If you would have asked me at the end of the season to predict the bullpen for the 2012 season opener, I don’t know that Rafael Dolis would have been on my list. A good spring showing combined with his high ceiling has him in the mix, but who is he and where did he come from?

Who Is Rafael Dolis? – Since most are probably not familiar with who Dolis is, it’s important that we get a quick scouting report on him. This comes from the 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:

The Cubs love to try failed position players on the mound, and their success stories include former catchers Carlos Marmol and Randy Wells. They originally signed Dolis as a shortstop but made him a pitcher before he arrived in the United States in 2006. He hurt his elbow in 2007 and missed 2008 following Tommy John surgery, then claimed a spot on the 40-man roster by hitting 101 mph during instructional league in 2009. Dolis reminds scouts of Marmol, and the similarities became more striking when he became a full-time reliever in 2011. He can make hitters look silly with two pitches, a 93-100 mph fastball with heavy sink and a mid-80′s slider with hard bite. His stuff theoretically should have played up in shorter stints, but Dolis’ strikeout rate dipped to a career-low 5.9 per nine innings. That’s because he focused so much on his command, his biggest shortcoming, that he pounded the bottom of the strike zone and generated tons of ground outs rather than strikeouts. He has a clean high three-quarters delivery that gives him good downward plane with his pitches, but he still needs to throw more strikes. A potential closer if he improves his command, Dolis made his major league debut in late September. He figures to get some Triple-A experience at the start of 2012.

The most exciting parts of that report to me are the velocity as well as the three-quarters delivery. A flamethrower that can get ground balls and can strike guys out. His development could lessen the blow of losing Andrew Cashner, who many thought might end up replacing Marmol in the closer role. This year the bullpen is wide open so there are spots to earn, especially those at the end of the game. We’ve not seen how Svuem uses his relief pitchers as of yet, so it’s hard to make a prediction as to what role Dolis will be used. Even the projections don’t quite know what to do with him. One even predicts him for 12 starts.

I’m not putting a lot of expectations on him. His ceiling is high, but the experience is low. Patience will be the key, but I like the upside.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail