The Dodgers were dealt some undesirable news last week when All-Star starter Tony Gonsolin rolled his left ankle during a pitcher-fielding practice session. He was diagnosed with a sprain and unable to put much weight on the leg for a few days.
Manager Dave Roberts told reporters yesterday that Gonsolin has again started throwing (via Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register). He’s progressed to long toss from 120 feet but has yet to return to the mound. With Opening Day two weeks out, it seems increasingly likely he’ll require a stint on the 15-day injured list.
If that proves the case, the Dodgers will have to add someone to the season-opening rotation behind Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Dustin May. Los Angeles doesn’t have the luxury some clubs do of many built-in off days early in the year. They’re scheduled for games in 13 of the first 14 days and 24 of the initial 26 days of the regular season. Unless the club wants to cover some starts via bullpen games, they’ll need a fifth starter if Gonsolin isn’t available.
Likely Front Runners
Ryan Pepiot, 25, two minor league option years remaining
Pepiot seems the favorite for the job. He started seven of his first nine big league games last season, working to a 3.47 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. Pepiot struck out an above-average 26.3% of opponents but his 16.9% walk rate was untenable for a player hoping to stick in a rotation. He showed more serviceable control in the minors, walking 9.8% of batters faced with a lofty 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 better 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 trepidation about his breaking ball and especially the consistency of his strike-throwing. Still, he’s an intriguing young pitcher with upper minors success who has shown a decent ability to miss bats early in his time at the big league level. He’s not a finished product but could be capable of providing the Dodgers with a few solid starts in a fill-in capacity.
Michael Grove, 26, two options remaining
A second-round pick in the 2018 draft, Grove overcame some early-career injury concerns to reach the majors last year. He started six of his first seven big 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 solid job throwing strikes, though, limiting walks to a roughly average 7.5% clip.
Like Pepiot, Grove had a solid 2022 campaign in a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League setting. He posted a 4.07 ERA in 59 2/3 Triple-A frames, fanning 26.7% of batters faced against an 8.2% walk percentage. Grove held right-handed batters at the top minor league level to a .213/.266/.368 line over 263 plate appearances. Lefties, on the other hand, teed off at a .279/.344/.541 clip in 192 trips to the dish. It was a similar story at the MLB level. Righties hit .241/.293/.389 in his limited look, while left-handers managed a .275/.333/.522 slash.
Grove doesn’t throw a changeup, relying on a fastball/slider/curveball combination. Prospect evaluators have raised questions about his ability to handle left-handed hitters without a pitch that breaks away from them. That has led to concern about whether he can stick in an MLB rotation long term, though the Dodgers could match him up against right-handed heavy teams like Colorado and the Cubs in the season’s first couple weeks.
Gavin Stone, 24, not yet on 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 on 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 an utterly dominant minor league season. Across three levels, he combined for a 1.92 ERA with an elite 33.9% strikeout rate and serviceable 8.9% walk percentage through 121 2/3 frames. That culminated in six Triple-A outings, in which he allowed only 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 ton of Triple-A experience and isn’t yet on the 40-man, so the most straightforward move would be to send him back to Oklahoma City to open the season. Given his minor league dominance, there’s at least an argument for plugging him in above Pepiot and Grove immediately, even if it’d require a 40-man roster move to do so.
Bobby Miller, 23, not yet on 40-man roster
The Dodgers’ first-round pick in that ’20 draft class, Miller has shot 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% strand rate. Miller struck out an excellent 30.5% of opponents, induced grounders at a quality 48.2% clip, and kept his walks to an 8.1% rate. He earned a late-season bump to Oklahoma City, where he posted elite strikeout and ground-ball marks over four outings.
He’s 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 an upper-90s fastball, a pair of power breaking pitches, and an advanced changeup. Miller’s command is still a work in progress but there’s little question the arsenal can play against major league hitters.
Miller doesn’t figure to be an option for the season-opening rotation. Roberts told reporters last week he was being built up slowly to monitor his workload and was unlikely to pitch in a Spring Training game (relayed by Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times). He’ll almost certainly be in the majors at some point in 2023 though.
Further Down Depth Chart
Andre Jackson, 26, one option remaining
Jackson has never started a big league game, coming out of the bullpen for all seven of his MLB appearances from 2021-22. The Utah product has worked as a starter in the minors, opening 19 of 21 outings with Oklahoma City last year. He allowed exactly five earned runs per nine innings in Triple-A. Jackson had decent enough strikeout and ground-ball numbers but walked an astronomical 17.2% of opposing hitters.
That’d put him behind Pepiot and Grove on the depth chart. Jackson is on the 40-man roster, though, seemingly giving him a leg up compared to the non-roster invitees in camp. He’s headed into what would be his final option year, so he’ll need to improve his control before long if he’s to earn an extended MLB look in Los Angeles.
Both Covey and Erlin have some big league experience and are in camp as non-roster veterans. The 32-year-old Erlin was hit hard in 77 innings with Oklahoma City last season. Covey, 31, returned stateside after a couple solid years in Taiwan’s top league. Covey, in particular, has gotten out to a good start in camp. He’s struck out eight without issuing a walk over six innings. Still, neither seems likely to leapfrog the younger arms in the organization for a season-opening rotation look.
Nastrini and Knack are both fairly recent college draftees who reached Double-A last season. They’re each among the mid-tier prospects in a strong L.A. system and flashed bat-missing potential with Tulsa. Both pitchers could eventually get an MLB look, though neither figures to be in consideration for a job out of camp. They’re not yet on the 40-man and have yet to reach Triple-A.
The Dodgers again have a few exciting pitching prospects, two of whom have already gotten a taste of the majors. Pepiot and Grove would accordingly be the safest choices to take the final rotation spot if Gonsolin can’t start the season but they’re not as touted as Miller and Stone. The latter two figure to take the Dodger Stadium mound at some point in 2023, the next in a long line of pitching talent to come through the system.
Stone looks really exciting, including brief ST appearances, but Pepiot with his experience, roster spot, and control looking improved in spring training (fwiw) will get the first look to sub for Gonsolin, imho.
Gavin and Bobby are future all-stats and neither will be on Opening Day roster.
I think it is either Pepiot or an “opener”.
Thing is with current roster construction and rules about roster manipulation any team using an “opener” would really only want to go that route maybe once in a while, not through multiple turns through the rotation.
Agree, they only go the Opener route if Catman is projected back in late April.
Miller hasn’t pitched all spring as he was dealing with shoulder pain during the off-season. Plus he was just assigned to minor league camp.
Stone looks phenomenal in spring, dominating hitters. Still hasn’t given up a run. One game he got two quick outs and then it kinda looked like he just walked a guy on purpose to practice pitching with a runner on base. He looks more than ready, but my guess he starts in the minors to limit his innings.
Pepiot already has MLB exp and would be my guess to make the roster if Gonso isn’t ready. I could see Pepiot making the roster anyway as they may use him as a long man out of the bullpen to start the year much how they used Gonso last season as a piggy back guy.
Grove is another guy with MLB exp and I could see him as well, but he hasn’t looked as good in spring training as the others.
Jackson also has MLB exp and has looked good in spring. He may also make the roster if they went to a six man rotation to start the year since they have so many games to start the year.
Miller has already been reassigned to minor league camp, so it’s a safe bet it isn’t going to be him. Pepiot is looking more under control this spring, so it’s a fair bet he gets the nod.
I really like the Dodgers starting 5. That said though, the chances of all five of them staying healthy are slim to none. The Dodgers are in a good spot to have these kids waiting. I think a lot of them would be locks for a starting gig in most organizations.
Um, the chances are none. That’s the foundation of this article.
WHEN he misses time, not if. The most optimistic projections had him at about 130 innings. I don’t think he will pitch that many.
Then who is next up when May is injured?
And for the 10 starts or more Kershaw will miss?
There’s a really good article on MLBTradeRumors that tells you who..
White Sammy Sosa
Why would May be injured?
May is coming off a major injury and a season where he only had 30 IP in the majors and 20 IP in rehab assignments. He will not be taking the ball 30 times in 2023 unless its as a reliever. A good bet for him is 70-80 IP this year.
So your theory is he’s going to need another TJ this year?
May has thrown over 130 IPs in the minors in two seasons. He came back from rehab last season. Given how short starters go these days, I don’t think much issue with him pitching 160 IPs or so this season, which translates to 5 IPs over 32 starts. Maybe they skip him once or twice to keep him under that. I think he’ll be fine. The real concern was him getting over rust from not pitching in such a long time. He’s looking good so far.
The problem I see here all the time is looking at numbers without applying any context to them. May didn’t return from his TJ until last August. Because he went under the knife in the middle of the season before, he missed most of two seasons. Using the missing time in those two seasons from the one surgery to project how many innings he can be expected to throw in a healthy season is just plain silly. But we hear that logic. A lot.
Dodger’s are going to need to get 40-50 starts out of Pepiot, Grove, Miller and possibly other top prospects this season. Because of all that action, they will know what they have in those prospects by the ASG and what they need to do to address the rotation at the deadline.
I am thinking that the Dodgers will be involved in a couple trades mid-season to shore up that pitching staff.
That seems like way too many starts. I guess anything is possible. Urias has been solid so I’d pencil him for his full 32-33 starts. Gonsolin will probably miss at least a few starts at the beginning of season. May will probably close to full 32-33 starts. Thor is a wild card. But he’s fully recovered so no issue penciling him for 30+ starts. That leaves you with Kershaw who has a checkered injury past. He’s made 22 starts each of the last two full seasons, and 10 out of a possible 12 starts or so in shortened 2020 seasons. So, why not pencil him for 20-22 starts. I think you’re looking at more like 15-20 starts at most barring a major injury, which of course is always possible.
I’d think that the Dodgers would like to fill that role internally. And so, even if one of their starters goes down for the season they could fill it internally between one or two options in the minors. If the injury bug is worse than expected and they’re still in the race you’d think that they would acquire someone.
How about Tucker Davidson and Luis Rengifo for Justin Bruihl? Dodgers get someone to fill in for Lux and add depth to your rotation and bullpen. Angels get a young pitcher with options.
But doesn’t Davidson, like, totally stink? The Dodgers already have at least five guys in their system much better than him.
The Dodgers will adapt and overcome. The regular season is not their problem, they always figure it out; it’s a team sport and anyone that’s played team sport knows that guys step up. The Dodgers are g r e a t at this.
It’s the post season they need to be better at. And I’m a Dodger fan. I trust them.
The Dodgers are a brand as well as a team. I love the way they do business.
Pepiot seems a no brainer to me!