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Meet the four prospects leading the Dodgers’ youth movement on the mound

It was right around this time in Dodgers spring training last year that Tyler Anderson walked through the door.

The team did not have an opening in its starting rotation. And Anderson, a veteran lefty trying to extend his career, received no guarantees beyond a long relief role in an already loaded bullpen.

The move seemed minor, if not redundant, at the time.

But in a matter of weeks, the addition of Anderson became one of the biggest factors in the Dodgers’ 111-win season.

That is the nature of a major league season. Starting pitchers almost always get hurt. The opening day rotations will almost certainly change. And many times, a team’s performance can be defined by how much they can trust their overall shooting depth.

That’s why the Dodgers signed Anderson last year, then exhaled when he became an All-Star-caliber host for their battered staff. He was like a de facto insurance policy and proved to be worth every part of the $8 million premium it took him to sign it.

This year, the team could have tried a similar move.

Although they have five established starters, nearly all of them have injury concerns or potential workload limitations. After both Anderson and Andrew Heaney left in free agency this offseason, acquiring another veteran forward might have made sense.

The Dodgers, however, are going in a different direction with their pitching depth this season.

They have a young core of four highly touted prospects: Ryan Pepiot, miguel arboledaGavin Stone and Bobby Miller, and they’re relying on a combination of them to help bolster the rotation throughout the season.

Dodgers prospect Bobby Miller started for the National League in the All-Star Futures game at Dodger Stadium in 2022.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

The first opportunity could come sooner than expected. After spraining his ankle while he was walking the diamond during field drills this week, Tony Gonsolin’s Opening Day status is unclear. A door could be open for one or two starters in his place early in the regular season.

And as a result, what was already an intriguing subplot for the camp is taking on even more meaning, propelling the quartet of promising but largely untested arms into an increasingly glittering spotlight just three weeks before the 30th premiere. of March.

“They’re going to have a chance,” manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s a good thing for them individually and also for the organization, to promote from within.”

Dodgers minor league director of pitching Rob Hill is proud to talk about the growth of the team’s four young arms.

When Hill was signed by the Dodgers before the 2020 season, each of them were just embarking on their professional careers: Grove as a 2018 second-round pick who had recently recovered from Tommy John surgery, Pepiot as a pick third-round pick the previous summer, and Miller and Stone as upcoming first-round and fifth-round additions in that year’s draft class.

Before long, it was apparent that their careers would follow similar trajectories. And like others in the organization, Hill was quick to recognize that they could all be MLB-ready at the same time.

“It’s been really cool to see his growth,” Hill said. “It’s almost like they get more boring, if that makes sense. They really learned about their craft, about what makes them great. And they persecuted him continuously and relentlessly. It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Gavin Stone poses for a portrait.

Gavin Stone was the Dodgers’ 2022 minor league pitcher of the year.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Pepiot and Grove have set the pace for the group, getting their first taste of big league life with multiple call-ups last season.

Pepiot was called up for three starts in May, one in July and three more in August. His surface-level numbers were good, a 3.47 ERA in 36 ⅓ innings (he also made two long relief appearances in September). And there were flashes of his sky-high potential, brief moments in which he mixed up his deceptive fastball and his trademark biting changeup.

“When I was in the zone, I was successful,” Pepiot said. “Seeing that, he gave me a little confidence boost.”

It also provided some motivation for his offseason.

In most of his starts, Pepiot struggled with consistency and command. He missed too many pitches on the arm side of the plate. He couldn’t find a good feel for a slider he had played with the previous offseason. And he ended the season dissatisfied with his delivery.

So this winter, he tried to revamp his game.

He concentrated on cleaning up his mechanics, especially to better locate his double stitching and derailleur. He settled on a more traditional slider shape, with enough right-to-left movement to keep hitters guessing.

Early results have been promising, highlighted by one earned run in three Cactus League games and, more importantly, just one walk and nine strikeouts in six innings.

If Gonsolin’s sprained ankle lasts beyond opening day, Pepiot looks likely to get the nod in his place.

“There is a confidence that comes from knowing that the installment that he has landed on and continues to hone will allow him to compete at a higher level,” Hill said. “She’s in a great place with all that stuff.”

Dodgers starting pitcher Michael Grove throws out a pitch against the Diamondbacks in September 2022.

Michael Grove started six games for the Dodgers in 2022, including one against the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 14.

(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

Grove has made similar strides this spring.

After his own rocky debut season — posting a 4.60 ERA in seven major league outings (six starts) after initially being called up directly from double-A — the 26-year-old right-hander has posted equally impressive offseason gains. .

His fastball is up a couple of ticks, routinely hitting 96 mph after averaging 94.4 mph last year. He added more spin and movement to his slider and curveball, hoping it will help him drive away more hitters in his next stint in the majors.

“It could have gone either of two ways,” Grove said. “Throw (my breaking pitches) harder or get something that spins a little more and has a little more shape. I went that route, played with my grip and made an adjustment that way.”

Stone and Miller have yet to make their major league debuts, but they could be ready sometime this season.

Miller, who has yet to pitch in a spring game due to a slower rise in camp, might have the best raw material of any prospect in the organization.

His fastball flirts with three digits. You can get puffs with your slider, curve, and shift. In his third triple-A start near the end of last season, he struck out 14 batters in six innings.

Stone, however, currently looks like the more polished of the two.

After being selected with the second to last pick in the pandemic-shortened 2020 draft and struggling in Class A throughout 2021, Stone burst onto the scene as the Dodgers’ minor league pitcher of the year last season.

He led all minor leaguers with a 1.48 ERA, progressed all the way to triple-A (where he posted his best numbers of the year) and thus far this camp has received high praise from Roberts on down.

“There’s a lot of talk about Gavin,” Roberts said. “He has opened many eyes.”

There is an irrefutable risk to the Dodgers’ pitching depth plan this season.

For all the promise and potential they have in their top four prospects, as well as other younger arms who could contribute if needed this season, like Andre Jackson, they still put a lot of faith in pitchers with little to no major league history. Suspenders. record.

They are betting on a group that offers no guarantees.

And it looms quietly as a potential lynchpin for the team’s fate this season.

Ryan Pepiot of the Dodgers pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 11, 2022.

Ryan Pepiot’s major league debut came on May 11, 2022 against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

(Gen J. Puskar / Associated Press)

The Dodgers explored other possibilities this winter. They were linked with Seth Lugo before he signed with the San Diego Padres. They consulted with the Miami Marlins about Pablo Lopez before he was traded to the Minnesota Twins.

They could always scout the market around the trade deadline, though their offense is likely to be a more pressing need in the wake of Gavin Lux’s season-ending injury.

For now, they’re relying on the current starting five — Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, Noah Syndergaard and Gonsolin — and the rapidly growing wave of talent behind them.

“You look at the market and the potential advantages of getting out of the organization compared to what we had internally, and I think we nailed it,” Roberts said, noting that the Dodgers have successfully integrated previous prospects like Urías and Walker Buehler into their team. rotation. .

“I think the floor is higher than people realize because of the talent in those minor league arms,” Roberts added.

General manager Brandon Gomes echoed similar optimism, saying he expects the team’s young pitchers to continue to progress over the course of the season, regardless of how soon their big-league opportunities arise.

“I think each of them has different things that they need to improve before they become impactful big league players, but they also have different and real strengths,” Gomes said. “We’ll see how things play out. I feel like we always have, we’re going to use quite a few pitchers. So I think they’ll have a chance to go out there and continue to develop and grow.”

And there may be no bigger believer than Hill, who has seen them all flourish, from draft picks to highly anticipated prospects knocking on the door of big-league opportunities.

“They have shown all the things that a big league pitcher needs,” he said. “Stay in the field. Adaptability with the game plan, with launch and delivery. And just the mental strength to make it work and hang in there. I think they all showed they can handle it.”

This year, for better or worse, the Dodgers may not have to wait long to start finding out.