Dodgers’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year caps 2022 on ridiculous high note

Now that Ryan Pepiot has officially graduated from “Rotation Candidate You Can Dream On” to “Obvious Future Viable Big-League Starter,” Dodgers top prospect Gavin Stone has replaced him in the prospect ranks.

A 2020 fifth-round gem, Stone was rewarded for his efforts this season with the Dodgers’ Branch Rickey Award given to the top minor-league pitcher in the organization (catcher Diego Cartaya won the position player hardware).

Stone’s rise has been meteoric, no matter what your take on him as a prospect was at the end of the 2021 season. That year, the strikeout numbers stood out; he whiffed 138 men in 91 innings, but carried a slightly elevated 1.24 WHIP and topped out at High-A. These were “Excited for Year 2” numbers, not “Cusp of the Big Leagues Guaranteed” numbers.

And yet, Stone’s 2022 season has been a house aflame. He crossed three levels of the minors, posting an ERA below 2.00 at every single stop. His six starts at High-A (with a 1.44 ERA) were apparently more than enough preparation for the Texas League, where he carved up Tulsa’s opponents with 107 strikeouts in 73.1 innings, finishing with a 1.60 ERA in 14 outings in the Oklahoma heat.

Then, it was on to … well, also Oklahoma, where Stone finished with a flourish in Triple-A ball. The righty out of Central Arkansas — an Andrew Friedman diamond in the rough, of course — posted a 1.16 ERA in six starts at the level, striking out 11 in six three-hit innings in his final outing of the year Monday night.

Dodgers fifth-round pick Gavin Stone finished the 2022 season on fire

Hey, uh, Dave Roberts. You know those potential Walker Buehler fill-ins you’ve been looking for? Listen to this.

With an underwhelming free agent market ahead of the Dodgers (Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander not included), it might be time to turn minor-league stars into swingmen, then transition them to the rotation by the second half of the season.

Stone and Pepiot currently sit atop that list, with the strikeout-heavy 2020 draftee probably a tick ahead of the more established option at the moment.

The Dodgers have a franchise-record-setting roster at the big-league level right now, but they’re about to deal with the Gavin Lux Problem multiple times over next season unless they can initiate some serious roster turnover. What do you do when a “ready” top prospect is waiting for an everyday spot that might never open?

What do you do when it’s six top prospects in Pepiot, Stone, Bobby Miller, Michael Busch, Miguel Vargas and James Outman?

Not sure it’s any comfort, but of all the problems to have, this has to be the best problem to have.