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Unheralded Brock Stewart, Andrew Toles could make second half impact

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Andrew Toles has been a revelation in the first half of the minor league season.
Andrew Toles has been a revelation in the first half of the minor league season.
Rich Crimi | Tulsa Drillers

Entering the 2016 season, neither Brock Stewart nor Andrew Toles received much fanfare in my prospect reviews, ranking 36th and 44th respectively.  All of that has now changed, and given their performances in the first half of the minor league season, not only do I see them both as top-20 guys, but I believe they both have a skill set that can aid the Dodgers' run for the 2016 playoffs.

Toles might have the most unique skill set that the current Dodgers' regime has been seeking to develop in the system, namely game-changing speed.  In a recent Drillers game, I clocked Andrew Toles at 4.07 seconds home to first from the left-hand side... on a double.  Toles also clocked a 3.9-second time tagging up from second to third on a fly ball to center.

Toles isn't just fast, he's an instinctive runner that knows when and where to apply his speed.  He has excellent closing speed and a second gear when stealing bases, and he's been caught only five times in 27 steal attempts this year.  Toles also has the range to track down balls in the gaps in center field or either corner.

His defensive tools, though, are still developing. Toles doesn't always make consistent reads and occasionally needs his speed to bail him out.  Toles also tends to drift on balls rather than anticipating their location.  His arm strength is average for center or left, but may be stretched in right field.

The biggest positive on Toles is that he's not just a slap-and-run speedster; he has real offensive tools. Toles' power is more gap power, but he has enough strength and bat speed for ten to twelve home runs a year in a starting role. Toles has been compared to Michael Bourn in the past, but exhibits a similar batted ball profile, with enough of a line drive rate to be dangerous.

Toles hits from a low crouch that shrinks his strike zone, though he doesn't walk as much given his aggressive approach. He drops his hands in his load and swings with a slight upper cut, and though his swing can get long, he has the bat speed to catch up to good fastballs. Toles is most vulnerable to off-speed pitches, where he occasionally fails to properly diagnose them out of hand and will chase pitches out of the zone.

Miscast as a leadoff hitter in Tulsa, Toles lacks the patience to effectively play the role at the next level, though he has enough enticing offense to threaten at the bottom of the order.  The Dodgers might find the most value in bringing Toles up as a speed weapon off the bench that can also provide outfield range as a late-inning replacement.  He has the tools to eventually develop into a starter, but makes the most sense right now as a matchup weapon and a different look from the current Dodger bench options.

I recently got the chance to see Stewart pitch in Double-A right before his call up to Oklahoma City. Thanks to a doubleheader start time, I was not able to catch the first few innings of Stewart's complete-game win. The innings I did see were rather efficient and clean, and Stewart did not show the shakiness he supposedly exhibited in the first two innings.

Stewart's fastball was primarily 92-93 mph, with a few 94s in the sixth and seventh inning. The pitch has late life and a little sink, and he throws it to all quadrants of the plate. His control of the pitch was plus, though he could refine his command to make it a true plus pitch. The fastball on Tuesday would earn a 55-grade, or above average, from me.

Stewart's best chance for a swing and miss pitch might be his changeup. Stewart throws the pitch at 82 mph with excellent fade to the left side of the plate, and gets additional sink when he works it further over the middle. His arm speed was merely good not great on the pitch, but a several hitters were still in front of the pitch.

Stewart's slider had a tight cutter-like shape, and was thrown pretty hard at 87-89 mph. The break is more gradual than severe and hitters didn't have trouble picking up the pitch. While it may have been an off night for the pitch, he didn't have much feel for the pitch and either caught too much of the middle of the plate or wasted it down and away.

Stewart kept a good pace on the mound and attacked hitters in the zone with the fastball. He stayed ahead in counts and seemed content to let Northwest Arkansas hitters pound the pitch into the ground. Despite struggles in the first few innings, he was composed on the mound in the middle and late innings and kept his team in the game to earn the win.  Stewart held his velocity through the duration of his outing.

Stewart has a physical build at a listed 6'3 and 210 lbs. that suggests durability.  His delivery is clean and without frills, pitching out of a high three-quarters slot.  Stewart's arm action is a bit long in back, but it clearly doesn't hamper his ability to throw strikes, and he does a solid job staying on line to the plate. Stewart has plenty of arm strength, but also incorporates his strong lower half in his delivery, likely aiding his stamina.

While it wasn't his best outing from a statistical standpoint, Stewart was still pitch efficient and in control. Based on this abbreviated look, I could see Stewart becoming a solid number four pitcher, and just a tick or two more on the fastball and an improved breaking ball away from number three upside.  A number four starter that can eat innings and hold his stuff deeper into starts is still an asset, and an improvement on my impression of Stewart at the start of the season.

Because of his age and stamina, Stewart might be able to steady the back end of the Dodgers' rotation in 2016, capable of throwing six innings with quality stuff each time out. That might be enough of a break for the bullpen to conserve innings it has otherwise had to use during Julio Urias and Mike Bolsinger starts. Stewart might not end up factoring heavily during the playoffs, but he can certainly aid the process in getting there.