With righty Tony Gonsolin likely to begin the season on the injured list with a left ankle sprain, the Los Angeles Dodgers will need to dip into their plentiful stockpile of young starting pitchers to round out their Opening Day rotation.
At the moment, it looks like the team will award the final rotation spot to either Ryan Pepiot or Michael Grove, both of whom made their MLB debuts for the club last year.
While the 25-year-old right-handed Pepiot is among the organization’s blue-chippers with a No. 6 team prospect ranking on MLB Pipeline, the righty Grove may be a bit of a dark horse candidate to slide in ahead of everyone else.
Prospect or Minor League Journeyman?
Grove is 26 years old, meaning he’s right on the fringe of exiting the prospect stage. He’s currently ranked No. 24 on the team’s prospect list with a whole slew of other pitchers ahead of him, including names like Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone, Nick Nastrini, Emmet Sheehan and Nick Frasso.
However, Grove has big league experience under his belt and is on the organization’s 40-man roster, putting him ahead of just about anyone on the list, sans Pepiot. During his time in the majors last season, Grove made six starts and threw 29-1/3 innings, registering a 4.60 ERA with 24 punchouts and 10 walks. His best outing came against the St. Louis Cardinals in late September when he threw five full innings and surrendered just one earned run on three hits, notching his first big-league win.
Grove has shown a few flashes of brilliance in Cactus League play so far, but his overall numbers have been mediocre at best. In his last appearance against the White Sox on Saturday, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound West Virginia native went 3-2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and no walks while striking out six batters. One of those hits was a leadoff long ball by Chicago outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
Grove has posted a 4.38 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP alongside an impressive 14:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 12-1/3 innings this spring. Meanwhile, Pepiot has a 2.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 13:3 K:BB. Pepiot is currently dealing with a minor side injury, but he’s expected to make his next spring start this week.
According to MLB Pipeline, Grove “owns a pair of high-spin breaking balls with depth that lack consistency but can overwhelm hitters when they’re on, with his slider that can reach the upper 80s grading better than his low-80s curveball. He doesn’t have much trust in his changeup yet, which has some fade at times but usually lacks much life or velocity separation from his fastball.”
With a heater that can top out as high as 97-98 MPH, Grove has all the tools he needs to succeed. However, command will be the deciding factor whether he establishes himself as a reliable starting option. According to Brooks Baseball, the right-hander used four different pitches last year in the bigs, including a fourseam, a change, a slider and a curve.
If Pepiot is indeed selected to the Opening Day roster, Grove will be ready as the next starting pitcher up, staying fresh at Triple-A Oklahoma City in the meantime.
Gonsolin’s inclusion on the Opening Day injured list doesn’t bode well for the Dodgers this early, but by giving the youngsters a chance to show their stuff early and often, it could help the team decide whether it needs to pursue any high-quality starting pitching options before the summer trade deadline.