Prior to Friday night’s game at Dodger Stadium, right-handed pitcher John Ely and outfielder Joc Pederson were presented with the 2012 Branch Rickey Award for being the top pitcher and player within the Dodgers minor league system.
Named after the legendary former Dodger executive who broke baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, the Branch Rickey Award is one of the most prestigious awards presented annually within the Dodger organization and one need only look at the list of former recipients to see just how important this award can be for aspiring major leaguers.
Ely was recently named as the 2012 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year (the equivalent to MLB’s Cy Young Award) for his Triple Crown performance with 14 wins, 165 strikeouts and a 3.20 ERA. He was clearly the staff ace for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate, and his outstanding season led to his call-up to the Dodgers on September 1st.
After the game I had an opportunity to speak briefly with the 26-year-old Harvey, Illinois native in the Dodgers clubhouse about his outstanding season in the minors and receiving the prestigious Branch Rickey Award:
RC: Tell me about your day, John. This is obviously a great day for you being honored as the Dodgers minor league Pitcher of the Year.
John Ely: It’s definitely a huge honor for me. It was the season that I needed to have and obviously I am honored to have the accolades.
RC: I’ve been following your career closely over the past couple of years and you had a lot of success early on, and then you struggled a bit, and then you came into spring training this past season and seemed to turn everything around. What happened?
Ely: I just changed my approach. I decided that I wasn’t going to make any excuses and go on with the mindset that I’m going to prove something this year. With that came the extra work that led to the season that I had.
I just wanted to be consistent and obviously I had no idea it was going to lead to that good of a season. I’m pretty happy about the work I put in this year.
RC: Are you confident that the success that you had this year will carry over into next spring training where you might earn a spot in next year’s starting rotation?
Ely: You never know what’s going to happen but at least I definitely put myself in a good position for at least a chance.
As Ely said, you never know what’s going to happen, but given the success that he enjoyed this past season, the Dodgers would be foolish not to give him a very close look next spring as a starting pitcher. And while John struggled in his two relief appearances since his September 1st call-up, I believe that his true calling is as a starting pitcher and not as a reliever. That said, I suspect that he most likely won’t be called upon to start any of the Dodgers remaining five games or see much action as a reliever unless the Dodgers mount a sizable lead in those remaining five games.
Regardless, you can bet that John Ely will once again be giving his all next season and will hopefully earn a spot in the Dodgers 2013 rotation.
Here are the former Dodgers minor leaguers who have won the Branch Rickey Award since its inception in 1989: