An undeniable component of the Dodgers’ record-breaking 106-win season was the contribution of rookies. But to have so many contribute so much so soon is rare for any organization playing regularly in October.
The most recent team to have three players on its postseason roster three years after they were drafted was the 2015 Houston Astros, a group which included Carlos Correa. Since 1981, there have only been 10. The only World Series participant to do so was the 2010 Texas Rangers.
So, the Dodgers are bucking the odds, but that’s what they do. And while they have the resources, this motherlode of young talent reflects the organizational goal of sustaining superiority by developing from within, which starts with scouting director Billy Gasparino.
Gasparino is the one who spent the 20th overall pick in that 2016 Draft on Lux, a high schooler who had the stereotypical knock of being from cold-weather Wisconsin; on Smith, a first-rounder who showed very little power at the University of Louisville (nine homers in three years) but has changed all of that; and on May, whose still skinny frame in high school made others shy away so he lasted until the third round. One name not included on the list is Tony Gonsolin -- at the time a senior outfielder/pitcher at little St. Mary’s College in Northern California, who signed for only $2,500 as a ninth-rounder -- who was the final cut from the current playoff roster and could be added if the Dodgers advance.
“Proud is a great word,” Gasparino said of the trio’s success. “It is a real coordination between scouting, development, our leadership group, the culture [manager Dave Roberts] created, the players accepting these guys and letting them thrive right away.”
Here are Gasparino’s thoughts about the three (plus Gonsolin), plus a look at each player’s performance:
On the 21-year-old Lux: “I think it was considered a risk at the time, but we loved a lot of things about Gavin. … First, the physical ability. We thought he was athletic, we thought he was twitchy, we loved the makeup and loved the baseball background (his uncle, Augie Schmidt, was the second-overall pick in the 1982 Draft and remains a mentor). He really just checked a lot of our boxes, to forgive where he’s from. And really, in today’s age, so many kids [from] these states are playing travel baseball year-round in warm-weather states that we kind of hedge that risk a little bit.”
While Lux endured some struggles in his first full Minor League season in 2017, he worked through those and punished Double-A and Triple-A pitching this year to the tune of a .347/.421/.607 combined line with 26 home runs. Called up in September, he started 19 games at second base down the stretch. Then, in Game 1 of the NLDS, he pinch-hit and became the fourth-youngest player in MLB history to homer in his postseason debut. Lux started Game 2 at second base and could continue to draw postseason starts there against right-handed pitchers.
On the 24-year-old Smith: “He had a really short swing and always had contact skills. We really felt, with our development people and the way we teach hitting, that it was going to be a good mix of his natural ability and how we teach. To his credit, he took to it well and our development people did a great job. … We thought this was a best-outcome case with the power, and he’s achieved it.”
Smith grew into his power. He popped 20 homers in 98 Minor League games in 2018, then went deep 35 times this year -- with 15 of those homers coming over three stints for the Dodgers. He started the bulk of the team’s games behind the plate over the final two months, plus the first two games of the NLDS. Smith will give way in Game 3 to veteran Russell Martin, who caught most of Hyun-Jin Ryu’s starts this season.
On the 22-year-old May: “He got knocked a little bit for his leanness. We thought it was a bonus. We thought he was really flexible and athletic, and could really create extension. We loved his arm and his arm speed. We actually liked a lot of his physical attributes and were able to overlook the leaner body because he was so athletic and flexible. He always threw strikes, always was aggressive. A lot of what you’re seeing now, besides the 98 [mph], was already in place. It’s just the velocity came as he gained strength. I swear he’s grown a couple inches, if not three.”
May put up strong numbers at Double-A and Triple-A this year, earning a callup in August and posting a 3.63 ERA over four starts and 10 relief appearances. Despite his inexperience, May walked only five batters in 34 2/3 innings, helping to earn him a postseason opportunity. Pitching primarily with a sinker-cutter combo, May has reached 99 mph out of the bullpen -- although he allowed a run in that role in Game 2.
On the 25-year-old Gonsolin: “He was a little under the radar. Our scouts in Northern California … identified him in the fall as a clear pick to click. A two-way guy from St. Mary’s, they really felt there’s a good curveball, he’s a good athlete. Once he switches to full-time pitching, he’s going to take off. And our development people grabbed him and ran with it. He started throwing harder and they converted him to a full-time pitching role, which I thought was genius on their part. Then, he developed a changeup. There are so many people who deserve credit on the development side of this. It really was one of our prime examples of when scouting and development guys unite. This is the possible outcome. Tony’s really smart, he’s very curious -- and he just ran with the information we gave him.”
Gonsolin performed well throughout his time in the Minors, including at hitter-friendly Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2019. Over three stints with the Dodgers, he proved himself capable as both a starter (2.89 ERA in six games) and a reliever (3.00 ERA in five games). He could factor into the Dodgers’ plans in the latter role later this postseason.
Also selected in the 2016 Draft were Devin Smeltzer and Luke Raley, who were traded to the Twins for Brian Dozier; Dean Kremer, one of five dealt to Baltimore for Manny Machado; A.J. Alexy, included in the Yu Darvish trade; and Andre Scrubb, exchanged for Tyler White.
“Andrew [Friedman, president of baseball operations] views it as trade capital, and we love to provide it,” Gasparino said. “There are three or four more from the Draft on the way. It really will be one of the most successful drafts from our era. We’re really proud of it, and a lot of hard work went into it. It just takes a lot of coordination to make this work. Credit goes to Andrew for putting it all in place.”