Saturday, December 04, 2004

2005 Dodgers: Schmoll Change

Don Murphy's grand slam in the eighth inning of the Arizona Fall League championship was remarkable not simply because it provided the Phoenix Desert Dogs with the league championship. So far as I can tell, that first pitch grand slam was the first and only home run yielded by Dodgers farmhand Steve Schmoll in 2004. Schmoll pitched 65 innings at High-A Vero Beach, 19.2 innings at AA Jacksonville, and 19 regular season innings in the AFL and was simply dominant at all levels. His 1.83 ERA with Jacksonville was his highest at any level, and his combined stats across the three levels look like this:

103.2 IP, 28 R, 20 ER, 1.74 ERA, 89 H, 29 BB (25 unintentional), 88 K, 8 HBP

He's certainly not a strike out machine, but his K rate is definitely not bad and neither is his walk rate. He obviously benefited somewhat from the league contexts he played in, but his success is overwhelming in any context. The sample size issues with the AFL are a significant concern in player evaluation, but Schmoll truly excelled there: his 1.43 ERA was the fourth lowest in the league among all pitchers, trailing only Huston Street (0.98 ERA, 18.1 IP), Wes Wilkerson (0.98 ERA, 18.1 IP), and Justin Wechsler (1.23, 7.1 IP).

Chances are slim you're very familiar with Schmoll. In high school, Schmoll played catcher and pitched before leaving for school at the University of Maryland. Schmoll attempted to walk on with the Terps his freshman year but wasn't given a roster spot. In his sophomore year, he dropped catching and made the 2000 team as a pitcher. His first two seasons were unremarkable, and he was moved to more of a relief role in 2002, where he still struggled but saw his strikeout rate increase substantially. In 2003, he had a solid season split between starting and closing, including breaking the school record for strike outs in a season. As a fifth-year senior, he was eligible to be signed before the draft, and under the advice of Clair Rierson the Dodgers snagged him in the ensuing bidding war. Schmoll was then sent to Ogden of the Pioneer league, where he put up a respectable 3.75 ERA in 36 innings. On the basis of his excellent 13.25 K/9 with Ogden, Schmoll started the 2004 season with Vero Beach, and he thrived up to and including his late season advancement to Jacksonville.

A reliever who keeps the ball in the park as successfully as Schmoll has is certainly exciting, given the research Dayn Perry has done. True, he also will be 25 next season, but he developed his sidearm throwing motion only two years ago, and its reasonable to assume that he still has a lot of development potential. Due to his sidearm delivery, he's drawn comparisons to Chad Bradford. Their minor league numbers don't really sustain that comparison; Bradford never struck out batters as frequently as Schmoll has, and his full season in high-A at age 23 wasn't close to what Schmoll put up, in large part due to his high walk rate. After that season, Bradford developed much better control, and was extremely stingy with walks from 1998 to 2002 before regressing at age 29. If Schmoll ends up emulating Bradford's sharp drop in walk rate at a similar age while maintaining his higher strike out rate and his invulnerability to the long ball, watch out.

It's hard to judge just what Schmoll's ceiling is, but it's also pretty evident that he's a solid pick to be a useful contributor to a major league club within the next year or two. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and predict that, with only Gagne, Sanchez, Brazoban, and Carrara set at the major league level, Schmoll will see playing time with the Dodgers some time before September 2005. In fact, there's a chance he'll beat out Franquelis Osorio and whatever free agents DePo pulls off the scrap heap to take a job on the Opening Day roster. Not bad for someone who was cut from his college team as a freshman.

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