When Carlos Marmol got taken out of the game yesterday with an injury, the possibilities started flashing through my mind. With Sean Marshall gone to the Reds, it left Kerry Wood as the only experienced candidate to take over the closer's spot -- but then what if he got hurt or faltered in that role? The next in line appears to be a guy who has yet to pitch above AA ball.
It was only a couple of years ago when Rafael Dolis came out of nowhere and found himself on the 40 man roster. He had put up some decent, but not spectacular numbers and he was pitching in A ball. That offseason, however, the radar gun clocked him at 100 mph in the AZ Instructional League. Dolis was still a long way from the majors, but the Cubs felt he would certainly have been snatched up in the Rule 5 draft.
Today Dolis is on the verge of making the opening day roster and manager Dale Sveum is talking about using him as one of their set up men. There was always a bit of debate as to who was the better Cubs relief prospect, Dolis or Chris Carpenter, but the Cubs have always favored Dolis. He's just better across the board. While Carpenter hits triple digits more often, Dolis' fastball movement and velocity are more consistent overall, his command is better, and his slider has more bite. When the Cubs let Carpenter go to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein, it became official.
Dolis was now the Cubs closer of the future.
As someone with an intimidating 6'4", 220 lbs frame, he looks the part. His stuff, which includes a 95 mph fastball and a slider that rivals Carlos Marmol's as one of the best in the organization, is also reminiscent of a power closer. However, Dolis hasn't been a big strikeout pitcher. it was a little easier to understand when he was a starter, but even when he switched to relief full time last year, we didn't see the spike in strikeouts that was expected.
In fact, it went down from 7.32 Ks/9 IP as a starter down to 5.94 Ks/9 IP as a reliever. The explanation was that Dolis was working on his command and keeping the ball down. The strikeouts would eventually come. That day hasn't arrived yet this spring, as Dolis has just 2 Ks in 5 IP, but the good news is that he's walked just one batter and has allowed only two hits. Five innings isn't much to go on, but the Cubs have to be at least somewhat encouraged by the early results.
Dolis has been doing exactly what the Cubs have been asking of their pitchers this spring. He's been pounding the lower half of the strike zone and with his velocity and sink, hitters haven't been able to do much with Dolis' offerings even though they are making contact. Like many of the Cubs better pitching prospects, Dolis is athletic. The former SS is becoming better and better at repeating his delivery and it has helped him command his great stuff.
Dolis' stuff is too good not to strike more people out and it's likely that over time he'll learn how to put hitters away, but for now he's throwing strikes and keeping the ball down, and that looks like it's going to be enough to earn him a spot on the Cubs staff this year. But Dolis' climb up the ranks isn't expected to stop there, the Cubs hope to groom him as the heir apparent to Carlos Marmol.