It was around this time in the Dodgers’ spring training last year that Tyler Anderson walked through the door.
The team had no openings in the starting rotation. And Anderson, a veteran lefty trying to extend his career, was given no guarantees other than a long-relief assignment in an already stacked bullpen.
The move seemed small, if not redundant, then.
But within weeks, Anderson’s addition became one of the biggest factors in the Dodgers’ 111-win campaign.
That’s the nature of the Major League Baseball season. The initial bumps almost always hurt. Opening day rotations will almost certainly change. And often, a team’s performance can be defined by how well it can rely on its overall depth of practice.
That’s why the Dodgers signed Anderson last year, and then breathed a sigh of relief as he became an All-Star-caliber anchor for a struggling pitching staff. It was like a de facto insurance policy, and it proved worth every bit of the $8 million premium it took to sign it.
This year, the team could make a similar move.
While they have five established starters, nearly all of them have injury concerns or workload limitations. After Anderson and Andrew Heaney left in free agency, acquiring another veteran swingman could make sense.
The Dodgers, however, are going in a different direction with their pitching staff this season.
They have a young core of four highly touted prospects—Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove, Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller—and will rely on some combination of them to help bolster the rotation throughout the season.
Dodgers prospect Bobby Miller made his National League debut in the All-Star Futures game at Dodger Stadium in 2022.
(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
The first chance may come sooner than expected. Tony Gonsolin’s Opening Day status is unclear this week after spraining his ankle as he walked the diamond. A door could be open for him to start in his place at the start of the regular season.
As a result, what was already an intriguing subplot for camp is taking on even more meaning, putting a quartet of largely unproven promising arms into an ever-brighter spotlight just three weeks after the March 30 opener.
“They’re going to have a chance,” manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s a good thing for individuals and for the organization as well, to promote it from within.”
Dodgers minor league pitching manager Rob Hill is proud when he talks about the growth of the team’s four young arms.
When Hill was hired by the Dodgers before the 2020 season, each was embarking on his own professional career – Grove as a 2018 second-round pick who had recently recovered from Tommy John surgery, Pepiot as a third-round pick. the previous summer, and Miller and Stone would soon be first- and fifth-round additions in that year’s draft class.
Before long, it was clear that their careers would follow similar paths. And like others around the organization, Hill was quick to acknowledge that they could all be MLB-ready at the same time.
“It’s been really cool to see their growth,” Hill said. “It almost seems like they got more boring, if that makes sense. They really learned about their craft, what they do so well. And they continued relentlessly and relentlessly. It was very fun to watch.”
Gavin Stone was the Dodgers’ 2022 minor league player of the year.
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Pepiot and Grove have paced the team, getting their first taste of life in the big leagues with multiple call-ups last season.
Pepiot was called up for three outings in May, one in July and three more in August. His surface numbers were good, with a 3.47 ERA in 36 ⅓ innings (he made two long relief appearances in September). And there were flashes of his sky-high potential, brief moments where he mixed his deceptive fastball with his trademark bite.
“When I was on the field, I was successful,” Pepiot said. “Seeing that gave me some confidence.”
It also gave him some motivation in his offseason.
In most starts, Pepiot struggled with consistency and command. He missed too many pitches on the arm side of the plate. He couldn’t find a good feel for a slider he worked on last season. And he ended the season satisfied with his delivery.
So this winter, he tried to up his game.
He focused on cleaning up his mechanics, especially his two-seam and changeup to better position. He established a more traditional slider shape with enough right-to-left movement to keep hitters guessing.
The early returns have been promising, highlighted by one earned run in three Cactus League games and, more importantly, just one walk and nine strikeouts in six innings.
If Gonsolin’s sprained ankle makes it through opening day, it looks like Pepiot will get the nod in his place.
“Knowing the delivery he’s landed and continues to improve gives him confidence that will allow him to compete at a higher level,” Hill said. “He’s in a great place with all those things.”
Michael Grove started six games for the Dodgers in 2022, including one against the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 14.
(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)
Grove has taken similar steps this spring.
After his up-and-down debut campaign — he posted a 4.60 ERA in seven big league outings (six starts) after initially being called up directly from Double-A — the 26-year-old righty has shown just as impressive offseason gains. .
His fastball is up a couple of ticks, averaging 94.4 mph last year. He added more spin and movement to his slider and curveball, which he hopes will help him strike out more batters in the upcoming season in the majors.
“I could have gone either way,” Grove said. “Throw (my breaking pitches) harder or get something with a little more spin and a little more shape. I went with that route, and I played with the handle and made an arrangement that way.’
Stone and Miller have yet to make their major league debuts, but could be ready at some point this season.
Miller, who has yet to work out in a spring game because of a slower ramp up in camp, may have the rawest stuff of any prospect in the organization.
His fastball flirts with triple figures. He can get winded with his slider, curveball and changeup. In his third triple A near the end of last season, he struck out 14 batters in six innings.
The stone, however, today seems to be the more polished of the two.
After being taken with the second pick in the pandemic-shortened 2020 draft and struggling in Class A through 2021, Stone entered last season as the Dodgers’ minor league player of the year.
He led all minor leaguers with a 1.48 ERA, advanced to triple-A (where he posted his best numbers of the year) and so far this camp has drawn high praise for Roberts.
“Gavin is talked about a lot,” Roberts said. “It’s opened a lot of eyes.”
There is an undeniable risk to the Dodgers’ pitching depth plan this season.
For all the promise and potential of their top-four prospects — as well as other younger arms who could contribute if needed this season, such as Andre Jackson — they’re still putting a lot of faith in pitchers with little or no major league track record. the record
They are playing in a team that offers no guarantees.
And he’s quietly looming as a potential pivot to the team’s destiny.
Ryan Pepiot’s major league debut was on May 11, 2022 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
(Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
The Dodgers explored other options this winter. They were linked to Seth Lugo before he signed with the San Diego Padres. They checked in with the Miami Marlins before dealing Pablo Lopez to the Minnesota Twins.
They’ll always be able to explore the market around the trade deadline, though their offense is likely to be in more dire need in the wake of Gavin Lux’s season-ending injury.
For now, they’re relying on their current starting five — Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, Noah Syndergaard and Gonsolin — and the growing wave of talent behind them.
“You kind of evaluate the market and the potential benefit of taking him out of the organization versus what we had in him, and I think we figured it out,” said Roberts, adding that the Dodgers have successfully integrated past prospects such as Urías and Walker Buehler into their rotations. .
“I think the floor is higher than people perceive because of the talent of those minor league arms,” Roberts added.
General manager Brandon Gomes expressed similar optimism, saying he expects the team’s young players to thrive throughout the season, regardless of how soon big-league opportunities arise.
“I think each of them has different things that they need to improve on before they become impact major leaguers, but they also have different real strengths,” Gomes said. “We’ll see how things go. As always, I feel like we’re going to use quite a few pitchers. So I think they will have the opportunity to go out and continue to develop and grow.”
And perhaps there is no bigger believer than Hill, who has seen everything from rookie projects blossom to promising prospects knocking on the door of big-league opportunities.
“They’ve shown all the things a big-league pitcher needs,” he said. “Staying on the field. Adaptability with game plan, pitching and delivery. And just the toughness to function and last. I think they have all shown that they can cope.”
This year, for better or worse, the Dodgers might not have to wait long to start finding out.