Image credit: Gavin Lux (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
When Trey Magnuson first saw Gavin Lux in the summer of 2015, the Dodgers’ area scout for the Upper Midwest was immediately drawn to Lux’s athleticism and lefthanded bat.
The actions Lux showed at shortstop were rare in a teenager from cold-weather Wisconsin. Even more rare was his advanced feel to hit and comfort facing velocity.
As Magnuson began digging deeper and getting to know Lux in the ensuing months, however, something else began to stand out even more.
“You put a little obstacle in front of him, he was going to prove he could get through it,” Magnuson said. “He has that resilience. He has that maturity that’s going to make any kid succeed.”
Lux would prove Magnuson’s assessment spot-on.
Lux overcame a rough first full pro season and years of throwing issues to become one of the top performers in the minor leagues this season.
The Dodgers’ 21-year-old shortstop prospect thrived the two highest levels of the minors on his way to his first major league callup in September.
In 113 games at Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Lux hit .347 to rank fourth in the minors, while his .421 on-base percentage ranked 10th and his .607 slugging percentage placed sixth. In terms of OPS, he ranked fourth (1.028) overall, behind only Kevin Cron, Jared Walsh and Mark Payton, a trio of older, bat-first players at Triple-A.
Lux pieced together a 50-game on-base streak that stretched from early June to mid-August and slashed his errors from 27 last year to 13 this season.
For his performance, Lux is our Minor League Player of the Year. He follows recent winners Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (2018), Ronald Acuna Jr. (2017) and Yoan Moncada (2016). You can find all award winners here.
“Obviously I feel like I always believed in myself, but I don’t think I would have expected two years ago to play like how I am now, I guess you could say,” Lux said. “It is a little surreal. I’m just enjoying it and having fun every step of the way and taking advantage of it.”
Lux was hardly alone in not expecting this two years ago.
Drafted 20th overall by the Dodgers in 2016 on the recommendation of Magnuson and supervisor Jon Adkins, Lux scuffled badly at low Class A Great Lakes in 2017.
He hit .244 with a .331 on-base percentage and a .362 slugging percentage in the Midwest League, showing little power potential while playing an error-prone shortstop characterized by wild throws. Both his performance and his tools underwhelmed evaluators, who largely projected Lux as a future utility infielder, at best.
Even within the Dodgers’ organization, a segment of scouts began voicing an opinion that the team had made a mistake drafting Lux in the first round.
“Internally and externally, there always seemed to be a little bit of doubt when you talked to people about it,” Dodgers scouting director Billy Gasparino said. “We (the scouting department) never felt it, but I know it existed.”
Lux shut out the chatter and went to work. He added 10 pounds of muscle heading into 2018 and another 15 as he prepared for this season. He spent hundreds of hours deprogramming his natural swing and replacing it with a modified version that put him on better plane with the ball.
His fielding work began in the wee hours of the winter mornings at the Dodgers’ complex in Glendale, Ariz., and stretched long into the afternoons.
The same resilience Magunson saw in Lux as amateur took root in pro ball, in the form of a relentless work ethic to ensure Lux would never struggle like he had again.
True to form, Lux hasn’t.
Lux broke through offensively in 2018 at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and didn’t miss a beat upon a in-season promotion to the Texas League. He continued his offensive surge in 2019 while conquering his throwing problems, which reared their ugly head with a case of the yips in spring training but were largely a thing of the past by midsummer.
This season, Texas League managers voted Lux as the league’s best batting prospect, best defensive shortstop and most exciting player. At Triple-A Oklahoma City he flirted with batting .400 before finishing at .392.
“He was doing things not only our guys here were talking about,” Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary said, “ but you see the reaction in the other dugout and they’re like, ‘Man, this guy is unbelievable.’ ”
Lux’s success is grounded in a resilience built up over his childhood. His parents divorced when he was 12. One of his closest friends committed suicide at 16.
Such events shake many teenagers and send them down destructive paths.
Not Lux. Even under trying circumstances, his maturity, composure and general positive energy seemed to always make their way to the forefront.
“You talked to everybody around—the coaches, the principal, everyone in the office—everybody was glowing about Gavin and who he was as a person as well as a player,” Magnuson said.
“They would talk about how if the school was having a pep rally for the basketball team . . . he would be in the middle of everything. He’s leading the pep rally.”
For the practical purposes of his baseball development, Lux’s ability to conquer any setback or challenge allowed for rapid gains.
“Each year in spring training we lay out some goals (for our players) for the year,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “The idea behind that concept is: you lay out goals, you kind of revisit it throughout the year, and the next year you rip up those goals and you set the bar higher.
“It’s great in theory. It rarely plays out in practice. But it truly did with Gavin. Every time we gave him goals and things to work on, he poured himself into it and has steadily gotten better at all aspects of his game.”
Lux’s most striking improvement is his power. The added 25 pounds of muscle over two years are visible in his arms, chest and shoulders, to the point he barely resembles the skinny teenager scouts first saw on the 2015 showcase circuit.
Lux jumped from seven home runs in 2017 to 15 homers in 2018 to 26 home runs this year. His slugging percentage jumped from .362 to .514 to .607.
Even now, Lux’s newfound strength sometimes surprises him.
“I never used to be able to hit the ball out of the yard the other way, and this year that’s kind of changed for me a little bit,” Lux said. “I think that’s kind of the biggest takeaway. I’m kind of getting into my ‘man’ body, I guess you could say now. Just seeing the ball go the other way where before it was more just singles and split a gap the other way.”
That strength wouldn’t mean much without an approach to make the most of it. That, more than any individual statistical accomplishment, is where Lux stands out most to the Dodgers’ top decision-makers.
“His approach in the box is the most mature I’ve ever been around in someone this age,” Friedman said. “Just his awareness of what pitchers are trying to do, taking feedback from an at-bat or pitch-to-pitch, how to apply it to what his plan of attack is—it’s something I’ve seen a lot of major league players struggle with throughout their careers.
“It’s very rare to be able to see someone his age to be able to slow down the game and understand that cat and mouse game between the hitter and the pitcher in such an advanced way.”
The mental part of the game has always been one of Lux’s strengths. His uncle Augie Schmidt was the Golden Spikes Award winner and No. 2 overall pick in 1982. Schmidt is now in his 33rd season as the head coach at Division III Carthage College in Lux’s hometown of Kenosha, Wis., about 40 miles south of Milwaukee.
At age 6, Lux began attending Carthage practices with his uncle. By age 9 he was taking infield with the team and turning double plays at second base.
“I remember the first celebration we had was when he hit it over the infield dirt onto the outfield grass on the fly,” Schmidt said. “So that kind of shows you where we started.”
Schmidt topped out in Triple-A and understood the challenges of pro ball. As much as any physical development, he helped prepare Lux for what was ahead mentally.
That included dealing with the failure that would eventually meet Lux in his first foray into pro ball.
“A lot of what we talk about is how to deal with failure,” Lux said. “He’s kind of been my rock and who I go to when it comes to baseball. He’s kind of gone through it all, so he’s been everything to me.”
It all came to a head Sept. 2, when Lux made his major league debut against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium.
The occasion was a momentous one for the family. August Schmidt, Augie’s father and Lux’s grandfather, pitched two years in the Red Sox’s system but had his career ended by arm injuries. Augie Schmidt reached Triple-A with both the Blue Jays and Giants but never got the call to the majors.
“When Gavin got called up he called my dad and there was a long silence,” Augie Schmidt said. “And finally my dad says ‘Well, damn. It took three ties but we finally got one there.’
“It was just a cool moment. You have three generations of professional ballplayers, and we finally got one to the big leagues.”
On the first pitch he saw in the majors, Lux lined a 93 mph fastball from Peter Lambert into center field for his first career hit.
Schmidt, who was in attendance with Lux’s parents, began crying. Lux, when he reached first base, took a deep breath. All the pressure of being a first-round pick and struggling through his first full season had fallen away.
“There was a lot of emotions,” Lux said. “There was a lot of relief or happiness. There was everything. Getting that first hit out of the way right away made the rest of the game a lot easier. It’s kind of like a weight lifted off your shoulders a little bit. But any way that game would have went, I would have had fun doing it.”
With his mental and physical growth, Lux grew from a prospect in question to one of baseball’s best. He will maintain his rookie eligibility into 2020 and shows all the traits of being the next Dodgers’ impact rookie, following Corey Seager in 2016, Cody Bellinger in 2017, Walker Buehler in 2018 and the Alex Verdugo and Will Smith duo in 2019.
He put in the work to succeed, while showing a resilience many talk about but few actually demonstrate.
With his growth, the doubts that once surrounded Lux have gone silent.
“The external or internal doubts just makes this a little more satisfactory,” Gasparino said. “But more just for his own sake, you kind of love the kid. How hard he’s worked and how genuine of a person he is, it’s made it extremely satisfying to see this happen to him.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed August Schmidt as Lux’s great uncle.