Why Gavin Stone is ready to contribute in the big leagues

Cam Bonelli/Hattiesburg American, Hattiesburg American via Imagn Content Services, LLC
Stone could end up playing an important role for the Dodgers in 2023.

So far in the offseason, the Dodgers have yet to do much of anything. The departures of Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney have left a hole in their starting rotation that will need to be filled. Although they are likely to find a major-league option before spring training, Gavin Stone is among prospects waiting for a chance, and he might find himself in Los Angeles the soonest.

It was a historic 2022 season for Stone. Just his second year in professional ball, he began in High-A, where he posted a 4.67 K/BB rate and quickly earned a call-up in mid-May. Then, he spent the heart of the year dominating his first Double-A action. In 73 1/3 innings in Tulsa, Stone struck out 107 batters and allowed just one (yes, one) home run. His 13.23 K/9 and 0.12 HR/9 contributed to his 1.60 ERA at the level, and come August, Stone accomplished the rare feat of two promotions within a single season. In the vastly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Stone shined even brighter, posting a 1.16 ERA and 5.40 H/9 across six Triple-A starts before the end of the year.

Overall, Stone’s season culminated to an amazing 1.48 ERA in 121 2/3 innings between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. His ERA was best in the full-season minor leagues by far, with his 0.22 HR/9 and 2.44 FIP also finishing first. Stone made just two starts in the entire season where he allowed more than two runs.

His performance across three different levels was incredible. Stone began his 23 year-old season ranked as the 18th best prospect in the Dodgers system and finished at the No. 7 spot on MLB Pipeline. Additionally, Stone broke into the Top 100 prospects list just before his Triple-A promotion, and now holds the No. 77 spot. His addition brings the Dodgers’ total of Top 100 prospects to seven, which is currently best in the league.

Looking deeper at Stone’s campaign shows why he may be the Dodgers pitching prospect closest to MLB success. His 33.7% CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) and .264 xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average) were both far above-average, showing his 1.48 ERA was justified. Having just three pitches can often be a point of concern for prospects, but Stone uses all three of his effectively and is capable of going deep into games.

A low release point gives Stone’s fastball a rising effect that makes it a solid pitch. He throws it the most out of his three, running it up in the mid-to-high 90s. He doesn’t generate many chases on the pitch, coming in at just a 14.4% chase rate and 18.5% whiff rate, which were both below-average. However, he can locate his fastball for strikes, and the most crucial way he uses it is to set up his changeup and slider.

Stone’s changeup is the best pitch in his arsenal, coming in as one of the best in the minors. Despite throwing it nearly 39% of the time, he still manages to generate great numbers against the pitch. His 52.3% whiff rate was far above-average for changeups, and his chase rate (43.8%), xwOBA (.183) and CSW (39.9%) were all good as well. The pitch sits in the mid 80s and has great depth and command to maximize its effectiveness. Stone is able to manufacture whiffs against his changeup even while keeping it in the zone.

Lastly, Stone’s slider is key for facing right handed batters. He can locate it for strikes and it gives him a pitch to break the opposite direction from his changeup. Without the slider in his arsenal, it would be much harder for Stone to keep his strikeout numbers as high as they are. He generated a 37.4% whiff rate against the pitch last year, which is above average.

The three pitches in Stone’s repertoire are maximized by his aggressive attacking of the strike zone. He threw 66% of his pitches for strikes last year, which is exactly the same as he had in 2021. The typical concern with how many strikes he throws is that it can lead to many home runs allowed, but Stone gave up just three long balls in the entire 2022 season, so there have been no problems in that regard.

Now 24 years old, there is little reason to hold Stone in Triple-A for long if he continues his all-out dominance into next season. He’s already an advanced pitcher whose profile avoids many of the typical flaws in young strikeout pitchers. Especially as the Dodgers haven’t solidified the fifth spot in the rotation to this point, if whoever they fill that void with begins to struggle, Stone will be near the top of the list of candidates to step in at any point in 2023.

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