Rotoprofessor’s Prospect Watch – James McDonald

Dec 20, 2008

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

Having already made his major league debut, there’s little doubt that the Los Angeles Dodgers James McDonald will make his presence felt in 2009.  This time it will likely be in a lot greater scale then his 4 appearance, 6 inning cup of coffee with the team that he enjoyed in 2008.  The 24-year old righty (he turned 24 in October) was impressive in those appearances, giving up just 5 hits and 1 walk without allowing an earned run, but so much more could be on the horizon.

We all know the Dodgers history of producing some of the best prospects in baseball.  It feels like just yesterday when the system produced five consecutive winners of the Rookie of the Year Award from 1992-1996, highlighted, of course, by Mike Piazza.  That was a long time ago, yes, but that doesn’t mean that the system has run dry and the Dodgers are no longer churning out top prospects on a regular basis.

Look no further then Clayton Kershaw, who has become entrenched as one of the Dodgers top starting pitchers in 2009 as evidence.  Joining Kershaw in the Dodgers rotation will be Chad Billingsley (assuming there are no ill affects of his broken leg, which is not expected), Hiroki Kuroda and then nothing but questions.  Will the Dodgers spend millions upon millions of dollars on free agents to fill out their rotation or will they look within to fill the holes?

It is still too early to tell, but his 2008 campaign showed that McDonald has the potential to succeed in the rotation.  He started off in Double A, going 5-3 over 118.2 innings (22 starts).  He posted an ERA of 3.19 while striking out 113 batters.  He did a pretty good job keeping the ball in the ballpark, giving up 0.91 HR/9.  Walks were a bit of an issue, walking 3.49 batters per 9 innings, but an improvement was made after being promoted to Triple A.

It was the Pacific Coast League that he called home for 22.1 innings.  Yes, it was a small sample size, but he was still impressive in his 5 appearances (4 starts), going 2-1 with a 3.63 ERA over 22.1 innings.  He struck out 28 while reducing his walk rate to 2.82 per 9 innings.  The home runs did go up, allowing 1.21 per 9 innings, but again, it was a very small sample to go on.

An interesting quote regarding the former eleventh round draft choice was on from De Jon Watson, the Dodgers Farm Director, “He’d started for us his entire career, then switched to the bullpen. The thing that stood out for me was the four more feet of fastball. He was up to 96 mph. It provides some versatility for us. We can leave him in the bullpen or we can give him a chance for a rotation spot.”

That certainly makes you wonder which spot the Dodgers will ultimately decide to use him in for 2009.  We’ve already touched on the rotation questions, but it’s not like the bullpen is unsettled either.  It’s likely that Joe Beimel will leave via free agency, necessitating a new left-hander in the bullpen.  You also have to wonder if Takashi Saito will be able to handle the closers duty or if Jonathan Broxton will be taking over that role.  If Broxton’s closing and Saito struggles with injuries, will the Dodgers use the hard-throwing McDonald as their key set-up man?

If you think McDonald’s success was a fluke, you’d be mistaken.  For his minor league career he has an ERA of 3.41 over 473.1 innings (99 appearances, 82 starts).  He’s struck out 512 while walking 171.  To me, that type of control would make him more suited to be filling out the rotation, but he did show some improvements at Triple A, albeit in the small sample size we already discussed.

The real question is what type of value we should put on him heading into 2009.  It’s a tough call, which tells me that he should be left undrafted at this point.  He did throw just 147 innings last season, so if he was to be thrust into the rotation it is possible that an innings cap could shorten his season.  At the same time, he could just as easily find himself succeeding at the back-end of the bullpen, limiting his fantasy value tremendously.

If he is in the rotation, I’d keep a close eye on him early in the season, as he has the potential to be a useful option for those in deeper formats, similar to the impact Manny Parra had with the Brewers last season.  I don’t see the strikeouts being a huge strength, but pitching for the Dodgers he has the potential to win plenty of games.  Watch the Dodgers and the moves they make as it certainly will help clear up the cloudy picture of McDonald’s role for the team.

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