Acquired from the Dodgers on Wednesday, De Jong reported to the Mariners on Thursday morning.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Chase De Jong’s commute to his new job on Thursday morning took a little longer than usual. Instead of the 5-minute drive to the Dodgers’ spring training facility at Camelback Ranch from his apartment, he headed north to Peoria on the 101 Loop North.
The added time to his new commute? About 10 minutes.
“I asked them what time they were serving breakfast, and I said I will see you then,” he joked. The modified commute didn’t quite represent how much De Jong’s world changed in less than 24 hours.
On Wednesday morning, he was a pitching prospect for the Dodgers — the team he adored growing up in Long Beach. The next morning, he was introducing himself to his new teammates in the Mariners organization.
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The Mariners acquired the 23-year-old right-hander on Wednesday evening in a trade that sent minor league infielder Drew Jackson and right-handed pitcher Aneurys Zabala in return.
“He’s a player we’ve tried to acquire multiple times dating back to last July,” said general manager Jerry Dipoto. “So this was just a culmination of what I think is hard work to try to drag him in.”
De Jong was admittedly shocked when he was notified of the trade. He’d just pitched in a Cactus League game days before.
“Being open and honest, being a kid from Southern California, it did sting a little bit,” De Jong said. “But that hurt was very short-lived, knowing the opportunity here is much more prevalent. I think I’ll be able to help this team out.”
His minor league numbers, specifically last season are impressive.
De Jong posted 15-5 record and 2.82 ERA in 26 starts combined with Class AA Tulsa (14-5, 2.86 in 25 games started) and Class AAA Oklahoma City (1-0, 1.69 in one start) in 2016. He struck out a combined 133 batters in 147.0 innings pitched, while walking only 40. He was named the Texas League Pitcher of the Year and was also selected as an overall “Double A All-Star” by Baseball America.
“It’s hard to argue that he wasn’t the best pitcher in Double A last year,” Dipoto said. “Across the board. He struck them out. He didn’t walk them. He suppressed runs, and he won games — it’s a pretty good combination.”
De Jong is slotted for the starting rotation in Class AAA Tacoma, providing more controllable starting pitching depth on the 40-man roster.
“My strong thing is that I can cover innings,” he said. “I know that’s valuable. I know that’s what I’m bringing to the table. So I’m looking forward to just being ready when the opportunity presents itself that I can go up and help out a team.”
Asked to describe how he pitched, De Jong was pretty frank.
“I throw a lot of strikes,” he said. “I throw four or five different pitches. Honestly, my stuff is not going to wow you, but I am going to go out there and I compete as well as anybody. You can expect me to cover my innings and take some stress off the bullpen whenever I can.”
Opposing scouts have had similar descriptions about De Jong’s stuff and repertoire. Dipoto shrugged it off.
“I disagree with it,” he said. “We see pitchers differently than maybe your ordinary scout. Chase De Jong, Andrew Moore, Max Povse are all three cut from a very similar cloth. Polished strike throwing means something. You pile up enough of those guys, someone is going to wind up being a third starter and someone is going to wind up being a fourth starter and one will wind up being a durable innings guys. Not every guy is going to be a drive-by marquee name. These are the guys that have a chance to take the middle spots of your rotation and get you through the long season as strike throwers that know how to manage at-bats.”
As he is known to do, Dipoto pulled a comparison.
“Lo and behold, one day Kyle Hendricks turns into Kyle Hendricks,” Dipoto said referencing the Cubs’ pitcher, who went 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA last season. “And every scout in the world is wearing egg on their face because sometimes guys like that turn into Greg Maddux.”
De Jong’s breakthrough season at the Class AA level came with a new to pitch to go with his fastball variations, curveball, slider and changeup. He added a cut fastball with the help of Tulsa pitching coach Bill Simas.
“I’m a fly-ball pitcher,” he said. “Developing a cutter last year at the halfway point with Billy Simas has helped me become more of a ground-ball pitcher. But I understand Safeco is pretty friendly to fly-ball pitchers, which is nice to hear.”
Why a cutter? Well, it stemmed from a conversation with Simas midway through last season.
“I said, I feel like I’m doing against righties but not very good against lefties,” De Jong said. “He looked it up and I think righties were hitting .170 off me and lefties were hitting .240, so that’s pretty drastic.”
They looked at the video and the numbers and found that De Jong wasn’t working inside on lefties very effectively.
“I didn’t really like throwing my breaking balls in there,” he said. “We got comfortable back-footing the slider to lefties. But it was developing that cutter and going in under the hands of lefties. I think by the end of the season, both of those averages against were right around .180 or .190. I was able to equal the playing field on that and change my repertoire so I wasn’t so predictable. The cutter was huge for me. Feeling as comfortable with it as quick as I did, it was a huge part of my season for me.”
De Jong will work as a starter this spring and is scheduled to pitch in Sunday’s split squad games, likely against the A’s