, he comes in, takes the baseball, competes and gives you five to six innings, really whatever we need on that particular night.”
The Isotopes’ bullpen has been shaky this season, but Watson sees the silver lining there. Three key right-handers have caught his eye in Pedro Baez, Jose Dominguez and Yimi Garcia.
“Dominguez, the power is still there. The key for him is really being able to command the fastball and utilize his secondary pitches,” Watson said. “We’re talking to him and working with him but ultimately he’s got to go out there and do the things he needs to do to get himself to the next level.
“I think the weapons are there (but) again it comes down to consistency (for Baez). If you can string together consistent outings it makes it a little bit easier for guys at the higher levels looking down for an insurance piece, they know who they want to get.
“Overall if you look at the full body of work (Garcia has) had a pretty good year. We’re still working on finishing off that slider and utilizing that change that he has that will bore down on left-handed hitters.”
Look for part two of the interview, focusing on Watson’s analysis of the Isotopes’ position players, coming soon. That will be followed by a look at the top prospects at Double-A Chattanooga and Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, plus a recap of the top players from the 2013 and 2014 drafts.