Lancaster, California —— In an organization full of pitching prospects as far as the eye can see, Caleb Ferguson doesn’t stand out with incredible raw stuff, projectable physical stature, or a pedigree that would make you think he’ll be in the big leagues a year from now. But very quietly, as the 2017 season winds down for him and the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, all Ferguson has done is pitch his way into becoming one of the best hurlers in a very hitter-friendly league.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” Colorado Rockies outfield prospect Sam Hilliard told Baseball Census a couple days ago about Ferguson, hours before the lefty would face Hilliard and the Lancaster JetHawks in Game One of the California League‘s South Division Championship round of the playoffs. “He should have gotten [California League] pitcher of the year, honestly. I think he was snubbed on that. Great numbers, lots of strikeouts.”
Considering the way Hilliard played out his own impressive 2017 season as a legitimate five-tool player with the stats to back it up, it’s pretty notable that the outfielder is so high on Ferguson, originally a 38th round draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2014 out of an Ohio high school. But it’s not just Hilliard who plainly admires Ferguson; most of the Cal League does now after a stellar summer that has put the lefty firmly on the Dodgers’ radar just a few miles away from Rancho at Chavez Ravine.
Go to the most basic level—Ferguson’s stats—and you’ll come away impressed: a 2.87 ERA in 25 games/24 starts with 140 strikeouts against 113 hits in 122.1 innings pitched during the season. Add in his actual stuff and he gets more intriguing: a strike-throwing lefty with a pinpoint 88-92 mph fastball (topping out at 93 mph) coupled with a stellar 72-75 mph overhand curveball and a fading 83-84 mph changeup. And again, listen to the hitters talk about how that stuff actually plays out during games, and you start to understand just how good Caleb Ferguson could become.
“He’s one of those guys with an invisible fastball,” Hilliard said. “And when he’s on, when he’s locating all his pitches, especially his breaking ball, he’s really tough to hit. The fastball just takes off, and it looks so much harder after the curve.”
A few hours after telling me this on Wednesday afternoon, Hilliard and the rest of the JetHawks went out and tagged Caleb Ferguson to the tune of nine hits and five runs over six innings of work, leading to a Game One loss for Rancho Cucamonga (entering Saturday night’s affair, the Quakes are down two games to one in the best-of-five series), but for much of the lefty’s opening game start, he kept Lancaster off balance and uncomfortable until finally unraveling late. A classic ‘he pitched better than the line score’ night, but a loss nonetheless—and if the Quakes can’t win two straight against Lancaster tonight and tomorrow, it’ll an unfortunate end to an otherwise very strong summer.
We’ve gotten several looks at Caleb Ferguson this year, including twice on video — first, you can watch his full game outing in that aforementioned September 6, 2017 game in the Cal League playoffs, and then further below you can see his pitching mechanics from an open-faced look earlier this year during action at home with Rancho Cucamonga:
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This is what Caleb Ferguson does: he’s a strike-thrower with the ability to locate all three pitches at any time, and he’s fresh off winning the Cal League ERA title by nearly a full run (2.87 to his next closest competition, Visalia‘s Jose Almonte sitting at 3.55). His curveball will draw attention, and it should: as we were quick to note in a previous write-up a couple weeks ago, Ferguson’s hook is the real deal. He can not only spin it with 12-to-6 break to both sides of the plate, but he also understands how to use it to change a hitter’s eye level, and when to play it off his fastball to mess with rhythm and tempo. To that end, Ferguson is one of the more uncomfortable at-bats a hitter can have considering he’s not a flame-thrower with a plus fastball, and it’s a testament to that very tight, very good curveball.
Going forward, Caleb Ferguson ought to be poised to start the 2018 season as a rotation member at Double-A Tulsa. And while the Los Angeles Dodgers do have a lot of pitching prospects ahead of him (at least in the public’s mind), there’s no question after seeing Ferguson work several times this summer that he has the stuff and know-how to stick as a starter. He’ll get ample opportunities to be a back-end rotation arm thanks to his advanced command of all three pitches, and that ‘invisible fastball’ Hilliard references. Ferguson’s ability to follow up a well-spotted curve with a pinpoint fastball—and vice-versa—will give hitters fits in the upper minors. The 2017-18 offseason may begin as early as tonight for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and Caleb Ferguson; hopefully this winter the Los Angeles Dodgers prospect will receive his just due after an exceptional year in High-A.