By now most Dodger fans are aware that left-handed reliever Scott Elbert signed a one-year/$575,000 contract extension on Friday, thus avoiding arbitration. The contract also guarantees an additional $25,000 for each of 15, 20, 25 and 30 MLB appearances, which should be doable for the 28-year-old Joplin, MO native – if he gets and stays healthy.
Therein lies the story of Scott Elbert – getting and staying healthy.
Elbert was the Dodgers first round draft pick (17th overall) in the 2004 MLB First Year Player Draft out of Seneca High School in Seneca, MO. He made his professional debut that same year with the Rookie League Ogden Raptors where he struck out 45 batters in 49.2 innings pitched.
In 2005 Elbert went 8–5 with a 2.66 ERA in 24 starts with the (then) Dodgers Low Single-A affiliate Columbus Catfish. In 2006 he pitched for the (then) Advanced Single-A affiliate Vero Beach Dodgers where he earned Florida State League mid-season All-Star honors. He was promoted to the (then) Dodgers Double-A affiliate Jacksonville Suns where he went 6–4 with a 3.61 ERA and was ranked as the number three prospect in the Southern League by Baseball America. He also ranked number 11 on MiLB.com’s Top 50 Prospects List.
Elbert fell victim to his first major injury in 2007 and missed most of the season with shoulder issues. Upon his return in 2008 Elbert had moved to the bullpen – a role in which he absolutely flourished. In fact, he received a call-up to the Dodgers and made his MLB debut on August 29, 2008 against the Diamondbacks. Elbert appeared in 10 games out of the bullpen for the Dodgers in 2008 finishing the season 0–1 with an ugly ERA of 12.00.
Elbert spent most of the 2009 season in the minors splitting time between the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts and Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes returning to the starter role. He was selected as the Dodgers “Minor League Pitcher of the Year” after finishing a combined 4–4 with a 3.84 ERA in 18 starts with the Lookouts and Isotopes. He was recalled by the Dodgers appearing in 19 games and finished with a 2–0 record and a 5.03 ERA. He also made his first postseason appearance (in relief) in Game 3 of the 2009 NLCS, lasting only 1/3 of an inning while walking two. (The Dodgers lost that game 11-0 and it was over in the bottom of the first inning when Hiroki Kuroda allowed 4 runs to the Phillies).
Elbert’s career nearly ended in 2010. He began the season as a starter at Triple-A Albuquerque but was called back up to the Dodgers on May 28. The next day he pitched 2/3 of an inning in relief allowing one run on one hit while walking three – all lefties. He was promptly optioned back to Triple-A immediately after the game. Elbert made one more start for the Isotopes and then flew the coop. He left the team without any explanation, although many suspect that he was suffering from an anxiety disorder. He eventually returned to the team after the season had concluded and was selected to represent the Dodgers in the 2010 Arizona Fall League, where he was selected to the league’s All-Star Game.
Elbert began the 2011 season in Albuquerque out of the bullpen – his new permanent role. He was called up to the Dodgers for the fourth time on May 11, appearing in 47 games, mostly as a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out Guy). He finished the season with an 0-1 record and an impressive 2.43 ERA in 33.1 innings with 34 strikeouts and 14 walks. He also picked up two saves.
After making 43 appearances out of the Dodgers bullpen in 2012 going 1-1 with an outstanding 2.20 ERA in 32.2 innings pitched, the wheels fell off for the 26-year-old left-hander. After spending several lengthy stints on the disabled list because of elbow problems, Elbert finally underwent season-ending surgery in mid-September. He underwent a second elbow surgery on January 23, 2013 due to continued pain in the area.
Because of his two surgeries, Elbert missed all of spring training 2013 and finally began pitching rehab games in the minors in May. Just when it appeared that he was about to return to the Dodgers after making consecutive appearances with the Lookouts, he again experienced pain in his elbow. An MRI revealed that he had suffered a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his left elbow, for which he underwent Tommy John surgery on June 10, 2013, thus ending his 2013 season.
Although Elbert’s recovery and rehab are going well, it is highly unlikely that he will be ready to pitch again until well after the 2014 All-Star break. That being said, he was eligible for his first arbitration hearing this February but the Dodgers opted to avoid arbitration by offering Elbert a one-year contract extension. And even though Elbert’s non-guaranteed contract is only slightly above the 2014 MLB minimum of $500,000, he could make as much as $675,000 if he appears in 30 games.
To their credit the Dodgers could have elected to non-tendered Elbert and sent him and his questionable elbow packing, but instead decided to give him another chance. And even though Elbert has one more arbitration-eligible season in 2015, one has to believe that this will be Elbert’s last stand with the Dodgers – and perhaps in baseball itself.
Why did the Dodgers take a chance on Scott Elbert, you ask?
Dodger manager Don Mattingly said it best:
“He’s got a good arm, that’s one thing we found over the last couple of years. This guy has got power stuff. You take all those power arms you can get.”