Chicago Dogs Welcome Revamped Starting Staff
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier analyzes the new look Chicago Dogs starting rotation, as the team is likely only going to have one returning starter.
Bet You Didn’t Know…
The Chicago Dogs joined the American Association in 2018, and quickly established themselves as a team built on incredible power and offense. In fact, that was the reputation, and was a well-deserved one as players like Victor Roache, Keon Barnum, Grant Kay, and K.C. Hobson put up outstanding offensive numbers.
However, what many may not realize is that Chicago has always been a team built on pitching. Manager Butch Hobson has made this a priority and he has seen the results, as the team has ranked in the top three in three of those seasons (2018, 2021, 2022), finishing third even in their inaugural campaign.
It was strong starting pitching that led this team as hurlers like Luke Westphal, Jeff Kinley, Jordan Kipper, and Kyle Murphy ranked among the best in the league. While many of those pitchers were with the team for two or three seasons, this is going to be a new look Dogs rotation, with only one part-time starter returning from last year and one returning after a year away from the club. Otherwise, this is going to be a completely rebuilt rotation.
We Know Their Names
Jonathan Tripp is the one starter who returns from last season. He appeared in 31 games for the Dogs in 2022, starting nine games. Most of his starts came late in the year and it is clear that, if he desires a spot in the rotation, that he is going to need to prove he can pitch into the sixth and seventh innings. Of his nine starts, he only tossed five full innings in one of those starts (August 28). That came against the Gary SouthShore RailCats when he tossed five shutout innings. His only other starter to make it into the fifth was August 13 when he threw 4.1 innings. If Tripp is going to fill the No. 3 spot in this rotation, then he will need to prove he can give this team six solid innings on a regular basis.
Jake Dahlberg returns to the club after pitching two seasons for the San Francisco Giants organization. He has an impressive record with Chicago, joining the team in 2019 when he went 9-6 with a 4.49 ERA. In 2020, Dahlberg had a 5.52 ERA as he went 4-4 and 13 appearances. In 2021, the year he was signed by the Giants, the left-hander got off to a fast start, going 6-2 with a 3.05 ERA before his contract was purchased. He has great stuff, striking out 76 in 62.0 innings with Chicago in 2021. He only allowed 11 walks. Last season, he pitched for AA-Richmond, where the left-hander was 5-7 with a 4.31 ERA, striking out 95 in 100.1 innings pitched. Look for Dahlberg to take command of the staff, jumping to the No. 1 spot in this rotation.
And Those We Don’t
Both Tripp and Dahlberg should be outstanding in the rotation, and Chicago fans know the two can deliver. Now it will be up to a group of four others to fill out the starting corps. Ryan O’Reilly could very well be the No. 2 starter on this team. He went 6-8 with a 4.50 ERA last season for Evansville (Frontier League), but was dominant in 2021, going 5-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 12 starts. He clearly has good stuff, but his major problem is walks. In 186.0 innings in Evansville, he walked 77, including 48 in 102.0 innings last season. Look for O’Reilly to be spending a lot of time with pitching coach Stu Cliburn.
Bryan Warzek pitched for the Lake Country DockHounds last season, where he was 0-1 with 11.37 ERA in six relief appearances. It was definitely a brief and very tough season for the left-hander, but he comes with solid credentials, reaching AA-Tulsa (Los Angeles Dodgers) in 2021. Warzek was a starter in his college career, making 45 starts for New Orleans, posting a 3.11 ERA. He may see returning to the starting rotation as his ticket back to affiliate ball. Warzek did start three games for the Mariners rookie league team in 2022 and started seven games for High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) in 2019.
A pair of teammates from Billings (Pioneer League) will likely be battling for the final spot in the rotation. Kenny Serwa may be the bigger gem of the two. The right-hander was 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 10 starts last season. He walked just nine batters in 59.0 innings, something that Hobson and his staff will love if he can continue that trend in the American Association. Should Warzek not earn a starting spot, then it will be Elijah Gill getting the nod. The left-hander was also very good for Billings last year, going 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA in 16 appearances. He threw 87.1 innings, walking 29 while striking out 80. Last season was the first in professional baseball for both pitchers, and so there is likely a very high upside for both.
Easing Into the Season
The great thing for this rotation is that this is going to be a very deep bullpen, arguably the best, at least on paper. Brian Schlitter returns and the former Major Leaguer will likely take over the closer’s role in 2023. He saved seven games for Chicago last year, and has pitched at the Major League level in four different seasons, most recently in 2019 when he posted a 3.72 ERA in six appearances for the Oakland Athletics.
Jonathan Cheshire comes from Lincoln where he was very solid in the Saltdogs bullpen, going 2-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 34 appearances. He will be one of the primary set up men for Schlitter. Joining him in the backend of the bullpen will be Joe Cavallaro, who was 3-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 42 appearances. Cavallaro is a guy that Hobson can depend upon to pitch three, maybe even four days a row, throwing 71.2 innings while allowing just 47 hits, striking out 83. James Reeves also returns to the team after going 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 2022. Reeves appeared in 22 games, striking out 35 in 26.1 innings.
That is 10 pitchers on the staff, leaving two spots for four pitchers to battle over. If classification and the salary cap are not a concern, then look for Trevor Lane and Nick Green to most likely fill those final two spots. Lane appeared in 18 games for Chicago last season, posting a 5.63 ERA. However, he has an impressive resume, reaching AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees) in 2019 and 2021. He could very well be in the mix for the seventh and eighth innings roles. Green pitched for York (Atlantic League) where he was 0-3 with a 5.70 ERA in 24 appearances last season. However, he also reached AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2021 as well, posting a 3.95 ERA in 25 appearances.
Tyler Palm could have a shot of the rotation, as he made 17 starts for High-A Cedar Rapids in 2019, going 3-10 with a 4.09 ERA. Palm has made 30 starts in 99 appearances in the minor leagues and more than half of his 52 appearances (30) in college were also starts. Brenden Heiss is the longshot. The right-hander spent two seasons in the San Diego Padres organization, reaching Low-A Lake Elsinore last season. He has a 7.36 ERA in 23 minor league appearances.
The Tradition Continues
It is clearly going to be a much different starting rotation than Chicago Dogs fans have been accustomed to. The return of Dahlberg is a huge deal for the team, and Tripp should do a fine job. Should he return to the bullpen, there is still a corral of talented arms that should keep this team near the top of the East Division. No doubt that Chicago will still have a top three pitching staff in 2023.
By Robert Pannier