Pepiot primed for breakout?; Grove gets spring opener

February 22nd, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A cold and windy day didn’t stop Dodgers right-hander from throwing a live batting practice session Wednesday at Camelback Ranch. It also didn’t stop the hitters who stood in against him, a group led by Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, from being impressed with what they saw.

“Nasty,” said second baseman Miguel Vargas as he watched Pepiot from the dugout. “Look at that changeup.” 

Pepiot’s stuff has never been in question. His fastball-changeup combination helped him carve up the competition in Triple-A and quickly turned him into one of the top pitching prospects in the Minors. He's the Dodgers' No. 6 prospect and the No. 70 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

The 25-year-old’s stuff also played at the big league level as soon as he debuted last May. While it was a small sample size, Pepiot finished in the 88th percentile in fastball spin, according to Baseball Savant. His changeup was even better, limiting opposing hitters to a .107 batting average against the pitch. 

Pepiot bounced around between Triple-A and the Majors, but was still able to go 3-0 with a 3.47 ERA in nine appearances in the big leagues. But despite the overall success, Pepiot struggled with his command, finishing the year averaging 6.7 walks per nine innings.

“I think it was a combination of trying to throw too hard, trying to do a little too much,” Pepiot said of his erratic command. “And obviously you’re in this clubhouse with these guys, you try to do a little too much rather than just let the guys behind me work.”

His search for consistency started very early in the offseason. Pepiot experimented with a “sweeper” breaking ball last offseason, but it came with negative results. He wasn’t getting the impact he wanted with the pitch and it screwed up his mechanics and grip, particularly with his signature changeup.

Pepiot couldn’t make the adjustment last season, instead waiting until this winter to get back to the basics. He continues to work on a slider, which he believes could help him get even better -- especially against left-handed hitters.

“I was excited for myself that I had some success [last season],” Pepiot said. “But taking that into the offseason [was the focus] so I can be more consistent and go deeper into games and not throw 75 pitches in a few innings.”

With Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May, the Dodgers already have enough starting pitching on the projected Opening Day roster.

But with the injury history of Gonsolin, May and Kershaw, the Dodgers are fully anticipating giving Pepiot plenty of opportunities in ‘23.

In order for the Dodgers to achieve what they’ve set out to accomplish this season, they’ll need Pepiot and other young pitchers such as , and to make strides in their respective developments.

The early word around Pepiot is that he’s doing just that. His fastball velocity is playing up and his changeup is as strong as it’s ever been. He continues to add to his arsenal of skills on the mound. Now, he just needs to find a way to keep everything around the strike zone.

If he’s able to do that, it’s easy to see why the Dodgers believe Pepiot can be an integral part of the team’s future.

Cactus League opener
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced Wednesday that right-hander Grove will start the team’s Cactus League opener on Saturday against the Brewers. Non-roster invitees Matt Andriese and Bryan Hudson are also expected to pitch an inning in the game.

Expect some more regulars to get into a game when the Dodgers host the Cubs at Camelback Ranch on Sunday.