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Minor Disruption: Robbie Peto signed with Dodgers as undrafted free agent. Now what?

Stetson's Robbie Peto pitches against Florida State on May 8, 2019.
Former Stetson pitcher Robbie Peto signed with the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent in June.
(Gary McCullough / Associated Press)

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories about how the coronavirus shutdown has affected minor league baseball players.

Robbie Peto’s phone started blowing up at his parents’ home in New Jersey the second the clock struck 9 a.m. EDT on June 14. A minute later, he was on the phone with the Dodgers, listening to the first wave of their recruiting pitch from across the country.

The opening question was to the point: Are you interested in signing with us?

Peto’s yes unleashed a full-court press. The undrafted right-handed pitcher out of Stetson was in contact with a different member of the Dodgers organization just about every hour that Sunday. He got on a Zoom call with pitching coordinators. They talked pitching and showed Peto video of himself, pointing out ways he could improve.

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The Toronto Blue Jays went hard after Peto, too, but he decided on Los Angeles by the end of the day. On Tuesday, he signed for $20,000, the maximum bonus available for players not taken in this year’s unprecedented five-round draft. It was an exciting, life-changing moment. He became a professional baseball player. But there’s a hiccup: he doesn’t know what’s next.

Jeff Johnson believes the Skeeters, who have had 25 players sign with major league organizations since 2018, could provide the best springboard.

“I’m not sure what’s gonna happen,” Peto said. “I expect some time in the fall, I guess, I’d be brought out to Arizona and we’ll just go from there.”

Peto is among the thousands of minor leaguers in a holding pattern. With the 2020 minor league season officially canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some will play in the few independent leagues around the country determined to hold a season. But most will not play competitive baseball again for months.

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So instead of reporting to Camelback Ranch, the Dodgers’ spring training facility in Arizona, Peto will remain home for the foreseeable future.

“That’s been the biggest challenge and probably the most awkward part of this thing,” Dodgers amateur scouting director Billy Gasparino said. “Even with our drafted players, it’s, ‘Signed, excited, let’s get to work, we’re going to make you the best version of yourself.’ But then you got to do it at home by yourself right now.”

Peto is the only undrafted free agent the Dodgers have signed, but Gasparino said the club could sign one or two more. First-round pick Bobby Miller and second-round pick Landon Knack might end up joining the Dodgers’ player pool for training camp this month. Peto’s chances are slim.

Peto, 21, began his collegiate career at North Carolina. After a year there, he transferred to State College of Florida. He then played the next two seasons at Stetson. This year, he posted a 1.78 earned-run average with 41 strikeouts and 13 walks in 25 1/3 innings across four starts as a redshirt junior.

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Brandon Lewis, the Dodgers’ fourth-round pick in 2019, has revisited high school, college and youth fields to seek places to work out. He’s found old friends.

Gasparino said Peto, who had heard from the Dodgers during the draft, would have been selected in the next three or four rounds had the draft gone longer. He boasts a fastball in the mid-90s that the Dodgers see as a good foundation. Gasparino said he will have to develop a consistent breaking ball and improve his delivery’s consistency.

Peto had been drafted twice before, by the Angels out of high school in 2016 and by the Tampa Bay Rays last year, so he was familiar with the process in normal times. He knew this year would be anything but normal from the moment the redshirt junior‘s season was canceled in March.

Working out when he returned home was a challenge. New Jersey became a COVID-19 hotspot, forcing gyms to close, and the cold weather made throwing outside every day difficult. He rode his parents’ Peloton bike and did stationary body weight exercises to stay in shape.

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Peto said returning to school was an option at the beginning of the pandemic. He had been accepted to Stetson’s master’s business program and had two years of eligibility remaining. But the chance to play for the Dodgers was too enticing.

His grandfather, Walt, was a Dodgers fan growing up in New Jersey when the franchise was in Brooklyn. Peto and his best friend, Zach Attianese, had dreamt of playing for the Dodgers together.

Former Loyola Marymount infielder Nick Sogard can get sage advice from his MLB-playing cousin Eric Sogard and uncles Steve and Dave Sax, both ex-Dodgers.

The two attended rival high schools but became close and went to play at North Carolina before they transferred together to State College of Florida, where they were roommates. Attianese, a left-handed pitcher, was named the conference player of the year. He had committed to playing at Florida State before he and his father died in a car crash in June 2018.

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June 17 was the two-year anniversary of their deaths so Peto waited until the day before to realize their dreams.

“I had already known I was going to pick Los Angeles,” Peto said. “I just wanted to wait until Tuesday.”


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