In late August there was talk that the Los Angeles Dodgers would/could promote right-hander Jharel Cotton to the major league roster for the September stretch run. That did not happen, but Cotton is still a talent worthy of examination. So let's do some examining.
A native of the Virgin Islands, Cotton pitched for Miami-Dade Junior College in Florida in 2010 and 2011 with good success as a starting pitcher. He transferred to East Carolina University for 2012 and performed decently enough (3.65 ERA, 62/24 K/BB in 74 innings) to be drafted in the 20th round by the Dodgers. However, his velocity was not as good as it was in junior college and he was bothered by an elbow fracture, hurting his stock. He did not sign right away and went of to pitch summer ball in the Coastal Plain League.
This was a good move: his elbow healed up, and as a result his fastball velocity increased from 88-90 to 92-95 that summer. He promptly posted a 20/3 K/BB in 15 innings in the Pioneer League. I tagged him as a Sleeper Alert! guy in the 2013 book.
Cotton pitched 2013 at three levels, spending time at Low-A, High-A, and Double-A, combining for a 4.01 ERA in 74 innings with a 72/23 K/BB. Reports were mixed: everyone agreed that his change-up was very good, but his curveball varied between solid and weak and his fastball was clocked anywhere between 87 and 95 MPH, depending on when you saw him. He rated as a Grade C entering 2014 and projected best as a reliever in my view at the time.
Stability came his way in 2014: he spent the entire year in High-A with Rancho Cucamonga, pitching 127 innings with a 4.05 ERA but a sharp 138/34 in 127 innings. He had some trouble early in the season with pitch-tipping but cleared that up and finished strongly. The change-up continued to draw strong reviews and he was consistently hitting 92-94 MPH with the heater; reports on the breaking ball remained mixed. He moved back up to a Grade C+ entering this season.
2015 began with roster shuffling between Low-A and High-A as Cotton came back from a minor spring injury, but he was very effective overall particularly at Double-A Tulsa, where he posted 2.30 ERA with a 71/21 K/BB in 63 innings. He moved to the bullpen in late summer and moved up to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he fanned nine in 7.1 innings of relief work as something of an audition for September, though ultimately the Dodgers didn't call on him.
Overall this year he posted a 2.45 ERA with a 114/31 in 96 innings at four levels.
Cotton is 23 years old, listed at 5-11, 195. As noted above his change-up is the best pitch and it is quite impressive. He peaks at 96 and maintains his velocity readily in bullpen stretches.
Given his size and still-inconsistent breaking ball, relief work seems like the most plausible long-term option.
That's the plausible logic, but Cotton has surprised us before and should not be under-estimated.