With John Danks set to open the year on the disabled list the White Sox have tabbed Dylan Axelrod to be their fifth starter. If you simply look at his time with the White Sox in 2012 (split between starting and relieving), you would think he is a complete non-issue for various reasons:
- A 5.47 ERA and 1.51 WHIP
- Borderline control (3.71 BB/9)
However, the numbers are not indicative of what Axelrod is actually capable of. In fact, he may be one of the sneakiest pickups for those in deeper mixed leagues because he has the potential to not only stick in the rotation but thrive there.
A 30th round selection by the Padres in 2007, Axelrod has actually shown elite control throughout his minor league career (2.21 BB/9). In 31 starts at Triple-A he has been at 2.49, so there is no reason to think that he can’t continue to pound the strike zone in the Major Leagues.
He also has shown solid strikeout ability with a minor league career K/9 of 7.99, the exact number that he posted during his time at Triple-A. While he may regress there, seeing him post a 7.00-7.25 K/9 is a realistic expectation (he was at 7.06 in ’12 for the White Sox), though not a given. Last season he averaged just 88.5 mph on his fastball, hardly a number that would indicate the ability to maintain a high level of strikeouts.
Axelrod may not be a pure “groundball pitcher”, but in his time with the White Sox he posted a 44.8% groundball rate. Given his control and strikeout ability, that is enough to be a productive Major League starting pitcher if he can replicate it.
The issues while in Chicago last season were his control, borderline poor luck (.302 BABIP and 70.2% strand rate can both be improved upon) and he was prone to the long ball (1.41 HR/9). The latter was never a problem in the minor leagues (0.37 HR/9) and, while the ballpark and talent level will cause him to give up a few more gopher balls it is easy to imagine an improvement.
Prior to 2012 John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked Axelrod as the team’s ninth best prospect and said the following:
“Picked off scrapheap after being released by the Padres, reached majors last year and has a chance to stay there as a fourth starter. Relies on sharp command of a nasty slider, average fastball and changeup.“
The command will be paramount if he wants to succeed in the Majors. Early on he is going to be more of a matchup play, but there is definite upside (especially if he can maintain a strikeout level of around 7.00 or greater). If you are in a deep mixed league and are in need of some help, he’s worth rolling the dice on (in AL-only formats he’s a must own immediately).
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