Sunday night Charlotte Knights starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod took a perfect game into the eighth inning against Louisville. Axelrod is on his second organization and usually once you get released by one team your Major League outlook doesn’t look good. However, Axelrod has been nothing short of fantastic since joining the White Sox. Is he a name to consider as a starting candidate in the future?
For some background, the Padres drafted Axelrod in the 30th round in 2007 out of UC Irvine. He was used mostly as a reliever there, putting up a 3.96 ERA with 79 K and 23 BB in 72.2 IP as a senior in 2007. He helped the Anteaters make it to the final four of the College World Series that year. Axelrod maintained strong peripherals (80 K to 25 BB in 2008) as a pro, but ultimately his career stalled in high-A and the Padres released him in 2009.
The White Sox signed him in early August, assigned him to Winston-Salem and immediately made him a starter. He got five starts in and dominated. 1.91 ERA with 17 strikeouts and only four walks in 28.1 innings. Still, at this point he was 24 and hadn’t reached AA yet.
Axelrod went back to Winston-Salem in 2010 and he bounced in and out of the starting rotation. He made 13 starts and 10 relief appearances, but the numbers were as strong as in ’09. 1.99 ERA, 84 K, 12 BB in 99.1 IP. He ended the year with a pair of solid starts for the Barons. Obviously it was a strong season and the control was great, but the right-hander still wasn’t registering on the prospect radar as a 25-year-old with 10 innings in AA.
Suddenly, this year Axelrod has become a viable candidate for the breakout prospect of the year for the Sox. He continued to show great command, this time in AA, and earned a spot on the Southern League All-Star Game. The numbers dipped a bit from his Carolina League domination, but they still were solid. 3.34 ERA, 57 K, 14 BB in 59.1 IP. Now the Sox tested the California native by moving him to AAA.
Axelrod has continued his impeccable walk rate and maintained a decent amount of strikeouts. In eight starts for the Knights, Axelrod has a 2.03 ERA with just nine walks in 48.2 innings. He also has 41 strikeouts.
Axelrod’s 1.7 BB/9 puts him among the International League’s leaders. Of the league’s top 25 pitchers in BB/9, 22 of them have Major League experience (Axelrod being one of the three without). I’m not going to argue that it’s an illustrious list because these guys wouldn’t be in AAA otherwise, but Axelrod deserves a look next spring or maybe in September if the Sox fall out of the race.
Anyone who succeeds at AAA is worthy of a second look. Sure, there are loads of ‘AAAA’ players who can succeed in AAA, but not in the Majors. However, the Sox are entering an unknown future in terms of starting pitching. Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Edwin Jackson are all free agents at the end of the year and Jake Peavy’s durability has to be considered at least questionable. We’ll probably know more about the 2012 White Sox rotation after the trade deadline, but it seems like the Sox will need every arm they can get and Axelrod could profile as a decent fourth of fifth starter next season.