On Sunday afternoon, Brock Stewart will start for the Dodgers against the Cubs. Later that evening, in Oklahoma City, Jose De Leon will pitch for the Dodgers’ triple-A affiliate.
Stewart has made two starts in the majors this season, lasted nine innings and given up 14 runs. De Leon has given up four runs in his last three outings while striking out 27 batters in 21 innings. Stewart started this season as a relative unknown in Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. With Julio Urias in the majors, De Leon can be considered the team’s top pitching prospect.
So why is Stewart in Los Angeles and De Leon in Oklahoma City? The answer is complicated but simple: Stewart is on the team’s 40-man roster, while De Leon is not.
Due to a record-setting number of injuries, the Dodgers face a 40-man roster crunch in September. There are currently four players on the 60-day disabled list – Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier, Alex Wood and Trayce Thompson – who could be activated for the season’s final month. For each player, the team must pluck another man off the roster to clear room.
Given the uncertainty of the situation – as few as one or as many as all four may return – that means the value of each spot on the 40-man roster can be considered more precious than usual. The Dodgers prize roster flexibility, and do not want to sacrifice assets.
In a vacuum, the Dodgers consider De Leon to be a better prospect than Stewart. But the organization’s opinion of the gap between the two differs from the public’s.
Fans might only remember Stewart’s two starts in the majors, when he gave up five runs in Milwaukee and nine runs in Colorado. The Dodgers still recall how Stewart logged three solid innings of emergency relief against Pittsburgh on Aug. 14. And Stewart has dominated triple-A hitters, posting a 2.49 earned-run average in nine starts in the Pacific Coast League. De Leon has a 2.86 ERA in 15 outings.
So the team had to decide. Is one start from De Leon worth losing a player on the 40-man roster? Is he that much better than Stewart? The Dodgers answered the questions with their assignments. Stewart will start on Sunday in the majors. De Leon will remain in the minors.