Rookie Profile: John Ely
One of the most successful rookies so far for 2010 is John Ely of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's currently 3-2, 3.00 with a 32/6 K/BB in 39 major league innings, allowing 33 hits, with no homers allowed. He didn't show up on many pre-season prospect lists. Let's take a look.
John Ely was a very successful pitcher at the University of Miami-Ohio, winning 10 games as a freshman in 2005, going 8-2 in 2006, then capping his career with a 8-3, 2.89, 96/23 K/BB in 103 innings season in 2007. He was a third round pick that June on the strength of his 90-94 MPH fastball, sharp control, and excellent changeup. The White Sox sent him to Great Falls in the Pioneer League, where he went 6-1, 3.86 with a 56/14 K/BB in 56 innings, 56 hits allowed. I gave him a Grade C+, projecting him as a "number three starter, assuming good health and no loss in command."
Moved up to Winston-Salem in the Carolina League for '08, Ely went 10-12, 4.71 with a 134/46 K/BB in 145 innings, with 142 hits allowed. The ERA was ugly, but his component ratios were much better and he pitched more effectively than the ERA indicated; his FIP was 3.68. On the negative side, he gave up 18 homers, and his velocity declined from his college days, down to 88-92 MPH. Scouts also complained that his curveball lacked consistency. I gave him a Grade C in the 2009 book, saying that he looked like a number five starter or long reliever, but that improvement was possible if he sharpened the breaking ball.
Promoted to Double-A Birmingham in 2009, he went 14-2, 2.82 with a 125/50 K/BB in 156 innings, 140 hits allowed. His fastball slipped a bit again, down to 87-89 MPH. But the curveball was more effective, his changeup remained excellent, he threw strikes, and cut his home run rate in half. Scouts were unimpressed with the velocity drop, however, and also noticed mechanical flaws, leading to skepticism. The White Sox shipped him off to the Dodgers in the Juan Pierre trade. In the book this year, I wrote "although his weak velocity gives him little margin for error, he strikes me as a guy who, while he doesn't have a huge ceiling, is somewhat underrated and who can exceed expectations." I gave him a Grade C, but also noted "it is possible he could actually put up better numbers in the National League than in the PCL," given the difficult nature of the Albuquerque environment.
He began 2010 with Triple-A Albuquerque; winning two of his three starts with a 3.00 ERA and a 12/8 K/BB in 18 innings. As mentioned above, he's been excellent for the Dodgers so far after being promoted, granted the sample is small. His fastball is right at 88 MPH, as in the minors last year, but his changeup has been very good, and he's using his breaking balls (sliders, curves) effectively.
Ely's margin for error will never be great, but his command is outstanding, he knows how to pitch, and has been effective at every level of competition so far aside from some hiccups in ‘08. I mentioned above that he could have a better chance to succeed in Los Angeles than in Albuquerque due to the better pitching conditions. Indeed, a friendly home park and a major league defense are exactly what Ely needs to succeed. Although scouts will continue to be skeptical, and I don't expect him to boast the 3.00s ERAs constantly, I don't see any reason why he can't be a solid inning-eater with sharp control. Such pitchers can go on wild runs when everything is working, and I think Ely's chances for long-term success are better than those of Doug Fister.