The Dodgers received some unwelcome news last week entering the All-Star Game Tony Gonsolin rolled his left ankle during a pitcher’s practice. He was diagnosed with a sprain and couldn’t put much weight on the leg for a few days.
Manager Dave Roberts told reporters yesterday that Gonsolin has started throwing again (via Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register). He has progressed to a long toss-up from 120 feet, but has yet to return to the mound. With Opening Day two weeks away, it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll have to go on the 15-day injured list.
If that proves to be the case, the Dodgers will have to add someone to the rotation to start the season back Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Dustin May. Los Angeles doesn’t have the luxury that some clubs have of multiple built-in days off early in the year. They are scheduled to play on 13 of the first 14 days and 24 of the first 26 days of the regular season. Unless the club wants to cover some starts through bullpen games, it will need a fifth baseman if Gonsolin is unavailable.
Possible Front Runners
Ryan Pepiot25, with two minor league option years remaining
Pepiot looks the favorite for the job. He started seven of his first nine major league games last season, working to a 3.47 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. Pepiot struck out an above-average 26.3% of his opponents, but his 16.9% walk rate was untenable for a player hoping to stay in a rotation. He showed more serviceable control in the minors, walking 9.8% of the batters he faced with a career-high 30.9% strikeout rate and a 2.56 ERA in 91 1/3 frames for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
A former third-round pick, Pepiot has developed into one of the best pitching prospects in the sport. The Butler product has a wipeout changeup and plus spin on a fastball that averaged just under 94 MPH last season. Evaluators have expressed fear of his breaking ball and especially the consistency of his shots. However, he is an exciting young pitcher with success in the upper minors who has shown a decent ability to miss bats early at the major league level. He’s not a complete product, but he could be able to provide the Dodgers with some solid starts with fill-in potential.
Michael Grove26, two options remain
A second-round pick in the 2018 draft, Grove overcame some injury concerns early in his career to reach the majors last year. He started six of his first seven major league games, posting a 4.60 ERA through 29 1/3 frames. That came with a modest 18% strikeout rate and a lot of hard contact. The 6’3″ righty did a good job throwing strikes, however, limiting the walks to about an average 7.5% clip.
Like Pepiot, Grove had a solid 2022 campaign in a player-friendly Pacific Coast League. He posted a 4.07 ERA in 59 2/3 Triple-A frames, striking out 26.7% of the batters he faced against an 8.2% walk rate. Grove held right-handed batters to a major league-leading .213/.266/.368 line over 263 plate appearances. Lefties, on the other hand, hit at a .279/.344/.541 clip in 192 trips to the plate. It was a similar story at the MLB level. Righties hit .241/.293/.389 in his limited appearances, while lefties managed a .275/.333/.522 slash.
Grove doesn’t changeup, relying on a fastball/slider/curveball combination. Prospect evaluators have raised questions about his ability to handle left-handed hitters without a pitch getting away from them. That has led to concern about whether he can stick in a long-term MLB rotation, though the Dodgers could match him up against right-handed-heavy teams like Colorado and the Cubs in the first two weeks of the season.
Gavin Stone24, is not yet on the 40-man roster
Stone fell to the fifth round in the 2020 draft. That now looks like a coup, as the Central Arkansas product is a top 100 prospect in lists from Baseball America, FanGraphs, The Athletic and ESPN. He’s now the second-best pitching prospect in the organization (more on that in a minute) after a completely dominant minor league season. Across three levels, he combined for a 1.92 ERA with an elite 33.9% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate in 121 2/3 innings. That culminated in six Triple-A outings, in which he allowed just six runs over 23 1/3 innings.
It now seems a matter of when, not if, Stone will make his big league debut this season. Evaluators credit the 6’1″ righty with a mid-90s fastball and one of the best changeups in the minor leagues and suggest he could be a mid-rotation arm in the near future. He doesn’t have a lot of Triple-A experience and isn’t in the 40s yet, so the simplest move would be to send him back to Oklahoma City to open the season. Given his dominance in the minor leagues, there’s at least an argument to immediately peg him over Pepiot and Grove, even if it took a 40-man roster move to do so.
Bobby Miller23, is not yet on the 40-man roster
The Dodgers’ first-round pick in that ’20 draft class, Miller rose through the minor league ranks and now ranks among the best prospects in the sport. The Louisville product had a 4.45 ERA over 20 outings for Double-A Tulsa last season. That’s not the most impressive mark, but it seems the product of an unlucky 62.5% clone rate. Miller struck out an outstanding 30.5% of opponents, induced groundouts at a quality 48.2% clip and held his walks to 8.1%. He earned a late-season shutout in Oklahoma City, where he posted career-high strikeout and ground ball marks in four outings.
He is now almost universally regarded as the organization’s best pitching prospect and a top-50 minor league talent overall. The righty draws unanimous praise for a low-90s fastball, a pair of strong pitches and an advanced changeup. Miller’s command is still a work in progress, but there’s no doubt the arsenal can play against major league hitters.
Miller does not appear to be an option for the season rotation. Roberts told reporters last week that he was building slowly to keep up with his workload and was unlikely to participate in a spring training game (relayed by Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times). It will almost certainly be in the majors sometime in 2023.
Further down depth chart
Andre Jackson26, one choice remains
Jackson has never started a major league game, coming out of the bullpen in all seven of his MLB appearances since 2021-22. The Utah product served as a starter in the minors, starting 19 of 21 outings with Oklahoma City last year. He allowed exactly five earned runs per nine innings in Triple-A. Jackson had pretty decent strikeout and groundout numbers, but he struck out an astronomical 17.2% of opposing hitters.
That put him behind Pepiot and Grove on the depth chart. Jackson being on the 40-man roster, however, seemingly helps him compared to the non-roster invitees in camp. He has reached what would be his final option year, so he will need to improve his control soon if he wants to earn an extended MLB appearance in Los Angeles.
Dylan Covey/Robbie Erlin
Both Covey and Erlin have major league experience and are in camp as non-roster veterans. Erlin, 32, was hit hard in 77 innings with Oklahoma City last season. Covey, 31, returned stateside after two solid years in Taiwan’s top league. Covey, in particular, is off to a good start in camp. He struck out eight without a walk over six innings. Still, neither seems likely to beat out the younger arms in the organization for a rotation look to start the season.
Nick Nastrini/Landon Knack
Nastrini and Knack are both fairly recent college draft picks who reached Double-A last season. They are each among mid-range prospects in a strong LA system and flash the potential that has been missing with Tulsa. Both pitchers could eventually get an MLB look, though neither can be considered for a job out of camp. They’re not yet in their 40s and they haven’t made it to Triple-A yet.
The Dodgers again have some exciting pitching prospects, two of whom have already gotten a taste from the majors. Pepiot and Grove would therefore be the safest options to take the last rotation spot if Gonsolin is unable to start the season, but they are not as popular as Miller and Stone. The latter two figure to take the Dodger Stadium mound sometime in 2023, the next in a long line of pitching talent to come through the system.