The state of California is loaded with baseball talent at every position. The current top-50 players for this June’s First-Year Player Draft includes three kids in the top ten from the state. The Atlanta Braves have California talent in players like Max Fried and Rio Ruiz. Right-handed pitcher Caleb Dirks joins them from the wild, wild west.
Caleb Dirks – RHP, Atlanta Braves
Born in Arcadia, California, Caleb Dirks attended Woodcrest Christian High School with Trevor Oaks of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dirks took his skills to the next level at California Baptist University, where he earned the attention of MLB scouts.
Now 23, DIrks is an interesting talent in that his arm never stood out from the rest of the college ranks. As a freshman in 2012, he walked five and struck out four on the way to giving up five runs in just five innings. Dirks’ sophomore season saw him give seven starts in 12 appearances. He threw 35 innings for a 4.63 ERA, walking 19 and striking out 38.
He put it all together as a junior. Coming to the mound strictly from the bullpen, Dirks threw 41 innings in 23 appearances. The reborn righty earned eight saves for his team, as he struck out 52 and walked 15. He finished the season with a 2.85 ERA, and gave up just one home run in 2014.
Dirks was drafted in the 15th round by the Braves in 2014, stepping away from a California Baptist team that went 39-15 on the season, at one point winning 15 games in a row. Coming into minor league ball on a high note has served Caleb Dirks well. The Californian has not slowed down since his first professional appearance with the Advanced-Rookie level Danville Braves.
Beginning the Climb
As a righty who mostly makes a radar gun glow in the low-90’s, Caleb Dirks is admittedly a dime-a-dozen talent on the surface. His play does not back up that assumption. He went to work in the minor leagues, determined to show he’s an arm worth keeping around. Benjamin Chase of Tomahawk Take has watched him a few times, and noted how his motion lends to his dominance.
“Dirks has an interesting motion that leads to some deception in his delivery. He works out of the stretch exclusively, but he picks up his left leg to about his chest, but then he kicks it out in front of him straight and brings it around slowly toward the plate, and just as it gets in front of him, he lunges forward with a pitch.”
Atlanta started him off at Danville, as they do with many of their college talents. In 9.1 innings, Dirks gave up just one run while striking out 16 and walking three. He kicked off his career with an 0.96 ERA at his first minor league stop. The Braves brought him up to Single-A Rome to finish his 2014. With a 2.74 ERA in 23 innings, Dirks showed the organization early that he’s not going to stay anywhere long.
The 2015 season started with Dirks again at Single-A. He played in only six games at Rome before being bumped to Advanced-A Carolina, packing a 1.80 ERA with him. It was at this point where it wasn’t just Atlanta who saw value in his abilities. Other franchises had started to take notice of his performance. Dirks’ Carolina days were ended by a trade that sent him to the Dodgers
Dirks’ time with the Carolina Mudcats was incredible. He threw 16.2 innings in 11 games. He didn’t give up a single run in that span, despite walking 13 and striking out 18. His last appearance with the team was a perfect goodbye. It was a 27-pitch (21 strikes), two-inning save, featuring four strikeouts and just one hit.
A Series of Crafty Trades
In order for Atlanta to come up with the cash to sign international players like Cristian Pache, the Braves had to give up some valuable talent for the Dodgers to surrender their international bonus pool slot. In what ultimately proved to be an artful transaction, Atlanta traded Caleb Dirks and Jordan Paroubeck to LA in return for international slot No. 87, worth $249,000.
So basically #Dodgers bought 4 prospects (Dirks, DeJong, Locastro, Paroubeck) from Jays/Braves for about $1.3m in additional bonus tax
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) July 3, 2015
In just over a year with the Braves organization, Dirks had made his way through the Advanced-Rookie, Single-A, and Advanced-A levels. He finished the 2015 season at Double-A Tulsa with the Dodgers. Dirks’ collective 2015 was nothing if not impressive. Through all levels, he held an 0.90 ERA in 50 innings, walking 22 and striking out 64.
Moving to a new organization did nothing to slow progress. The Dodgers had Dirks repeat Double-A to start 2016, a sensible move considering his dominance had always been accompanied by poor walk rates. Now that it had been proven Dirks could get batters out, it was time to focus more on his control and limiting walks. Dirks quickly bested that task, just as he had any other so far. His 1.44 ERA in 31.1 IP was nothing new, but a 2.0 BB/9 was his best in a sample size greater than just 10 innings.
Unfortunately for Los Angeles, an injury to Clayton Kershaw brought an immediate need for a starting pitcher. A hot Bud Norris in Atlanta was a good fit, and General Manager John Coppolella made sure to take advantage. The Dodgers traded Dirks and lefty starter Phil Pfeifer, who carries a 60-grade power curve/fastball combination and an 80-grade name, to Atlanta in return for Norris and a salary dump in outfielder Dian Toscano.
Philip Pfeifer fulfills fantastic dream of flinging fastballs for @mbraves. He’s two floors from flying first class for games
— Braves Options Guy (@BravesOptions) July 29, 2016
Philip Pfeifer’s first foray for this franchise lasted fifteen pitches and followed a fine first few innings from Povse.
— gondeee (@gondeee) July 3, 2016
Expect more of that this season.
Back to ATL
With Caleb Dirks back home, the story of the dominant 2019 Atlanta Braves bullpen continues. After the trade, John Coppolella made clear the franchise was never comfortable letting him go to begin with.
“We didn’t want to trade Caleb Dirks last year. He was traded for a foreign bonus-pool slot…. We had some players that we had signed and if we didn’t make that trade they would’ve signed with other teams. So we had to give away somebody that we really liked, and we’re very happy to get him back in the Braves organization.”
The organization thought it appropriate to keep Dirks in Double-A. His walks crept up again, but the 29.2 innings of work Dirks gave for the Mississippi Braves were excellent. Only three earned runs crossed the plate with him on the mound. An 0.91 ERA en route to a Southern League title game appearance capped Dirks’ quick ascension through each level of the minor leagues.
After an encouraging spring showing, in which Dirks made two appearances, he was assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett to begin 2017. His two spring appearances put him at 1.1 innings pitched, with a hit and one strikeout. He managed to make it into the Opening Day game on April 6, throwing two scoreless innings with a hit, a walk, and three strikeouts in a 10-8 loss to the Durham Bulls.
What Lies Ahead
Caleb Dirks is currently stashed away in Triple-A, with the major league team wearing a big question mark on its bullpen. Chaz Roe was awarded the last right-handed spot in the bullpen, a decision made very close to Opening Day. He has struggled to start the season, giving up four runs in two innings through three games. Roe may be out a job if the trend continues, as he is out of options.
In the occurrence that Roe is no longer in the pen, it’s possible that Dirks will be brought to Atlanta. There are a handful of other moves the front office is likely to make first, but if the last couple of years have proven anything, it’s that this regime is full of surprises. Dirks’ call to Atlanta is no longer an “if”; it’s a “when.” Whether or not the pen continues to struggle, Caleb Dirks is likely to see SunTrust Park first-hand at some point in the season.
It’s fun to imagine an Atlanta bullpen made up of Dirks, A.J. Minter, Akeel Morris, Mauricio Cabrera, and Arodys Vizcaino. They have each been impressive in their own right, and it could happen as early as next season. Throw possible moves to the pen for Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz on top of the unknowns for just about every pitcher in the Braves’ farm, and the bullpen’s future is very bright. Dirks will certainly be in it.