Being drafted by a major league team in the first two or three rounds is always a good thing – at least from a financial standpoint. This is where the higher signing bonus money is. But being drafted in the lower rounds doesn’t always equate to success, nor does it guarantee a faster track to the major leagues. In fact, many guys drafted in the lower rounds never even make it to the major leagues.
In contrast, it is not all that uncommon to see guys drafted in the higher rounds make it to the Bigs long before many of the lower round guys. Perhaps the best example of this is former Dodgers catcher (and future Hall of Famer) Mike Piazza, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round (which doesn’t even exist anymore) and was the 1,390th overall pick. Another example is Albert Pujols, who was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 draft (402nd overall pick) by the St. Louis Cardinals – and we all know how that worked out.
Because of the time and money invested in their top draft picks, most MLB teams will give their top draft picks a much closer look than guys who are… say… drafted in the 20th round or later. But the truth of the matter is that regardless of when they were drafted, the cream always seems to rise to the top between the lines.
One such draft pick is 23-year-old right-hander Lindsey Caughel, who was initially drafted by the Orioles in the 35th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft but opted to continue his education at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida instead (more on that later). Caughel was then selected by the Dodgers the following year in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft (716th overall pick) and signed with the team shortly thereafter. What is clear with Caughel is that he never let his draft position interfere with his objective – making it to The Show. In fact, the Orlando native hasn’t given it a second thought and instead is quietly making his way up through the Dodgers farm system at a pace that Dodgers fans should be paying close attention to.
“To me in my eyes the way that I’m going to prove my worth to a ball club is by going out and throwing 200 innings every year,” said Caughel. “I don’t have the blazing fast fastball, I have kind of good stuff, I can be a starter in the big leagues, but I have to do it through longevity and by pitching every fifth day, and showing ‘this guy is reliable, he’g going to go out every fifth day and he’s going to go six innings, and you know what you’re going to get out of him.'”
If Caughel’s performance over the past two seasons in the minor leagues is any indication of what the Dodgers can expect to get out of him, they have to be pleased at what they see. In his two seasons in the minors at the Rookie, Low-A and High-A levels, Caughel has a combined record of 9-14 with an impressive 3.54 ERA. But the stat that absolutely jumps out at you is his exceptional K/BB ratio of 5.32 and his WHIP of 1.170. In his combined 203.1 innings pitched, Caughel has struck out 181 batters while walking only 34 – and that is flat out getting the job done.
Although 2014 is only his second spring training camp, Caughel is honored to have been invited to early spring training – an invitation extended to only those who the organization sees as their best prospects. For pitchers an invitation to early spring training camp allows them the opportunity to appear in actual big league spring training games as back ups for the big league pitchers who are on a limited pitch or innings count. It also allows them the opportunity to face big league hitters and to show off their wares to the Dodgers brass and the many scouts that attend every spring training game.
“Every day they send a guy or two over to back up the big league games, so they’ve got to have some minor league guys ready to go because Clayton Kershaw or Greinke, they’re only going two innings a piece in the beginning, so they need a lot of arms,” said Caughel. “There’s at least six or seven guys throwing in every big league game right now until the starters start going five or six innings.”
As for that remaining in school thing, by doing so Caughel not only received his college degree from Stetson University but also received his teaching certificate, which he has already put to good use working as a substitute teacher at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando during the off-season. Being drafted as a college grad also put Caughel a bit higher on the Dodgers depth chart, and although it has yet to be determined where he will begin the 2014 season, Caughel hopes that it will be at Double-A Chattanooga.
“They don’t really talk about that stuff too much right now,” said the 6′ 3″ – 205 pound right-hander. “They make up the [early spring training] groups and you kind of get a feel for where you’re going. Obviously I’d like to start in Double-A but I wouldn’t be surprised if I started in the Cal League. I hope I get the opportunity to start in Double-A, but if not I’ll get the opportunity to move up to Double-A shortly thereafter.”
Asked if he would be willing to move into the bullpen to expedite his road to the majors, Caughel was quite specific.
“Playing major league baseball is the ultimate goal and I don’t care if I have to do it playing third base as long as I can get there,” said Caughel. “But I’ve been a starting pitcher my whole life – I’ve been a starting pitcher since high school, I was a starting pitcher all four years in college, I’ve been a starting pitcher in pro ball. I think my stuff plays up more to the starting pitcher – a sinker slider guy with a big slow breaking ball and flashes a change-up at times, but if they want me to come out of the pen, I just want to do whatever it takes to get there and help the team win once I’m there, whether it’s long relief out of the pen, or if it’s a righty specialist throwing sliders out of the pen or if it’s starting.
“Obviously I like starting,” added Caughel. “It’s been my mindset my whole entire career, I’ve tried to prepare my body for that my whole entire career, but at the end of the day you’re just trying to get there. It’s a game of adjustments. I know that’s a cliché but clichés are clichés for a reason, and he who makes adjustments the fastest or the quickest stays around the longest.”
Is this kid well grounded or what?
Although Caughel traveled with the big league team to Maryvale for last Sunday’s game against the Brewers, he didn’t get into the game but enjoyed the experience nonetheless.
“Any time you get to go over to the big league side it’s a great experience.”
Even though Caughel has yet to actually pitch in a major league spring training game, he and fellow minor league starter Duke von Schamann were invited over to big league camp this past Tuesday to throw live batting practice – and not to just anybody, but to rehabbing Dodgers All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp.
“Getting the opportunity to go over to the big league side and throw against guys like Matt Kemp is a real honor,” said Caughel. “It gives you an opportunity to prove yourself to the organization. When you’re walking over you kind of start to think about it a little bit and get into your own head, but when you step on the mound you’re competing. It doesn’t matter if it’s Matt Kemp in the batters box or some guy you have never heard of before. My mentality doesn’t change and neither does my game plan. You just have to stay within yourself and realize that you are being put in this situation because you can succeed and you have to expect to succeed, not be surprised by it.”
Did I mention that Lindsey Caughel is well grounded and a guy that Dodgers fans should be paying close attention to?