Stone rolling early, looking to flip script after rocky ‘23

February 23rd, 2024

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After allowing seven runs on 10 hits in a start against the Rays last season, sat by his locker in disbelief. Stone had dominated the Minors the previous season, catapulting him onto the stage as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.

In a perfect world, Stone would’ve gotten the call to The Show and contributed for the Dodgers from the jump. But in reality, most young players deal with adversity early in their career.

“Failure sucks,” Stone said. “So you do everything you can not to feel that feeling again. That’s what this offseason was about, to not feel that again.”

For Stone, the low point of that adversity came during that May 28 outing against Tampa Bay. The right-hander was sent back to Triple-A Oklahoma City the following day, forced to figure out what was wrong. After reviewing game video, the Dodgers discovered that Stone was tipping his pitches, particularly when he wasn’t throwing his signature changeup.

Stone was also dealing with a blister issue on his right big toe that prevented him from pushing off as well as he would’ve liked. As he enters Spring Training this season, Stone is looking to prove he can perform.

In his first start of the spring, Stone shined. The velocity of his four-seam fastball consistently touched 96 mph, a couple of ticks above last season. Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. also got a taste of Stone’s wipeout changeup, going down swinging to start the game.

“I think that last year, there were a lot of arm-side misses and he’s a guy that can spin it a little bit, has a plus changeup and a good fastball,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts after Los Angeles' 14-1 win. “Sequencing is important. He’s an easy bet on the player [and] the person. I think for me, there’s just a difference between Minor League command and Major League command.”

Now that Stone has gotten through his first Cactus League start of the spring, the next couple of weeks will be just as big for the right-hander. With Walker Buehler out for at least the first month of the season, Los Angeles has a hole to fill in the rotation behind Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, Bobby Miller and James Paxton.

Ryan Yarbrough will get a fair shot at the spot, but he could be more valuable as a multi-innings reliever and likely the most efficient left-hander out of the bullpen. Emmet Sheehan appears to have the leg up in the competition given what he showed last season and into the postseason.

But Stone is making quite the case. One season ago, the Dodgers showed in many ways that Stone was going to be part of their future. He was the first top pitching prospect to get a crack at the Majors. If a bulked-up Stone -- he added 10 pounds this winter -- continues to show flashes of the pitcher Los Angeles fell in love with, he’ll make an impact at some point in the 2024 season.

Stone could feature for the Dodgers’ prospects in the Spring Breakout game, when they’ll travel to Tempe, Ariz., for a meeting against the Angels on March 16 at Tempe Diablo Stadium at 4:10 p.m. PT.

“I feel like we’re all competing against each other,” Stone said. “But at the same time, we all root for each other and pull for each other. So there’s definitely competition. But throw up zeros and put yourself in a good spot.”

“It’s hard to bet against him,” Roberts said. “You give him something that he can get better at, he’s going to dominate that.”