It is incredibly rare for a team competing for a World Series to have a top-20 prospect make his MLB debut. It is even rarer that another top-50 prospect starts the game before that. Yet, that’s the position the Dodgers found themselves in during their season in Atlanta. Gavin Stone, MLB’s 44th prospect, made the start for the team on May 3. The next day, #19 prospect Bobby Miller would make his MLB debut. Besides having the expectation of being top prospects, the pressure on these two was even greater for this start. Due to a combination of injuries and underperformance, these two will now become much-needed parts of a very beleaguered rotation.
Gavin Stone’s first start against the Phillies was less than ideal. He went four innings, allowing five runs on eight hits, with two walks, and just a single strikeout. Things would not be any easier in his second start, as he faced one of baseball’s top offenses in the Atlanta Braves. The game did not get off to a good start as Ronald Acuna Jr. smoked a double off the bat. A good piece of hitting from Sean Murphy would drive in Acuna. Austin Riley worked a walk, bringing up Eddie Rosario. Stone hung a change over the dead center of the plate, and Rosario hit it over the right field fence, 4-0 Braves. The rest of the inning would be just as rough, with a walk to Marcell Ozuna and an Orlando Arica single. The Braves ended up batting around in the first.
After that Stone began to settle in over the next few innings. He would get a groundout, strikeout, and fly out from the top of the Braves’ lineup. Austin Riley walked to start the third but would be quickly erased on a double play ball. Stone then retired the next four batters he faced. Things would quickly unravel once the fifth inning started. He walked Acuna and Matt Olson, each on four straight pitches. Olson would represent the last batter he faced that night. Stone finished the night with four-plus innings pitched, allowing five runs on five hits, five walks, and one strikeout.
Even with context, this start was not great for Stone. His command was very erratic that night, with less than half his pitches finding the zone. The Braves only swung at 22% of such pitches. His fastball command was particularly egregious as only a third of his heaters were located in the zone. His CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs) wasn’t much better either, sitting at 29%. If there was one silver lining to this start it’s that Stone’s pitches have a combined whiff rate of 41%, but didn’t prove to be effective as he got only one hitter in a two-strike count.
The pressure that faced Bobby Miller would be even greater. Not only was he the team’s top pitching prospect, but he needed to go as deep as possible to save a taxed bullpen. With the weight of an entire organization on his shoulders, Bobby Miller took the mound and fired a 100-MPH fastball to get Acuna to ground out. Olson was quickly retired, but Sean Murphy singled on a sharp ground ball that got past a diving Miguel Rojas. Miller would make his only mistake of the night, as Will Smith called for a high fastball, but Miller missed his spot leaving a fastball over the heart of the plate. Austin Riley smoked an RBI double. Miller would more or less cruise the next four innings with Acuna only being the only batter to advance to get into scoring position.
Miller finished the night with a final line of five innings pitched, allowing just one run on four hits and a walk, while striking out five. His command was decent as he found the strike zone 51% of the time. However, some of the advanced numbers paint a less flattering picture. While his fastball spin landed him in the 62nd percentile, it was being hit incredibly hard. The average exit velocity on his fastball was 103.4 MPH. Needless to say, the Braves feasted on this fastball, hitting .429 with a .571 slugging. However, the slider did live up to the hype as it was his best pitch that night. Hitters were 1 for 6, whiffing 27.3% of the time, and having a .209 wOBA.
How does the Future look?
Due to the nature of their opponent, it is hard to look at surface-level stats, and even Statcast can be a little disappointing. For example, Bobby Miller’s poor fastball showing is a little deceiving. The Braves are one of the better fastball-hitting teams, having a +19 run value as a team against fastballs. So the Braves were more likely to capitalize on mistakes that Miller made with his fastball. Despite it being his first start, Miller showed tons of promise against a tough Braves lineup, and should only get better in future starts.
Gavin Stone has looked rough in each of his starts with very few bright spots. Even worse is the fact that his changeup, his best pitch, hasn’t been successful either. Hitters are hitting .313 with a .625 slugging percentage, on top of that hitters have a 52.3% hard-hit percentage. On top of that, his xBA, xSLG, and xWOBA are all higher than the actual numbers. He has been optioned back to Triple-A, hopefully allowing him to fix whatever issues are plaguing him so that he may reach his full potential.
Not all prospects can have immediate impacts, they have to figure things out before becoming successful. Bobby Miller showed immense promise in his first start but needs to work on improving his fastball location in order to reach his full potential. Stone has had a whole range of issues over his first few starts, but hopefully second through fourth innings in his start against the Braves can mark a turning point for Stone’s development. Regardless of whether or not they can help now or in the future, we shouldn’t let one or two starts define someone’s future. Hopefully in the near future we will be adding Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone to the Pantheon of great Dodger pitchers.