Dodgers’ Gavin Stone Carves Out A Spot In Deep System
The oddest draft in baseball history might be a gift that keeps on giving to the Dodgers.
Righthander Bobby Miller was the Dodgers’ first-round pick in 2020. He has already emerged as one of the most dynamic pitching prospects in baseball.
Fifth-rounder Gavin Stone, a righthander drafted out of Central Arkansas, is making a fast rise of his own.
“We’ll find out as these guys get to the big leagues,” Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes said, “but right now it’s looking very strong . . . That (2020 draft) could prove to be a pretty talented five-round class.”
Stone made just four starts in his draft year before Covid ended the season.
In his 2021 pro debut, Stone struck out 138 in 91 innings between Low-A Rancho Cucamonga and High-A Great Lakes.
This year, the 23-year-old logged a 1.23 ERA in his first seven starts for Double-A Tulsa following a May 18 promotion. He had struck out 52 and walked nine in 36 innings.
“There’s a double-plus changeup in there, and above-average command of multiple pitches,” Gomes said. “He really hasn’t struggled at all, because he floods the zone with multiple pitches.
“He gets good carry on his fastball and he can move it to all quadrants. And then his changeup is a pitch he can throw at any time, in any count, to either side, and have it be effective.”
Stone’s velocity has increased since the draft and now sits in the 93-97 mph range, a boost that Gomes credits to Stone’s athleticism and the work of Dodgers player development.
“He has the pitches. He has the command,” Gomes said. “And he’s shown as the year has gone on, the deeper he’s going into games, the velo is maintaining.
“He has weapons to get through lineups multiple times.”
Rockies’ Victor Juarez Shows Uncommon Poise In Pro Debut
Low-A Fresno manager Robinson Cancel had lofty praise for righthander Victor Juarez, a 19-year-old making his full-season debut.
“He’s pitching like he’s a 25-, 26-year-old guy with experience,” Cancel said.
Rockies farm director Chris Forbes saw Juarez in a mid-June start and said: “At that age, to have the craft part in place and this unbelievably controlled, repeated delivery, it’s surprising . . . He pitches like he’s on a (major league) rehab down here.”
Through 12 starts for Fresno, Juarez recorded a 4.30 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 14 walks in 58.2 innings. He yielded three or fewer runs in each of his first 10 starts.
At one point, Juarez went 47.2 innings without allowing a home run, a streak that ended when he surrendered two on June 18.
Juarez, whom the Rockies signed out of Mexico in 2019, has a four-pitch mix, having just started to throw a slider this year.
His fastball ranges from 89-93 mph and sits 91-92. Juarez is 6 feet, 185 pounds, and the Rockies believe he’ll add another tick or two to his fastball as he gets stronger. The pitch has more run than sink but has late life and movement, and he effectively keeps it off the barrel.
Juarez has great confidence in his 82-86 mph changeup that sits 84. He will double-up on it, which is both unusual and impressive for a young pitcher.
His 75-79 mph curveball has 12-to-6 action and sits at 77. His 80-83 mph slider has more control than command at this point but projects to be at least an average pitch.
“At his age, the thing that’s impressive is he can throw the ball where he wants to throw the ball,” Fresno pitching coach Mark Brewer said. “The thing that helps him out the most, though, is the ability to recognize and attack swings at this age.
“When a guy takes a swing, he knows where to go and where the holes are without looking at the heat maps that are rampant today.”
Late-Bloomer Vaun Brown Makes A Name With Giants
Outfielder Vaun Brown describes himself as “someone with high intensity, someone who loves the game, enjoys the game, enjoys being with his teammates.”
The 24-year-old also shared one of the core tenets of his baseball mindset.
“I want to be the guy who leaves the field covered in clay.”
Brown isn’t merely a Charlie Hustle-type player. In 59 games for Low-A San Jose, he hit .347/.428/.636 with 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases. That earned him a June 24 promotion to High-A Eugene
A righthanded hitter from Division II Florida Southern, Brown didn’t exactly tear up the Sunshine State Conference through his first four seasons.
He did make an adjustment in his batting stance—“lowering my hands and getting taller”— just before the pandemic hit in 2020. That adjustment seemed to take his game to another level.
He returned in 2021 as a graduate student, earned his MBA and became the SSC player of the year. The Giants drafted Brown in the 10th round in 2021.
While Brown is old for Class A, he draws praise from San Jose fundamental coach Jeremiah Knackstedt for not forcing the issue at the plate.
“I think (that) is a big attribute that works for him,” Knackstedt said. “. . . He keeps his swing, keeps his mind right and lets stuff happen.”
Brown has spent the majority of his time this season in left field but also can play center or right.
“He’s got a phenomenal arm,” Knackstedt said. “His ability to read a ball off the bat and take good, efficient routes is well above-average.”
Brown wears his uniform pant legs well above the average spot, a la former Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, a favorite of Giants fans for his speed, power and enthusiasm.
“That’s really cool to be compared to someone as good as he was,” Brown said, “because he was an awesome player to watch growing up.”
Padres’ Matthew Batten Shows More Power At Triple-A
The Padres drafted shortstop Matthew Batten in the 32nd round out of Quinnipiac in 2017. They sent him to Rookie ball to start his pro career and then short-season Tri-City later that summer.
The next spring he had been stashed in extended spring training when a short-term need for a body at Triple-A El Paso led the organization to send the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Batten to the Pacific Coast League.
This was not the fast track.
This was about trusting a headstrong young player to hold down the fort.
Four years later, the 27-year-old Batten began back in the PCL for a fourth tour. He smacked a career-high 10 home runs and hit .299/.399/.505 with 13 stolen bases in 59 games to earn a June 30 callup to San Diego.
Batten is a righthanded hitter whose best asset is versatility. He provided coverage for El Paso at third base (30 games), shortstop (18), left field (six), second base (six), first base (two) and center field (one). He has even made 12 career pitching appearances, but none this season.
“This guy’s just prepared,” El Paso manager Jared Sandberg said. “He can play all over the place, gives you solid defense, gives you a good at-bat and can steal a base.
“This guy . . . can definitely help a big league ballclub.”
Batten turned in a career-best .904 OPS to start 2022, an improvement that can be attributed in part to moving up in the batter’s box to help him close a hole on the outer half of the plate.
In turn, Batten was tapping into more pull-side power than he had shown previously.
The first inkling that a callup could be on the horizon for Batten occurred In 2021 at the Arizona Fall League.
“That was such an awesome experience,” Batten said. “. . . It gave me that boost of confidence, like, ‘Oh, they do see something valuable in me.’
“I’m just building off that this season.”
Small Tweak Leads To Big Results For D-Backs’ Ryne Nelson
Triple-A Reno righthander Ryne Nelson told himself to be shorter, to stay on top of the ball. Almost immediately the D-backs pitching prospect rediscovered his best stuff.
The seemingly small mechanical adjustment in his arm stroke allowed Nelson to bump his fastball velocity closer to where it sat for most of last season, and it has helped him find success in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Over a six-start stretch beginning on May 29, Nelson logged a 4.45 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 32.1 innings.
His fastball went from sitting around 92 mph to sitting 94 during that stretch—and he said his delivery is easier to repeat and his arm is recovering better after outings.
Nelson said his arm stroke had gradually become long in the back without him realizing it. Now, as he is driving toward home plate, he keeps his right arm bent, almost mirroring the way he bends at the elbow with his left arm. He said he feels more on time with his delivery.
“My arm stroke isn’t like Lucas Giolito short,” Nelson said. “It’s just cleaner.”
He said D-backs pitching coordinator Dan Carlson first prompted him to make the change, though Carlson said the adjustment was an organizational effort, rattling off names of fellow coaches and trainers who contributed.
“We designed a program for him, gave him some exercises to do, drills to do,” Carlson said. “He picked up on it after a day. Good on him. He knew what to do.”
Despite the results not being there, Nelson can see positives to come out of the early part of the season. He learned to compete without his best stuff, to become “hyper-focused” on his pitch mix and command.
Still, he is happy to have 95-96 mph in the tank.
“It makes me be able to pitch how I want to pitch,” Nelson said. “I want to be able to miss bats and be able to get the big strikeouts when I need them, rather than trying to kind of pitch to weak contact with runners on base.”
AROUND THE DIVISION
— Dodgers shortstop Jacob Amaya earned his first promotion to Triple-A in mid June and promptly hit a grand slam for his first hit. Amaya was 9-for-53 (.170) with two home runs and 12 RBIs in his first 14 games with Oklahoma City.
— Dodgers third baseman Miguel Vargas added a new line to his résumé in June—outfielder. Vargas has played first base, second base and third base during his pro career but had never played the outfield before manning left field for a game with Triple-A Oklahoma City. “It’s like we’ve done with a lot of our guys, position players who we feel are talented—the more positions they can play, the better it is for them, the better it is for us, if and when we have openings,” Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes said.
— Rockies lefthander Sam Weatherly joined the High-A Spokane rotation on June 19 after making one start in the Arizona Complex League. The 2022 debut for Weatherly, the 2020 third-rounder out of Clemson, was delayed by a strained left teres major, the muscle that attaches to the shoulder blade and humerus.
— Rockies shortstop Jack Blomgren, who had been limited to six games at Double-A Hartford this season, appeared headed for surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome. It has been recommended, and Blomgren was weighing whether to seek a second opinion. The 2020 fifth-rounder out of Michigan made his pro debut last year at High-A Spokane, where he hit .284/.406/.392 in 86 games with three home runs and 30 stolen bases.
— Padres prospects had the top two stolen base totals in the minors. Triple-A El Paso outfielder Esteury Ruiz led all of professional baseball with 52 steals in 60 tries. High-A Fort Wayne second baseman Max Ferguson had 52 in 56 tries.
— The Padres activated Low-A Lake Elsinore outfielder James Wood from the injured list after he recovered from a wrist injury. Lake Elsinore shortstop Jackson Merrill was continuing to rehab his own wrist injury in the Arizona Complex League.
— D-backs shortstop Jordan Lawlar missed about a month with Low-A Visalia due to what the team called a “benign bone growth” on one of his ribs that was causing discomfort in his back. Lawlar was cleared to play through the condition with the knowledge that, if necessary, it could be addressed in the future with an ablation procedure.
— D-backs righthanders Conor Grammes and Justin Martinez were on target to get back into minor league games in July, farm director Josh Barfield said. Both were well-regarded pitching prospects before having Tommy John surgery last year.