'Like a dad': Doval, SF scout's special bond

April 30th, 2021

Giants international scout Gabriel Elias was attending a showcase in Monte Plata, Dominican Republic, on April 16 when he received a message from relief prospect via WhatsApp:

“Hey, I got called up. Now you know!”

The Giants hadn’t officially announced the promotion yet, but Doval wanted to be the first to break the news to Elias, who signed the right-hander when he was a skinny teenager out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. By chance, Elias happened to be sitting next to Ezequiel Villar, the trainer who helped Doval land a professional contract with the Giants.

“We were really excited,” Elias said in a phone interview. “We were jumping up and down. We were so happy. There was a lot of excitement. I didn’t even know what to do. I received a lot of calls from people congratulating me. It was a long-awaited moment because we worked really hard for it.”

Elias, 27, has spent the past nine years working as a scout for the Giants, and Doval, 23, is the first player he’s signed to reach the Majors. Elias has known Doval since the latter was 17, and the two established a strong bond as Doval gradually ascended the Giants’ farm system over the last six years.

“He’s always been like a dad to me,” said Doval, who is ranked as the club’s No. 24 prospect by MLB Pipeline. “He’s always supported me.”

Recognizing that Doval’s callup was a personal and professional milestone for Elias as well, the Giants felt he should have the opportunity to see Doval’s Major League debut in person. Elias quickly scrambled to procure a negative COVID-19 test result before making the two-hour flight to Miami the following day to watch the final two games of the Giants’ series against the Marlins.

Health and safety protocols prevented Elias from meeting Doval on the field, but the two were able to chat from a distance after Elias arrived at loanDepot park, snapping selfies to commemorate the moment.

“He got really excited when he saw me,” Elias said in Spanish. “I had told him that I was on my way over there, and he was really happy to have one of his guys there.”

Elias was in the stands on April 18, when Doval was summoned to face the heart of the Marlins’ order in his Major League debut. Possessing a 98 mph fastball and a nasty slider, Doval calmly struck out two en route to a perfect 11-pitch seventh inning, helping the Giants secure a 1-0 victory in Miami.

“It didn’t surprise me too much because I know him well,” Elias said. “I know that he has that competitive spirit. When there are high-pressure situations, he wants the ball. I think I was more nervous sitting in the stands. But he wasn’t. He’s always known how to handle pressure very well.”

Despite never pitching above Class A Advanced prior to this season, Doval has continued to show preternatural poise in his first five appearances with the Giants, yielding only a solo home run to Phillies star Bryce Harper over five innings. His velocity has ticked up quite a bit in recent years, with his fastball now touching triple digits, but Doval continues to display the feel that Elias saw when he first discovered him.

“When he was 17, he was 5-foot-11, but he had a very loose and quick arm,” Elias said. “He was interesting because he had a different arm angle than what you usually see on the international market. And even though his fastball was at 87-90 mph, it had a lot of life. It was a heavy fastball, as scouts like to say. His slider was already an out pitch. It was very advanced. Hitters were uncomfortable facing him.”

Doval became eligible to sign with a Major League team in July 2013, but he was initially overlooked because he lacked premium velocity on his heater. Still, Doval continued to develop physically over the next couple of years, growing to 6-foot-2 and eventually showing a jump in velocity once he became stronger. That ultimately convinced Elias and the Giants to sign Doval for $100,000 on Oct. 28, 2015.

“There was a lot of competition from a lot of teams,” Elias said. “I had to push hard because there were a lot of interested teams, and the international market is very aggressive. An 18-year-old prospect is eligible to sign at any moment, so we had to be aggressive and make a big push. But I did so with a lot of conviction because I understood that he was a special arm.”

While Doval regards Elias as a father figure, the two are actually only four years apart. Elias was 22 when he signed Doval, and he continued to stay in touch even after bringing the young fireballer into San Francisco's organization. Elias purchased a subscription to MiLB.TV to watch each of Doval’s outings in the Minors, and he always made sure to call after games to offer guidance or support. Every offseason, he makes a trip to Yamasá to visit Doval and his family.

All the extra hours that he put in ultimately helped make Doval’s promotion all the more rewarding.

“A lot of people say scouting -- and it’s true -- is the hardest job in baseball, and even more so in the international market, which has a lot of uncertainty,” Elias said. “When we signed him, I understood that the job wasn’t finished.

“All those calls, both from Ezequiel and me, I know they’ve been really important to his development because he’s felt that support. He knows that he has someone who has supported him and didn’t just sign him, and say, ‘OK, we’ll see what happens.’ I’ve been following him, and I really care about him. Seeing him in the big leagues is huge for me because I know what it’s taken to get there. I’ve been there every step of the way, and I know what kind of person he is. In addition to being a great competitor, he’s also a great person and very humble. It doesn’t matter how far he’s come, he always calls me and consults me. I felt really proud that before the team announced the news, he messaged me and told me he was being called up. I really love him like a son.”

While Doval is still at the primordial stage of his big league career, Elias believes he has the talent to develop into a key bullpen piece for the Giants for years to come.

“I think he’s already shown that he has the poise, and without a doubt, the stuff to handle high-leverage situations,” Elias said. “I’ve always maintained that he has the potential to be a closer in the big leagues. Obviously, bullpen roles are won with the confidence of the manager, but I think his upside is to be a high-quality closer. That’s my conviction with him.”