Now that the Dodgers have traded away Albuquerque Isotope “ace” Dana Eveland to Baltimore this offseason, John Ely will be Albuquerque’s number one guy. He will also be the Dodgers number 6 or 7 starting pitcher behind Nathan Eovaldi and even Rubby De La Rosa once he returns from Tommy John surgery. Will John Ely ever gain better control over his pitches and be a reliable big league starter? When he first was called up back in 2010 the answer to this question seemed to be “yes,” but after flailing in subsequent call-ups and being carted back and forth between Los Angeles and Albuquerque quite a few times in the past couple seasons, the answer to this question is now uncertain.
John Daniel Ely was born in 1986 in Harvey, Illinois. Ely was a really good high school pitcher, and had a 27-5 record during his career in school, and he even pitched a perfect game. John went on to attend Miami University. He pitched well during his freshman and sophomore years, and he was drafted in 2007 by the Chicago White Sox in the third round.
Baseball America described Ely in their assessment of him after he was drafted:
Ely is just 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and he has a head jerk in his maximum-effort delivery. His stuff is hard to argue with, however. His 89-94 mph fastball and his vastly improved changeup both qualify as plus pitches, and his curve is an average offering. Though he lacks smooth mechanics, he throws strikes and has a resilient arm that never has given him problems.
Ely began his professional career with the rookie level Great Falls White Sox, starting 16 games and finishing the 2007 year with a 6-1 record and 3.86 ERA. In 2008 John was promoted to the A+ Winston-Salem Warthogs where he pitched in 145.1 innings in 27 starts. He went 10-12 with a 4.71 ERA. His strikeout to walk ratio went from 4.0 to 2.91 when he whiffed 134 batters that season. In 2009 he continued his climb up the ladder of the farm system, and he was placed in AA with the Birmingham Barons. He started in the same amount of games as the season prior (27), and he pitched in 156.1 innings. He had an excellent record of 14-2 and a equally good ERA of 2.82. He struck out 125 batters while walking only 50.
Before the 2010 season, Ely was traded along with pitcher Jon Link to the Dodgers for Juan Pierre. The Dodgers assigned him to the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes as a starting pitcher, where he had a 2-1 record in three starts. He struck out 12 batters in 18 innings of work with a 3.00 ERA that season.
On April 28, 2010 made his MLB debut with the Dodgers and started his first big league game vs. the New York Mets. This begun the period some dubbed “Elymania.” He allowed five runs in 6 innings during his debut. On May 6, his second start, he allowed just 4 hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings vs. the Brewers. Ely went on to win his first game on May 11, 2010 when he allowed only two runs, 6 hits, and no walks while striking out six batter in six innings against the D-backs. On May 22, Ely picked up his third straight victory, but Elymania came to a fast grinding halt. After winning 3 of his first 4 decisions, he then lost 9 of 10 during the remainder of the season. He finished the 2010 season with a 4-10 record and an ERA of 5.49 in 18 games started and 100 innings pitched. He allowed 12 homeruns while striking out 76 and walking 40 batters. He began to pitch wildly and walked 14 batters during his final three starts of the season. This decline was a stark contrast to his amazing start. He was the first pitcher to have three starts of at least 6 innings with no walks out of his first four of his career since Ross Grimsley in 1971. Ely went 89 consecutive batters without a walk.
I attended one of the games Ely pitched in on May 22, 2010 at Dodger Stadium versus the Detroit Tigers. I was excited to see his pitching style. He jumps over the first base line in between innings, and he has his own superstitious routines. He’s a bit twitchy, but when he’s in control he can impress. His fastball isn’t overpowering and averages at about 87 mph, but his changeup is quite good. He pitches his change successfully against lefties when he keeps it located on the outer half of the plate. The Dodgers and John Ely picked up the win with a score of 6-4. Matt Kemp hit a homerun while I was taking my daughter to the bathroom of course. John Ely pitched 6 innings allowing 8 hits, 2 runs, and struck out 3 while walking 1. Hong-Chih Kuo, Ramon Troncoso, and Jeff Weaver came into the game in relief, and Jonathan Broxton picked up his 10th save of the season.
The sequel to Elymania never made it to the big screen or should I say to Dodger Stadium. Ely had a few good starts in Albuquerque in 2011, but he allowed 21 homeruns and had a very high 5.99 ERA. He had one lone start for the Dodgers in 2011 when Jon Garland was forced to pitch a rehab game. Ely lost to now Dodger Aaron Harang in that fateful game back on April 10th. Ely even committed a TOOTBLAN for good measure by getting picked off of second base. Ely only pitched in 12.2 innings for the Dodgers last season.
Ely had never pitched beyond AA level when the Dodgers acquired him in 2010, so his inconsistency could be from sheer lack of experience. When he pitches with control, we can get a glimpse of his ability. Whether he will be able to calm his wildness, and make it into the Majors on a permanent basis remains uncertain. Now that the Dodgers’ starting rotation is basically signed through the next two years, it makes it even more difficult for John Ely to make a breakthrough to pitch for the big club. He also has a returning Rubby De La Rosa, young gun Nathan Eovaldi, and prospects like Chris Withrow and Allen Webster to contend with. It may be that Ely had his moment to prove himself, and unfortunately his inconsistency was his worst enemy. This season in AAA will be important for the young 25-year old Ely in order for him to win another shot in the future. If his wild tendencies aren’t tamed he may just end up shipped out like Dana Eveland