Jharel Cotton, not Julio Urias, might be the Quakes’ ace

Not many folks could tell you who Jharel Cotton is — and rightfully so. He’s a minor-league baseball pitcher who was a 20th-round draft pick by the Dodgers in the 2012 MLB Draft. But he’s starting to make some noise in the hitter-friendly California League.

He’s teaming with Julio Urias to give the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes a formidably 1-2 punch. For a team that also boasts 2013 first- and second-rounders Chris Anderson and Tom Windle, that’s saying something. If the Quakes make the playoffs, he could very well be their ace as Urias is on an innings limit (reportedly 80, and he’s at 72 1/3) and could be shut down.

Cotton, 22, is posting some really good overall peripherals, despite a horrific start (7.07 ERA through 42 innings). The low point of his season came on June 11 when he gave up 10 runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings. Since that time, Cotton has been on fire.

Since June 11
73 IP, 60 H, 33 R, 23 ER, 16 BB, 79 K, 2.84 ERA, .224 BAA, 60 Game Score

In the Cal League, those numbers are mighty impressive. The most impressive is the strikeout-to-walk ratio. Cotton has exhibited good control and command in his career to this point (3.72), but in this 73-inning stretch, it’s 4.94. His best start came on July 29, when he fired a 2-hit, 11-strikeout shutout at Lake Elsinore. After a rough start on July 17 (during his hot streak), the coaching staff noticed something.

“The timing of the turnaround is no coincidence. After surrendering seven runs — five earned — on eight hits over six innings on July 17 at San Jose, Cotton had a long conversation with Rancho Cucamonga pitching coach Matt Herges and Dodgers baserunning coordinator Damon Mashore. The trio suspected Cotton was tipping his pitches by moving his glove too much when he changed grips.

Cotton had known about the tipping for a while but was struggling to adjust his mechanics to lessen the glove movement. He came away from the powwow with a new idea, and the tweak has worked through two games.

“‘We did a lot of work on my delivery,’ Cotton said. ‘It helped a lot to know what I’m doing, doing the same thing all the time on every pitch. Basically, it’s mental. You just have to tell yourself to do this on every pitch so they don’t know what’s coming.'”

Since that game, Cotton has been lights-out: 37 IP (7.4 per start), 17 H, 8 R, 5 R, 10 BB, 41 K, 1.22 ERA, .137 BAA, 73 Game Score.

Cotton, my No. 27 prospect heading into the season, isn’t a big kid (5’11, 195 pounds), but he’s able to use his entire frame to generate a fastball that checks in at 89-92 MPH. He can dial it up to 94-95 MPH, but it works better as a low-90s pitch. His best off-speed pitch is his circle changeup (pictured) that flashes plus-potential and sits in the low-80s. He also has a slider and curveball, both of which need steady improvement if he’s to remain in the starting rotation. But, he is handling left- and right-handers with the same consistency, so at least he has that going for him.

He’ll likely be a reliever, and he should have a career as — at worst — a seventh-inning reliever. He’s able to miss bats (career 9.5 K/9) and minimize the free passes (2.6 BB/9), so that bodes well for him. He has  an outside chance of being a back-end starter. He just needs to have one of his breaking pitches take a step forward. His slider is better than his curveball, so if one of them do take a step forward, I’d bet on the No. 3. Cotton will close out the season in Rancho with a second go-around in Chattanooga (10 innings last year) likely for 2015. If he continues his strong pitching, he could be a Top-20 prospect in the system.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.