In the shortened five-round Draft in 2020, Gavin Stone was the 159th overall and penultimate selection. On Wednesday, he'll become the 14th member of that class (and just the sixth non-first-rounder) to reach the big leagues when he starts for the Dodgers against the Phillies.
Stone's repertoire has improved dramatically since he signed for a well-below-slot $97,500, a testament to Los Angeles' acumen at finding players and developing them. He didn't register on scouting radars and was barely recruited coming out of Riverside High School (Lake City, Ark.) in 2017. Six years later, he ranks No. 48 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list and is taking the mound for one of the most successful clubs in the Majors.
Stone spent most of his first two college seasons at Central Arkansas as a reliever, leading the Bears with six saves as a sophomore before moving to the rotation full-time in 2020. He made just four starts before the pandemic wiped out the season but made them count, allowing a total of just four runs and concluding with a 13-strikeout no-hitter against Southeastern Louisiana.
At that point, Stone stood out more for command of his fastball and slider than the quality of those pitches. His heater operated at 90-92 mph and topped out at 96, while his slider parked in the low 80s. He threw just three changeups in his four starts, none of them for strikes.
Now 24 years old, Stone is a completely different pitcher. His four-seam fastball has jumped to 94-98 mph and his low-release height leads to plenty of induced vertical break that creates difficult carry up in the zone. He not only has boosted his slider to the mid-80s, he also has developed better shape with it. Both offerings grade as solid -- and pale in comparison to his changeup.
Stone has one of the best cambios among pitching prospects anywhere in the game. It's a plus-plus weapon that arrives in the mid-80s before diving at the plate. He has thrown more changeups than four-seam fastballs in the past two seasons while generating a 52 percent swing-and-miss rate with it.
While Stone isn't very physical at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, his athleticism and efficient delivery enable him to throw strikes and maintain the quality of his pitches. Armed with his upgraded stuff, he has posted a 2.69 ERA with a 333/81 K/BB ratio and .223 average-against in 237 1/3 Minor League innings.
Stone led the Minors in ERA (1.48) and ranked fifth in strikeout rate (12.4 per nine innings) last year, then dazzled the Dodgers with 6 2/3 scoreless innings -- fanning 14 of the 27 batters he faced -- during Cactus League action this spring.
"Certainly the skill set we already knew about, but it’s still good to see in bullpen sessions every day," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said in March. "But I just think learning more about the person, the heartbeat, how he performs on this stage. That’s really telling. I couldn’t be more impressed with Gavin."
Stone got shelled for six runs in his first start in Triple-A this season before settling down and yielding just seven runs in next five outings. In his last time out on Thursday, he allowed one run while striking out eight in five innings, seven on changeups.
It's uncertain how long Stone will stay with Dodgers in his first trip to the Majors. Los Angeles doesn't have an injury or a rotation opening so much as it wants to ease the workload of its current starters by giving them an extra day of rest.
Stone's combination of stuff and polish should allow him to become at least a No. 3 starter once he gets acclimated to the big leagues. It's a tribute to the depth of the Dodgers' talent that he's more of a luxury right now than already part of their rotation.