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My 2023 Dark Horse – Justin Wrobleski

Every year I try and pick a player who I believe could be a surprise dark horse.  I generally stay with that player until they either make it to the bigs or they are out of the organization.

My first one, back in 2016, was Caleb Ferguson.  He went from rehabbing from TJ surgery to big time notice in the Midwest League Championship (low A at the time).  In two years he would be starting for the Dodgers at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.  He was not all that successful as a SP, but he has flourished as a RP.

Two others who were not even close to being successful were Jesen Therrien and Melvin Jimenez.

My most recent dark horse was Jacob Amaya.  He was born to be a Dodger.  He attended high school in the shadows of Dodger Stadium and had a scholarship commitment to Cal St. Fullerton, which he declined after accepting a $247,500 bonus from the Dodgers as an above slot 11th round selection in 2017.

Amaya started his slow climb up the organizational ladder peaking at AAA last season.  On January 11, 2023, Amaya was traded to Miami for Miguel Rojas.  The Dodgers did not feel he could hit well enough (at least in 2023) to become an emergency SS at the ML level.  AF will almost always choose the veteran over the rookie.  Thus AF felt more comfortable with Miguel Rojas as the backup to Gavin Lux.

Since Amaya is no longer in the LAD organization, 2023 calls for a new dark horse.  For me dark horse does not mean that I believe he will make the ML roster this year, next year, or even the year after.  But he will come out of nowhere to make a steady if not quick time rise up the organizational ladder.

I could have picked Josue De Paula or Nick Frasso or Nick Nastrini, but none of those are dark horses for me.  Instead, I am selecting yet another LHSP recovering from recent TJ surgery…Justin Wrobleski.  Ironically I am trading one 11th round draft pick for another.  Wrobleski was an 11th round choice in 2021.

Justin Wrobleski came from a non-descript high school in a very small town in Canton, Georgia.  Canton is an hour north of Atlanta.  Even though he had an opportunity, Wrobleski decided against going to a big time baseball high school, and was able to get his hometown Sequoyah High School to the state playoffs in his senior year.

I think going to Sequoyah was a really good thing for me because it wasn’t a traditional powerhouse. Where I live is getting bigger, but when I was there it was a little bit smaller. I wouldn’t say it’s super small and we made the state playoffs one year while I was there and that made it that much sweeter when we made it my Senior year. 

 After earning  Honorable Mention All-State, First Team All-County, and First Team All-Region Team MVP, Wrobleski was  drafted in the 36th round of the 2016 draft by Seattle, which he declined.

Wrobleski had an unorthodox (but not all that rare) by attending three different schools.  He began his college career in 2019 with Clemson.  That season did not go well for Justin.  He appeared in 10 games and registered a 10.38 ERA.  However, he did pitch well against LHH, allowing a batting average against of .052.

After his freshman season, Wrobleski transferred to a Junior College, State College of Florida.  He pitched 18.2 innings and compiled a 2.89 ERA with 27 Ks.

Wrobleski transferred to Oklahoma State for his junior season where he had 40.2 IP.  His ERA was an inauspicious 4.20.  He struck out 50 batters and walked 26 batters.

Wrobleski did not finish his junior season after coming down with a mid-April elbow injury that required TJ surgery.

The TJ surgery was not the only injury Wrobleski incurred.  He was hit by a car just before he went to Clemson, and broke his jaw while at State College of Florida.  Plus his 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic.

In three years, Wrobleski totaled 72.1 total college IP, without great results.  And yet the Dodgers saw enough to draft him in the 11th round. The Dodgers do not shy away from pitchers with TJ surgery, which is why I was surprised the Dodgers did not select Jaden Hill from LSU.  He was top ten talent that went to Colorado in the 2nd round.  Instead the Dodgers selected huge risk Maddux Bruns.

Wrobleski was signed by Heath Holliday, a former Oklahoma State player and coach, now a scout for the Dodgers.  If that name sounds familiar, it is because Heath is the cousin of Matt Holliday.  The Holliday connection does not end there.  Billy Gasparino, Dodgers Vice President of Amateur Scouting (in charge of the draft), was a teammate at OSU with current OSU baseball coach, Josh Holliday.  Josh is a brother of Matt and cousin to Heath.  I am sure that the Holliday advocacy went a long way with Gasparino.

Because of his limited IP and the TJ surgery, most teams/scouts thought Wrobleski was headed back to OSU for his senior season.  Instead Gasparino chose him in the 11th round, and he signed for an above slot $197,500.

Billy Gasparino had this to say about Wrobleski:

“From a talent standpoint, it’s an athletic lefty up to 95 (mph) with a plus curveball,” Gasparino said. “We thought he was maybe in the top-five round talent range that we’ll get in the 11th round. We’ll go through the Tommy John process and hope he comes out the other end as a healthy, high-upside lefty.”

 According to Baseball America, he has a fastball that sits between 91-93 mph but has touched 95 mph. In addition, he has two above-average secondary offerings.

“His low-80s slider flashes plus potential and his above-average changeup is impressive as well. But Wrobleski left after one inning in an April start {2021} against Texas Christian with an elbow injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. A team picking him this year is banking on being patient while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, so teams may simply wait to see him return to health again at Oklahoma State.”

On March 8, 2022, Wrobleski got on the mound for the first time since TJ surgery (11 months), and threw his first professional bullpen session.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Ca3QX0zJo0J/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Justin Wrobleski debuted with the ACL Dodgers on June 17 and since then has pitched 15 innings over 10 appearances posting an ERA of 1.80 and a WHIP of 0.80. He has struck out 21 and did not walk a batter.

On August 23, Justin was assigned to Rancho Cucamonga and was activated.  On August 26, his first game with RC was for 3 scoreless innings.  As he moved up in competition, he was also hitting a wall.  His last two appearances did not go well, but he finished healthy, and that will go a long way towards  competing in 2023. 

Baseball America has included Wrobleski in their Top 30 prospects for the Dodgers at #30.  Their updated Scouting Report is: 

Scouting Report: Wrobleski is a lanky, athletic lefthander with growing arm strength. He came back throwing harder after surgery and now sits 93-96 mph on his fastball with room to keep ticking up as he gets stronger. He has a natural feel to spin the ball and gets swings and misses on both his above-average, vertical, mid-80s slider and average low-90s cutter. His mid-80s changeup is a well below-average pitch he rarely throws. Wrobleski stands on the far third base side of the rubber and has some funk in his arm stroke that adds to his angle and deception. He throws strikes with average control and works quickly and efficiently.

The Future: Wrobleski has a chance to take off as he moves further from surgery. The Dodgers expect him to have a breakout year in 2023 at High-A Great Lakes.

Scouting Grades: Fastball: 55. Slider: 55. Cutter: 50. Changeup: 30. Control: 50

 

Casey Porter, dodgersdaily.net, had an excellent interview with Justin that can be heard on youtube at

 

BTW, Casey Porter, who resides in Oklahoma, sees a lot of OKC and Tulsa games.  He has a lot of good interviews with MiLB prospects in those venues.

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Badger

That’s a dark horse alright. TJ after so few innings looks like a red flag to me.

Since I have no clue I’ll take DePaula and wait 5 years to see if I’m right. As for some minor league guy securing a roster spot this year I don’t see anybody at this point. If a guy can OPS .978 in AAA and not make the team at a position of need how can you pick a dark horse to do it?

Oldbear48

I am lousy at this game, but my dark horse would be Nick Robertson.

Bluto

Love the column!

Also interested to see how Bruns continues to develop.

Kyle Glaser kinda named Ben Harris his dark horse. So ’tis the season.

Last edited 11 months ago by Bluto
Badger

Duran.

I like that guy. Completely forgot about him. But I don’t see him making the team this year. We are just too deep in arms.

Bumsrap

I’m going with a dark horse Josue De Paula that although has recently had plenty of light shined on him, his scouting report suggests dark horse.
Scouting grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 50 | Field: 45 | Overall: 50

Last edited 11 months ago by Bumsrap
Badger

Good choice. He’s 17. He will be in the shadows of the lower minors for a few years.

Last edited 11 months ago by Badger
Bumsrap

He is currently a center fielder with 40 speed and 45 field grades. He doesn’t have the arm for a right fielder. He reminds me of Busch but with hype.

Bumsrap

Maybe there could be a dark horse candidate to be a decent MLB player and one for someone being a superstar. I chose the latter for De Paula.

His scouting report grade for hitting might be way too low. Soto isn’t a great defensive player but probably had a 70+ scouting grade for hitting.

Regardless of hype, being 17 alone makes him a dark horse not to mention his non-hitting grades.

Bumsrap

The Giants didn’t have any trouble defeating our USA team yesterday.

Oldbear48

They shut the Angels out today. Arenado hit a grand slam off of Anderson. Rodon will probably start the year on the IL

SandyIsTheGreatest

I’ll take Damon Keith if he qualifies.

Bumsrap

There is a reason the Giants didn’t try to re-sign him.

Badger

Yeah, I think maybe we should define dark horse. Dark horse for what? How about make the team sometime this year?

Last edited 11 months ago by Badger
Badger

I don’t know enough about those guys off the 40. They are all dark horses to me. I’ll go with Robertson. Why? Because you did, and you know more about those players than I do.

JD. Trouble with the curve lately. He also looks overweight.

It feels like we’re seeing a lot of guys who are showing us they aren’t quite ready.

Bumsrap

Heyward more and more looking like the hitter the Cubs gave up on.

Bumsrap

[Verse 1: Katy Perry]
I knew you were, you were gonna come to me
And here you are, but you better choose carefully
‘Cause I, I’m capable of anything
Of anything, and everything

1

a
a usually little known contender (such as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing
b
an entrant in a contest that is judged unlikely to succeed

Badger

I’m sure it’s me, but I don’t know how to read that Bum.

SandyIsTheGreatest

 😀 

Bobby

So far, the two kids that have impressed me the most are Gavin Stone and Andy Pages.

I cannot wait till Pages gets a full time role; he looks big time.

Bumsrap

Same here.

Badger

Me too. Pages needs to cut back a bit on that first strike overswing. He’s big enough, and strong enough to find the fences with a little less than that. But the kid looks eager.

Dionysus

Stone for me

Dionysus

Jesus Galiz is a good pick too. Just cuz we have a lot of catchers doesn’t mean they can’t all be good.

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