Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone usher in new era of Los Angeles Dodgers pitching

Caption: Bobby Miller, the Dodgers top pitching prospect, blazed through the minor leagues to earn an opportunity to play with his childhood idol, Clayton Kershaw. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

GLENDALE – The Los Angeles Dodgers have had some of the best pitching Major League Baseball has ever seen. Legends Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Fernando Valenzuela have graced the mound for the blue and white.

Most recently, Clayton Kershaw has commanded the hill for the Dodgers since 2008 and became one of the most accomplished pitchers in the 2010s behind three Cy Young Awards and the 2014 NL MVP. Only two pitchers –Kershaw and Justin Verlander – have won the award this century. Some fans would argue that Kershaw is the best Dodgers pitcher ever.

Kershaw has inspired many young baseball players throughout his illustrious career and even today, as the 34-year-old gears up for his 16th season in the big leagues, the sure-fire Hall of Famer continues to motivate and influence everyone around him.

One player Kershaw inspired as a child now gets to share a locker room with him is Dodgers pitcher Bobby Miller.

The 23-year-old flamethrower ranks 28th on the MLB top 100 prospects list and second in Los Angeles’s farm system. Miller was the 29th overall pick for the Dodgers in the 2020 MLB draft and has flown through the club’s minor leagues.

“Kershaw has been one of my favorite pitchers since I was a kid,” Miller said. “Just watching everything that he does has a purpose so just making sure I’m doing that as well. Yeah, it’s a great guy to look up to.”

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However, Miller’s arsenal is a strong contrast to Kershaw’s repertoire. Miller is known for his 100-mph overpowering fastball while Kershaw is known for his sweeping curveball. However, Miller throws multiple different pitches as well, such as a separator pitch in his curveball followed by a changeup and a slider.

Growing up in Illinois, Miller wasn’t the biggest fan of pitching when he played in Little League, where he admitted he liked to hit more. In spite of that, when he got a little older, he realized that pitching was his biggest strength and something he wanted to give all his focus.

Safe to say that decision paid off, as even Kershaw raves about his younger colleague.

“He’s a hard worker, and he goes about things the right way,” Kershaw said. “He wants to be really good. And so I think the stuff is there, the talent’s there so I think for him he probably needs a few more reps, and wherever he starts out this year, it could lead to being in LA pretty soon.”

Miller attended the University of Louisville, where he pitched for three seasons from 2018 to a shortened 2020 due to COVID, in addition to a short stint in the Cape Cod Baseball League during the summer after his first season with the Cardinals.

Miller’s tenure in Louisville included a freshman All-American bid after his first season that incorporated a stellar stat line of a 6-1 record, 2.97 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 66.2 innings and 17 appearances that included nine starts.

Miller thinks of only good times at Louisville, especially with all of his teammates, and he expressed that it’s something he will look back on when his career is done and dusted.

After being drafted, it didn’t take much time for Miller to rise up the ranks of the Dodgers minor league system.

It only took him one season to get to Double-A, and in 2022 Miller boasted a 4.25 ERA between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, striking out 145 batters in 112 innings. Miller’s performance in spring training could be one of the deciding factors for his possible call-up to the show sometime this season.

“Bobby has looked good,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Another guy that’s gonna continue to take another step forward. You can’t debate the stuff. But the breaking ball, the fastball command, all that stuff is things that he’s going to continue to tighten up. Seeing him debut this year is not far-fetched at all.”

Miller isn’t the only Dodgers pitching prospect who has the chance to make his debut in the majors this season or be a mainstay in the organization.

Gavin Stone has made headlines over this past offseason and has skyrocketed up prospect leaderboards. Stone sits at 77th on the MLB top 100 list and is the second-highest pitcher – only behind Miller – in the Dodgers organization’s rankings.

Despite being on the same team and the same prospect leaderboard, Stone and Miller couldn’t be more opposite from each other. From their styles of pitching, how high they got drafted, where they’re from, and even who they were inspired by growing up.

Stone, who grew up in Lake City, Arkansas, was a St. Louis Cardinals fan growing up. His favorite player was David Eckstein, a shortstop who won the 2006 World Series MVP award as a member of the Cards, juxtaposing Kershaw’s career.

Stone was also a shortstop and didn’t pitch much until his time at the University of Central Arkansas, the only school that really had an interest in Stone coming out of high school.

“I weighed around 140 pounds when I graduated so they were one of the only schools to offer me,” Stone said. “I’m so glad I went there, it couldn’t have been a better place for me to have been, they had a better coaching staff for me, and I’m really thankful for my time there.”

Stone spent three seasons with the Bears and didn’t see much success until his sophomore season when he had six saves and a 1.52 ERA as a reliever. He then moved to the rotation as a junior and had a 1.30 ERA through his first four starts and spun a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts included in his final outing of the shortened 2020 season.

“I was in college as a two-way player at first,” Stone said. “Then my velocity jumped up and so I stopped playing the field and it wasn’t a choice of mine, but I’m glad I did it.”

Stone was also glad when the Dodgers made him the highest-drafted pitcher out of Central Arkansas in school history, taking him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, four rounds after Miller.

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When Stone arrived in the minors, there was still a ton of work to be done on his game if he ever wanted a chance at playing in the big leagues. In spite of that, it didn’t take long for Stone to skyrocket through the system, reaching Triple-A in less than two seasons, the same amount of time it took for Miller.

Stone credits his fast development to the great coaching throughout the Dodgers organization.. Ryan Dennick, the pitching coach for the Tulsa Drillers, the Double-A affiliate for the Dodgers, was especially helpful, Stone said.

“I think a key guy going through the process was Ryan,” Stone said. “I think he’s helped me the most for sure, especially with different pitch grips and being comfortable on the mound, and just getting hitters out. Me and him just played around with different stuff when I got here.”

Stone has a three-pitch arsenal that includes a mid-90s fastball with a low release point and a devastating changeup. Stone is expected to continue in Triple-A at the beginning of the season, but could make his debut for the Dodgers as soon as later this year, just like Miller.

Despite their two contrasting journeys, Miller and Stone have grown close throughout their time in the minor leagues together, especially with how similar their growth has been since being drafted by Los Angeles. Stone also says they have a lot in common outside of baseball.

“I love Bob, we’ve gotten really close since being drafted together,” Stone said. “Going through the minors with him has been a lot of fun, and we spend a lot of time together.”

Whether it’s this season or seasons to come, if all goes as planned Miller and Stone could eventually headline the next wave of Dodger pitchers. Both hope they get that chance soon.

“To make it up to the big leagues is one thing, but to stay there is totally different,” Miller said.

“I want to be a contributor to the team one day. All I can focus on is where my feet are and focus on what I can do better at each day, where they want me to do better, and just attack that.”

Vincent Deangelis VIN-sint dee-ANN-jeh-lis
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Vincent Deangelis expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Deangelis reports for The State Press.