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Gavin Stone set for MLB debut after rapid rise with Dodgers: ‘There’s that bulldog in him’

Pitcher Gavin Stone looks to the left of the camera while posing for a portrait during spring training
Dodgers pitcher Gavin Stone is set to make his MLB debut after a quick rise through the minor-league system.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
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The first time Dodgers minor league pitching director Rob Hill saw Gavin Stone in person, he had a similar impression as most.

The right-hander was undersized, his slight frame belying a generous 6-foot-1, 175-pound listing.

He had a limited college resume, only starting 11 games while serving largely as a reliever at mid-major Central Arkansas.

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And he was selected in the fifth and final round of the pandemic-shortened 2020 MLB draft, so Stone didn’t pop at first glance the same way some other, more highly-touted Dodgers prospects did.

“Everyone, to a man, was like, ‘Dude, he’s really small. Really small,’” Hill recalled. “And the first time I laid eyes on him in spring in 2021, I was like, ‘Whoa. OK. Yeah.’”

The more time Hill and the Dodgers spent around Stone, however, the more they recognized all the other attributes that made the pitcher a potential star.

There was his passionate demeanor — one that has earned him the labels of “assassin,” “bulldog” and “cold-blooded killer” from evaluators in the organization.

There was his polished command — enabling him to attack hitters, fill up the strike zone and finish off at-bats with a wicked pairing of offspeed pitches.

Gavin Stone pulls back to throw the ball from the mound during the Dodgers' spring training
Pitcher Gavin Stone impressed Dodgers leadership during spring training and has earned his first MLB career start.
(Diamond Images/Getty Images)

And there was his fearless, unwavering poise — helping him settle into the minors in 2021; become the club’s most productive farm-system pitcher in 2022; and, after a toe blister contributed to an up-and-down start in triple A this season, get back on track during the last couple weeks to earn his first major league opportunity this week in the Dodgers rotation.

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“He has absolutely zero fear,” Hill said. “He does not give a s— about any hitter. He isn’t afraid.”

The Dodgers will get their first chance to see the 24-year-old on the big-league stage Wednesday, when Stone will start in the team’s series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium.

With the call-up, Stone will become the first member of the team’s 2020 class to reach the majors, the fifth rookie to appear in a game for the team this season and the latest member of a highly-touted pitching pipeline to get an opportunity on the Dodgers MLB roster following the debuts of Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove last year.

“It’s great,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously we’ve seen what he can do on the minor league side. To get him here in this environment during the season, I think, is beneficial in itself.”

There’s little concern among club personnel about how Stone will handle his first major league moment.

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After beginning his career far off any MLB radar, he found a consistent pitch mix to match his cutthroat approach in single A in 2021, leaning heavily on a trademark split-finger changeup while growing more comfortable with his slider as a secondary wipeout weapon.

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In 2022, he earned one quick promotion to double A, then another near the end of the season to triple A, finishing his campaign with a 1.48 ERA across three levels that ranked first among all minor-league pitchers.

“As soon as his body got bigger and more physical, and he began to hold his velo longer into outings, it was like, ‘Oh, he can be this guy for five, six, seven, eight innings,’” Hill said. “He had all the qualities that you would want in a starting pitcher.”

Hill remembered one game in 2021 when, after a rare bad performance with the Dodgers’ single A Rancho Cucamonga affiliate, Stone returned to the dugout, glared stoically out at the field and immediately asked for feedback on his outing.

“I turn and looked at his face, and he was still in the zone,” Hill said. “It was like looking at a shark. … It was just a different sort of look.”

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It’s the same one the organization saw repeatedly last year, when Stone began his stints in both double A and triple A with consecutive scoreless outings.

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“He comes up, end of year, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is really special,’” triple A manager Travis Barbary said during the winter. “His composure, his ability to attack hitters, to not only throw strikes but command the ball, he was not fazed at all.”

It’s also what struck Roberts most about the unassuming, “baby-faced” Arkansas native this spring, when Stone “turned a lot of heads” with his performance in big league camp.

“He looked like he’d been around for a lot longer [than a young prospect,] the way he carried himself,” Roberts said. “There’s a confidence. There’s a curiosity. There’s an openness. And also, when he’s on the mound, there’s that bulldog in him.”

Stone cemented that reputation while navigating some challenges early on this season.

After developing a blister on his right big toe while warming up for his first triple A start, Stone suffered a couple shaky early outings, with the issue impacting his ability to push off the rubber and knocking his mechanics briefly out of whack.

Rather than derail his minor-league rise, though, Stone immediately bounced back once his toe healed, giving up one run in almost 10 innings during his last two starts before getting the call to come to Los Angeles this week.

“No matter what,” Hill said, “he’s the same guy.”

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While this first MLB opportunity may only be temporary — the Dodgers summoned Stone so they could reshuffle their rotation, moving Dustin May back a couple days to pitch this weekend against the San Diego Padres — Stone has seemingly moved toward the top of the organization’s minor-league starting pitching depth chart.

Grove and Pepiot are currently on the injured list. Bobby Miller, the only pitcher ahead of Stone in MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the Dodgers farm system, only recently made his season debut in triple A.

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It will make Stone’s start on Wednesday part audition, but also part test-run, in case he’s needed again in the near future because of a potential injury.

Two years ago, it’s a position few would have expected the right-hander to be in.

But now, his once longshot chance of a future in the big league is suddenly looking like an inevitability.

“This is something we’ve all been anticipating,” Roberts said. “I think I can speak for everyone in the clubhouse. We’re excited for Gavin, and it’s gonna be a fun day for Dodger nation.”

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