Dustin May's Debut Marks The Start Of Next Dodgers Pitching Wave
LOS ANGELES—If the Dodgers are going to continue their run of success deep into the next decade, their starting pitching prospects are going to have to flourish.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is 32. Clayton Kershaw is 31. Rich Hill is 39. Kenta Maeda is 31. Ross Stripling turns 30 in November. Julio Urias is 22, but has yet to demonstrate the durability required of a major league starter.
Walker Buehler at 25 is the lone pitcher the Dodgers can confidently pencil into their starting rotation beyond the next few years, with the rest still to be sorted out behind him.
That is why Dustin May is so important, and why the Dodgers declined to move him in any deal at the trade deadline. As the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, whether May lives up to his enormous potential will go a long way toward determining just how stable the Dodgers rotation is, long-term, in support of their enviable collection of young position players.
The bushy, red-haired Texan with a 93-98 mph sinker gave up just one run (unearned) through five innings in his major league debut Friday night before running into trouble in the sixth, surrendering three runs and ultimately taking the loss in a 5-2 defeat to the Padres.
Despite the outcome, May’s promise was evident. His power sinker induced eight groundouts, including a pair of inning-ending double plays. His biting cutter reached into the mid-90s, showing a tantalizing mix of velocity and late movement. He demonstrated impressive composure, battling through nerves in the first inning and an error that cost him a run in the second inning to be in position for the win until he tired late.
He also understands the big picture.
"I feel like we’ve got a very young and talented group,” said May, the No. 26 prospect on the BA Top 100. "I feel like we’ve definitely come out and showcased our abilities. I’m super excited to see where the future goes.”
The Dodgers’ habit of debuting an impact rookie every season shows no sign of abating. Corey Seager won National League Rookie of the Year in 2016, followed by Cody Bellinger winning it in 2017. Buehler’s brilliant 2018 rookie campaign ended with him throwing seven shutout innings in his first World Series start.
It has been more of a group effort in 2019, but the sum of the parts has been substantial. The Dodgers’ five primary rookie position players—Alex Verdugo, Will Smith, Matt Beaty, Kyle Garlick and Edwin Rios—are batting a combined .289/.342/.580 with 25 home runs and 94 RBIs in 622 plate appearances, roughly a season’s worth.
"We as an organization get a lot of the credit, but scouting and player development, that’s the lifeline, the heartbeat of any consistent, great organization,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "They deserve a lot of credit for developing these young guys. There’s a lot of consistency throughout our organization. It’s not easy to come up here as a young player and have success on a team that’s expecting to win and these guys are doing it.”
And now come the pitchers.
May’s first start will be followed by Tony Gonsolin, the Dodgers’ No. 2 pitching prospect, making his second career start on Monday. Roberts announced after the game that May would remain in the big league rotation and make his second start against the Cardinals in five days.
"That’s a great feeling knowing they got my back and knowing that they feel like I can get the job done,” May said. "We’re going to have a better execution next game. We’re going to come out with the W.”
In the short-term, both May and Gonsolin are auditioning to play larger roles for the Dodgers down the stretch and, ultimately, in the playoffs.
In the bigger picture, they’re trying to show the Dodgers they belong in the team’s future plans—that they can be key cogs of a starting rotation to support a rich core of young position players into the next decade.
"I’m just looking for the opportunity to play and get as much time up here as I can,” Gonsolin said. "Hopefully when they feel its, ready I’ll have a solidified role. Ideally (starting) would be great, but like I said, whatever opportunity I can get.”
The young pitchers are going to keep getting their opportunities. May and Gonsolin are in the rotation right now. Righthander Josiah Gray, acquired from the Reds in the trade for Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp last offseason, has rushed up three levels to Double-A and put himself on track for a 2020 debut.
All are 25 or younger and represent the core, with Buehler, of what the Dodgers hope their rotation will look like deep into the next decade.
If they can do that, combined with the position players the team has in place, the 2020s may end up just as dominant as the 2010s have been for the Dodgers.
"It’s special,” Bellinger said. "None of them came up scared of the big moment. They’re just doing what they know how to do and that’s play baseball, and we’re lucky to have them.”