The second go-round at Double-A for Chris Withrow brought the results.
The right-handed starter lowered his ERA with Chattanooga from 5.97 in 2010 to 4.20 in 2011, and he did so in nearly an identical amount of time on the mound: he threw 128 2/3 innings last season, one fewer than the year before.
"Chuck Crim, our pitching coach, he really helped me out to be more positive," Withrow said. "He focused on quality misses along with quality pitches, and that really opened my eyes to, 'OK, you can miss and still be effective.' That was a whole new concept for me, I never really -- you know, you miss, you're like OK, that's a ball. Well, it can set up other things."
Naturally, most of Withrow's peripherals also perked. He allowed five less home runs than the year before, he got more groundouts than flyouts and he had a higher strikeout rate. Now, heading into 2012, Withrow has re-established himself on lists with the other prized young Dodgers arms, like Zach Lee and Garrett Gould, and he's getting ever closer to a big league debut.
And he's well aware that this season could bring his first callup.
"You have to take and look at it as, being prepared each day because you don't know when that phone call's coming," Withrow said. "They don't give you a timeline and say, 'Hey, it's coming this day.' Preparation each and every day, day in and day out, so you're ready. Mentally, physically, you've prepared yourself for that day and you're ready to go."
Withrow's ERA last season was actually the lowest cumulative mark he finished any pro season since the Dodgers took him 20th overall in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. In 2009, Withrow did OK at Class A before faring much better in a short stint at Double-A, but he ended the year with a 4.51 ERA.
Hard-throwers have followed this path before: dominate in high school and the Minors' lower levels, then find a steep learning curve when the competition starts to really get tough.
Top 10 Review
Dee Gordon's graduation to the Majors was successful, with a .304 average, and that left Lee to take his rightful place as Los Angeles' top prospect. Lee's debut season in the Minors brought a 9-6 record, 3.47 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 32 walks in 109 innings.
Another righty, Ethan Martin, might have had the most disappointing season of any of the Dodgers' top 10. Martin finished with a 9-7 record, but a 5.95 ERA between the Class A California League and the Double-A Southern League, with just 12 starts in 37 appearances. He did, however, turn things around in the winter, putting up a 1.33 ERA in 20 1/3 innings in Puerto Rico. Four of his five outings there were as a starter.
Not to be overlooked is Rubby De La Rosa, the 22-year-old righty who did well in his big league debut, only to need Tommy John surgery. Trayvon Robinson made it to the bigs with Seattle after being dealt at the deadline in the three-team trade that brought Erik Bedard to the Red Sox.
Dodgers' top 10 prospects
|1.||Dee Gordon, SS||Lee|
|2.||Ethan Martin, RHP||Webster|
|3.||Rubby De La Rosa, RHP||Withrow|
|4.||Trayvon Robinson, OF||Nathan Eovaldi, RHP|
|5.||Zach Lee, RHP||Martin|
|6.||Chris Withrow, RHP||Garrett Gould, RHP|
|7.||Allen Webster, RHP||Aaron Miller, LHP|
|8.||Kenley Jansen, RHP||Angel Sanchez, RHP|
|9.||Jerry Sands, OF/1B||Shawn Tolleson, RHP|
|10.||Scott Elbert, LHP||Scott Van Slyke, OF/1B|
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Jerry Sands, 1B/OF: Sands won this honor in 2010, and the thinking was he'd repeat the performance, challenge for the Minor League home run crowd while hitting for average and driving in runs. His 29 homers led the system and he was third with 88 RBIs. The only thing that kept him from leading the Minors in homers was the 61 games he spent in the big leagues.
Allen Webster, RHP: It was predicted Webster would win his second straight Pitcher of the Year honor, and the right-hander was solid in moving to the California League. He earned a promotion to Double-A, which turned out to be not as easy, though he still finished sixth in the system in ERA and second in strikeouts.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Scott Van Slyke, OF/1B: Perhaps Andy's son is starting to figure things out. He won the Southern League batting title (and led the system) with a .348 average. He also finished second in the system with 92 RBIs while bashing 20 homers. His .427 on-base percentage and .495 slugging percentage were both career highs.
Shawn Tolleson, RHP: It might be rare for a reliever to get an honor like this, but Tolleson had an astounding first full season of pro ball. He played at three levels and finished second in the organization with 25 saves. He gave up just one earned run over his first 19 games and finished with a 1.17 ERA and a .206 batting average against, and he struck out 13.7 per nine innings.