03 May, 2023
He only made 11 starts in his collegiate career, spending the most of his time at Central Arkansas, a mid-major, as a reliever.
Stone didn’t immediately stand out as one of the top Dodgers prospects since he was chosen in the fifth and final round of the pandemic-shortened 2020 MLB draft.
“To a man, everyone said, ‘Dude, he’s extremely little. Really small’,” Hill remembered. And I was like, “Whoa,” the first time I saw him in the spring of 2021. OK. Yeah.’”
But the more time Hill and the Dodgers spent with Stone, the more they became aware of all the other qualities that could make the pitcher a 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.
He could attack batters, flood the strike zone, and end at-bats with a devastating combination of off-speed deliveries thanks to his refined command.
And then there was his fearless, unflappable poise, which helped him adjust to life in the minor leagues in 2021, develop into the team’s most productive farm system pitcher in 2022, and, after a toe blister caused him to have an up-and-down start in triple A this season, get back on track during the last few weeks to secure his first chance in the big league this week in the Dodgers rotation.
“He has absolutely zero fear,” Hill said. “He does not give a s— about any hitter. He isn’t afraid.”
The 24-year-old will make his major league debut for the Dodgers on Wednesday when he starts the team’s series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium.
With the call-up, Stone will become the first player from the 2020 class of the team to make it to the majors, the fifth rookie to play for the team this year, and the most recent addition to the Dodgers’ highly-touted pitching pipeline to get a chance on the MLB roster after Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove’s debuts last year.
Manager Dave Roberts stated, “It’s great.” We are aware of his abilities in the lesser leagues. I believe it is advantageous in and of itself for him to be here during this time in this setting.
The club staff is not very worried about how Stone will react to his first significant league situation.
After spending the first part of his career outside the radar of any MLB team, he discovered a consistent pitch mix in single A in 2021, relying largely on a signature split-finger changeup while becoming more at ease with his slider as a backup wipeout weapon.
He received two rapid promotions to double A and triple A at the close of the 2022 season, completing the year with a 1.48 ERA across all three levels, which was the lowest among all minor league pitchers.
“Oh, he can be this guy for five, six, seven, or eight innings,” Hill remarked, “as soon as his body got bigger and more physical and he began to hold his velo longer into outings.” “He had all the qualities that you would want in a starting pitcher.””
Hill recalled one game in 2021 when Stone, the Dodgers’ single-A affiliate in Rancho Cucamonga, came to the bench after a sporadic poor effort, gazed stoically out at the field, and then asked for criticism on his performance.
Hill remarked, “I turned and glanced at his face, and he was still in the zone. It was similar to staring at a shark. Simply said, it had a distinctive appearance.
The team regularly witnessed it last year as Stone started his assignments in double A and triple A with back-to-back shutout innings.
“Oh my gosh, this guy is really special,” triple A manager Travis Barbary stated during the winter. He comes up at the end of the year. His poise, his ability to attack batters, his command of the ball in addition to throwing strikes, all showed that he was unfazed by anything.
This spring, when Stone “turned a lot of heads” with his performance in big league camp, Roberts said that is also what stood out to him most about the unassuming, “baby-faced” Arkansas native.
The way he held himself gave the impression that he had been around for much longer than a young potential, according to Roberts. There is assurance. There is an interest. An openness is present. Additionally, he has a bulldog streak when he’s on the mound.
While overcoming some difficulties in the early part of this season, Stone solidified that reputation.
Stone had a couple difficult early outings after suffering a blister on his right big toe while warming up for his first triple A start. The problem affected his ability to push off the rubber and momentarily threw his mechanics out of sync.
After his toe healed, however, Stone quickly recovered, giving up just one run in nearly 10 innings over his final two starts before getting the call to come to Los Angeles this week. This prevented Stone from derailing his ascent through the minor leagues.
Hill remarked that “he’s the same guy no matter what.”
Stone has appeared to move to the top of the organization’s minor-league starting pitching depth chart, even though this first MLB opportunity may only be temporary. The Dodgers called Stone up so they could rearrange their rotation, pushing Dustin May back a couple days to pitch this weekend against the San Diego Padres.
Currently out injured are Grove and Pepiot. In MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the Dodgers farm system, Bobby Miller is the only pitcher ahead of Stone despite having only recently made his season debut in triple A.
Stone’s debut on Wednesday will serve as both an audition and a test run in case he is required again soon due to an injury.
Few people would have predicted the right-hander to be in this situation two years ago.
However, his once remote possibility of making the major leagues now seems inevitable.
We’ve all been looking forward to this, Roberts added. In the clubhouse, I believe I can speak for everyone. It will be a fantastic day for Dodger Nation, and we are delighted for Gavin.