Monday, May 20, 2013

Dodgers' Rob Rasmussen establishes himself as legitimate pitching prospect

John Ely burst onto the scene with the Dodgers in 2010. The team had acquired him and Jon Link from the White Sox for Juan Pierre. Elymania spawned and lasted for longer than anyone could have expected. But it ended seemingly as quickly as it began.

Fast forward nearly three years. Ely was coming off of a masterful performance in the Pacific Coast League in 2012. He was named the Dodgers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, an honor I never would have thought would go to a guy pitching half his games in Albuquerque. His performance, while great, wasn’t enough to keep him around. The Dodgers traded him to the Houston Astros for left-handed pitcher and Southern California native and former Dodger draftee Rob Rasmussen.

Rasmussen, 24, is making a mark of his own, as he’s been the Chattanooga Lookouts’ second-best pitcher (behind Zach Lee) this season.

Not a physically imposing pitcher, Rasmussen has a 3.12 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3.27 FIP, 7.1 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9 and an 8.7 K/9 in eight starts with the Lookouts this season. That’s actually a really good line for a guy who had just 11 appearances in Double-A before this season.

Rasmussen has never been a big strikeout pitcher, averaging 7.3 per nine innings coming into the season. But Rasmussen has raised his rate by nearly 1.5 K/9 pitching in one of the more advanced leagues in the minors. That’s impressive. He’s also reduced his walk rate while also reducing his hits per nine innings rate. That’s a recipe for success.

Rasmussen is listed at 5’9, and that might be generous. Short pitchers don’t usually last in the rotation, and they usually do if they have elite arms (see: Martinez, Pedro). But Rasmussen is proving he’s more than just a future reliever.

He’s averaged 145 innings pitched in his first two full seasons. He’s on pace to best that this season. However, he’s only throwing 5.4 innings per start. He’ll need to increase that number going forward.

Being left-handed is an advantage for Rasmussen, as his stuff isn’t elite. He throws in the 89-92 MPH range that plays up due to his being left-handed. His two breaking balls are similarly matched. His curveball has a chance to be solid-average while his slider flashes plus potential. He also has a fringy changeup. Obviously, it’s all working for him in the Southern League so far.

Here’s what I wrote about Rasmussen (No. 22) in my preseason Dodgers’ Top 50 prospects list.
Rasmussen was acquired in December for John Ely, a net gain for the Dodgers and their farm system. Rasmussen was drafted in the 27th round of the 2007 draft by the Dodgers. He didn't sign and ended up attending UCLA. The Astros popped him in the second round of the 2010 draft and was traded in July for Carlos Lee. Despite being a small pitcher, he's started 53 of 60 career games in the minors. He reached Double-A Corpus Christi, where he didn't fare particularly well (4.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.07 FIP). Rasmussen has a four-pitch arsenal, featuring an 89-92 MPH fastball that touches 94, a slider that flashes plus potential, and a potentially average changeup and curveball. Like many lefties, he throws from a three-quarters arm angle. He also has a compact delivery. While he's likely destined for bullpen duty, there's no reason to pull Rasmussen from the rotation until he proves he can't handle it. He's definitely the exception, not the rule, when it comes to being big-bodied starting pitchers.
If he keeps it up, Rasmussen could be a much more significant prospect than many thought he was before – and after – the Dodgers signed. He’s teaming with Lee to form a nice 1-2 punch for the Lookouts as Chris Reed and Andres Santiago are struggling and Onelki Garcia is on the disabled list (and he wasn’t pitching well anyway).

The Dodgers went from Pierre to Ely (who is out after having Tommy John surgery) to Rasmussen. I’d say that’s a win for the Dodgers and Ned Colletti. The latter part of that sentence is something that is the exception, not the rule.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue

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