One of the primary reasons why I spend two to three weeks at spring training each year is to get a feel for what to expect in the upcoming season, especially with the many pitchers in camp.
Among those who I have watched closely in past spring training camps who ended up making it to the big leagues with the Dodgers include John Ely, Stephen Fife, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Shawn Tolleson and more recently Paco Rodriguez.
During spring training 2012, one such pitcher who caught my eye was (then) 30-year-old left-hander Scott Rice, who was born and raised a short 45 minutes from Dodger Stadium in Simi Valley, California.
Rice was originally drafted by the Orioles in the 44th round of the 1999 amateur draft and remained in the Orioles minor league system until being granted free agency after the 2006 season. He was immediately signed by the Rangers but was again granted free agency at the end of the 2007 season.
On March 2, 2008, Rice was signed as a non-roster free agent by the Dodgers, the team that he had grown up watching as a kid, but had his heart broken when he was released after spring training.
After his brief stay with the Dodgers, Rice spent the next three seasons in the minor leagues with the Padres, Rockies and Cubs respectively, again never making it to the Bigs. He was released by the Cubs after spring training 2011.
On June 7, 2011, Rice was given a second chance to play for his beloved Dodgers when he was signed as a non-roster free agent and sent to Double-A Chattanooga. Realizing that his biological clock was ticking, Rice worked exceptionally hard and posted a 4-4 record and an outstanding 1.95 ERA with the Lookouts. He had 42 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 50.2 innings pitched.
Rice had done all that he could do and had never quit trying where others might have – and the Dodgers had noticed. They re-signed him as a non-roster free agent with an invitation to 2012 big league camp.
After 13 seasons in the minor leagues, Scott Rice would finally get his shot to make it to the Big Show. The only remaining hurdle was to have a great spring training.
…and he did.
While watching Scott closely during spring training 2012, the thing that I liked most about him was his ability (and gift) to keep the ball down in the zone on a consistent basis which, in my opinion, is the key to success for any pitcher. Pitchers who have a tendency to leave the ball up in the zone usually aren’t in the big leagues very long.
As spring training came to a close, fellow Dodger lefty Scott Elbert and Rice had nearly identical stats and I knew that it would be between these two for the final bullpen spot on the Dodgers opening day roster. As much as I like Scott Elbert, my preference was Scott Rice, but then, I am not the one who makes these decisions.
Sure enough, Colletti and Mattingly opted to go with the younger Scott Elbert, most likely because Elbert already had MLB experience and more importantly because he was already on the Dodgers 40-man roster, whereas Scott Rice did not and was not. Because Rice had been a non-roster invitee to big league camp, the Dodgers would have had to make a corresponding roster move in order to bring Rice up, which they elected not to do.
Rice ended up pitching the entire 2012 season at Triple-A Albuquerque and actually had a decent season (in spite of Albuquerque’s mile-high altitude) appearing in 54 games and finishing with a 2-3 record and a respectable 4.40 ERA in his 59.1 innings of work. He ended up striking out 47 while walking 22. At the conclusion of the season, Rice once again became a free agent.
I was a bit surprised when I arrived at spring training 2013 and noticed that Scott Rice was nowhere to be found. I quickly learned that the Dodgers had elected not to re-sign him to a minor league deal. I also learned that the New York Mets had.
As we all know, Scott Elbert was having a very good 2012 season with the Dodgers with a 1-1 record and an excellent 2.20 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 13 walks, and it appeared that Colletti and Mattingly had made the right decision – until August 28 when Elbert suffered inflammation in his left elbow - an injury which proved to be season-ending for the 27-year-old lefty. It was also an injury which resulted in not one but two off-season surgeries. As a result, Elbert’s return to the Dodgers may not happen until after the 2013 All-Star break – if it happens at all. There is simply no vacancy in the Dodger bullpen and situational lefty Paco Rodriguez is (thus far) doing exceptionally well.
Meanwhile, Scott Rice finally achieved his lifetime dream when he not only made the Mets opening day roster but also made his MLB debut on opening day. Thus far in the 2013 season, Rice has appeared in 6 games (5.2 innings) and is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.59 with 4 strikeouts and 3 walks.
Did the Dodgers pick the correct left-hander to fill that final roster spot in 2012? I guess that is subject to debate. But what isn’t debatable is the fact that Scott Rice is currently pitching in the major leagues after spending 14 seasons in the minors and Scott Elbert is on the disabled list and may have difficult time making his way back into the Dodger bullpen this season, or perhaps ever.