SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t short on pitching prospects, nor are they short on the cash needed to buy up seemingly every notable Latin American prospect over the last several signing periods. That aggressive prospecting combination has brought the organization, among many others, Cuban right-handed pitcher Yaisel Sierra.
Sierra, 25, doesn’t even rank in the top 30 on the Dodgers’ deep MLB.com prospect list, though True Blue LA pegs him 24th-best in the organization. I saw the righty pitch for the first time for the High-A California League’s Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on July 5, a road game at Inland Empire (the Angels’ affiliate). He went six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts. That video is here:
Velocity/Stuff: Sierra showed three pitches: a fastball in the low-90s, a slider in the mid-80s, and a low-80s changeup. The fastball sat 91-95 mph all night and topped out at 96, and at times showed good two-seam run and even some sink. Sierra’s release point on it was somewhat inconsistent—his fastball release point was typically slightly lower than that of his changeup and slider—but it’s clearly a very good pitch for him and considering his size (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) one that can perhaps add another tick or two as he fills out in the next couple years.
His slider sat 84-88 mph and showed good tilt at times, though the release point was consistently a bit higher on it than the fastball. His changeup, 81-84 mph, was the weaker of his two off-speed pitches, but at times it got the typical tumble and some run that one would expect from a right-hander’s changeup. If he can command that pitch, it ought to only help his fastball-slider tendencies and give him a good third look, especially against left-handed hitters.
Mechanics: Release point issues aside, Sierra’s mechanics at balance, into drive, and throughout on his lower half in general are pretty consistent. There’s a lot to like here as far as projection goes, as he’s free and easy, with a very repeatable delivery. He doesn’t max out to reach 95 mph, which could give him the opportunity to work forward as a starting pitcher that can conserve energy to get deep into games (though smart money is on sending him to the bullpen).
True Blue LA’s look at Sierra specifically mentions an issue with recoil, as well as seeing the righty pulling himself off to first base. I, too, observed mild recoil throughout the game, but it appears there’s been a notable change in Sierra no longer pulling off as hard to first base. Generally, he finished squared to the plate and in a notably athletic place to field his position and react after release, while not sacrificing any velocity, at least based on his earlier readings.
Context: Sierra signed a six-year, $30 million deal with the Dodgers in February, so he’s not exactly a typical minor leaguer in salary or expectation. The Dodgers have said they’ll use him as a reliever, but this summer they’ve been using him as a starter, no doubt to get innings under his belt and help him more quickly get up to speed in game situations as he acclimates to pro baseball in America.
Things haven’t been going well for Sierra as a starter in Rancho. In 15 games (13 starts), he’s 5-5 with a 6.75 ERA, having allowed 77 hits and 24 walks against 58 strikeouts in 64 innings pitched (1.58 WHIP; .298 opponents’ average). After a July 10 start, though, the Quakes moved Sierra to the bullpen, and he’s appeared in two separate two-inning stints twice since then, entering Thursday.
I haven’t seen either of those outings, unfortunately, and I likely won’t seen Rancho Cucamonga again for another couple weeks, but it appears that this may be the start of the transition to the bullpen for Sierra. More on that soon.
Projection: It’s easy to see Sierra in a seventh- or eighth-inning role one day. He’s going to need to move somewhat quickly, as he’s already 25 years old, but the Dodgers have five more seasons with him after this one and thus, some time to figure things out with him in the ‘pen. It’s feasible that as he (a) moves to one-inning stints, and/or (b) gets another year or two of organizational training and conditioning, he could add another tick or two to an already impressive fastball and further cement a relief role.
His slider and changeup both need to be more consistent, but it’s obvious that the slider can play at higher levels as he continues to develop, and only more so should he start throwing it even slightly harder.
The Dodgers have gone after international free agents in a way few other teams have been able to, or shown the interest in doing, so in that context, $30 million on a wild card seventh inning reliever isn’t as high of a risk for them as it would be, for, well, about 25 other teams in baseball. To that end, Sierra is a worthwhile gamble with a big arm and a lean, projectable body, and he could easily become a serviceable big leaguer.
Sierra has issues, to be sure, and mechanical inconsistencies around his release point and off speed stuff will further need to be ironed out, but, as always, don’t scout the stat line on a guy like this.
There’s quite a bit for which to be optimistic around Sierra, and he should realize enough ability to settle into some kind of big-league bullpen role one day fairly soon.