Overview-In his first full season following shoulder surgery in 2007, Elbert shined as a starter and earned the system's Minor League Pitcher Of The Year Award. Elbert has a good amount of believers who still think he's an elite prospect, but at 23 years of age, he has a good deal left to prove regarding his future role. 2010 is likely to be the year that determines his long term future with the organization.
Stuff-Elbert's fastball/slider combination is once again one of the best in the system. Last year, his fastball would be in the 88-91 mph range while topping out around 93. This year, he comfortably pitched from 91-93 mph and occasionally hit 96. It's a pitch that doesn't move horizontally much, but it can explode through the zone. While his fastball is back to being a good pitch, I don't quite rate it as a plus offering because of the lack of movement. On the other hand, Elbert's slider does rate as a plus offering. It's thrown hard in the 82-86 mph range, but it still has two plane break and a tight rotation. Any improvement to the consistency of the pitch, and it could potentially grade out as plus-plus.
For his third pitch, Elbert does have a change. He throws it about 80-82 mph, but it doesn't have the movement or consistency necessary to be a major league option right now. It has potential because of his fluid arm action and 3/4 delivery, but his feel for the pitch still leaves a lot to be desired. It could become a good offering, but at this point I have to wonder when the development will come.
Command-His control was actually much better in 2009. The walk rate might not reflect the improvement, but he showed the ability to command his fastball and slider effectively, and even flashed the ability to use finer location with consistency. Elbert's control over his change is what needs work, as he doesn't yet have a feel for it.
Mechanics-I think the improvement in command came from a much more consistent delivery. Getting a good amount of innings during a full healthy season seems to have helped with his consistency immensely. Elbert still has very aggressive mechanics, but now he has a better control over his body, which he struggled with in the past. He will still get out of whack from time to time, which leads to his arm slot moving from pitch to pitch, but the issue occurred less frequently last year.
On the injury front, there are some concerns. While his delivery and body control are much better, he still opens his front side prematurely, and he still doesn't get his arm vertical at footstrike. For a pitcher with a previous injury history with his shoulder, it's definitely something worth noting. The way he throws his slider worries me as well, because his arm is almost at a flat angle as he releases the ball, which I believe puts his elbow health in jeopardy.
Mental-Scouts and coaches always mention his aggressiveness and toughness on the mound. It's also said that he has a great makeup and work ethic.
Health-Surgery on his labrum in 2007, but he seems to be fully recovered from it. Nothing else of note other than that, which makes his injury prone label overstated.
Performance-A full season removed from injury woes, Elbert shined as a starter once again. His ERA was middling at 3.84 between AA and AAA, but his FIP sat at an impressive 3.14. More importantly, he posted an outstanding 11.7 K/9 rate, showing the ability to completely dominate advanced hitters. His command was still a bit sketchy, as shown by his 4.12 BB/9 rate, and it remains an area that needs improvement.
In the majors, Elbert was simply unlucky to have a 19.0 HR/F%. This made his ERA (5.03) look ugly, and it also didn't provide a good FIP (4.67). However, xFIP normalizes home run rate, and it paints a much more optimistic picture at 3.49. Another positive is that his ability to dominate hitters carried over, as he posted a 9.61 K/9 with the Dodgers.
At worse, Elbert figures to be an effective left handed specialist, as he has absolutely owned his fellow southpaws in his minor league career. In 32.2 innings pitched against lefties in 2008 and 2009 alone, Elbert struck out 13.8 batters per nine, and limited them to a .163 batting average against.
His future role remains a point of contention, as even the team doesn't seem to have a clear idea of what they are going to do with him.
Other-An outstanding athlete, Elbert also played football and basketball in high school.
Projection-Elbert's ceiling is still high, as he has the potential to be a number 3 starter or a borderline number 2. However, his chances of achieving that ceiling get lower every season, and I would give him below average odds of actually getting there.
I could see Elbert succeeding as either a starter or a reliever because of the versatility he has shown to this point. I also see no reason not to try him as a starter until he proves incapable of handling that role, especially since he should be an effective reliever regardless, much like James McDonald. If you put a gun to my head though, I would lean towards a relief role. His mechanical issues do concern me a bit, and I think lower inning totals will reduce the wear and tear on his arm. More importantly, he basically has a two pitch arsenal at the moment, and i'm not convinced his changeup will develop enough.
Despite my gut feeling that he will end up as a reliever, I still plan on ranking him relatively high. Why? Because when your floor projection still has the possibility of resulting in a Hong Chih Kuo type of reliever, you're still looking at a productive player. Add to that the considerable upside that he holds, and I think it's realistic to give him a good grade. Compare Elbert with some other Dodger prospects, and you'll see a lot of kids who have yet to prove anything at the upper levels of the minors or in major leagues, so it's impossible to project their floor as good as Elbert's.
For 2010, Elbert will compete for the role of fifth starter in Spring Training, but I anticipate him losing out in the end regardless of how he does. He'll probably spend most of the year waiting at AAA for the chance to start, but probably will get more opportunities to impact the bullpen, much like 2009.
I personally want to see Elbert get a chance at starting and it seems to Dodgers want this as well, but with his downside being an Hong Chih Kuo type reliever... you have to wonder why he isn't on more top 100s...