Righthander Dylan Axelrod has had quite the atypical path to prospectdom, but he’s certainly proof that you can only pitch so well for so long before getting on the radar screen.
Originally a 30th-round pick of the Padres in 2007, Axelrod had a solid career at UC-Irvine, mostly as a relief pitcher. And in 2007 and 2008, he pitched about as well as you’d expect a solid college pitcher to fare in low-level minor league ball. In 2007-08, Axelrod struck out 110 batters while walking just 34 in 109 2/3 innings, exclusively in relief.
However, due to his low draft status, Axelrod was on the brink of expendability his entire tenure with the Padres, and a mediocre first twelve innings of 2009 in High-A (six earned runs, five walks, six strikeouts) was enough to get him released.
Nearing his 24th birthday and boasting a merely pedestrian three-pitch mix, Axelrod wasn’t the sort of prospect one would put one’s money on to make a pro ball comeback, although his statistics with the Padres did offer some promise. But Axelrod, clearly unwilling to call it a career, moved to Windy City of the Frontier League for the 2009 season. In eight starts and fourteen relief appearances, the rigthander posted a 2.21 ERA and struck out almost a batter per inning yet again–enough to get him a look with the White Sox’s Low-A affiliate in Kannapolis.
After two relief appearances there, Axelrod received two promotions–one to High-A Winston-Salem, and another to the starting rotation. And in his first five starts of pro ball, Axelrod didn’t disappoint, posting a 1.91 ERA to close out his season.
That still didn’t make him a prospect, since his strikeout rate wasn’t particularly good, and he was, of course, a 24-year-old short righthander with average stuff in a pitcher’s league.
Working as a swingman with Winston-Salem the following year, however, Axelrod finally did enough to get a few people (including me) to notice him. He posted a 1.99 ERA and 84/12 K/BB ratio, which is enough to at least give evaluators a reason to look at him, despite his age, height, and environment. The White Sox, apparently suitably convinced that Axelrod was worth prioritizing, gave him two Double-A starts to end the year, and Axelrod pitched solidly there as well.
Now 25, Axelrod opened 2011 in Double-A Birmingham’s rotation, and he’s responded by posting the highest strikeout rate of his starting pitcher career, whiffing 52 batters in 50 innings as a starter (he also made two relief appearances). In those 50 innings as a starter, Axelrod walked just 12 and allowed only one home run, so clearly, his success in Winston-Salem was not entirely park-driven.
And with that body of work behind him, Axelrod was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte today. He’s got an extensive track record of success, with a 285/72 K/BB and 3.08 ERA in his minor league career, and despite the fact that he turns 26 in seven weeks, he shouldn’t be discounted as a potential fourth or fifth starter or solid relief pitcher. He’s not a physically imposing or purely overpowering pitcher, but a knack for hitting his spots, decent velocity, and a good slider is enough reason to believe that he’s got a chance at major league success.
It’s always nice to see that someone facing long odds was able to overcome them. While Dylan Axelrod still has his work cut out for him in the International League, it’s impressive that he’s made it this far, and more impressive still that he has a realistic shot of going much further.