Dodgers minor league pitcher Brock Stewart began his 2016 season with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. He has already had a whirlwind campaign to date, advancing two levels to Triple-A Oklahoma City. But there is a chance he has one more jump in him, and possibly quite soon.
The Dodgers need a starting pitcher for Wednesday after designating Nick Tepesch for assignment after his Friday start in Pittsburgh. Let's run through the possible in-house options:
Jose De Leon: he is out after throwing 77 pitches in a start for Oklahoma City on Saturday. Wednesday would be on short rest.
Jharel Cotton: he started on Sunday for OKC, and threw 90 pitches in five innings. Same deal, Wednesday would be on short rest, so he's out.
Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy: both still in rehab mode after missing over a year each following surgery. Each needs at least one, if not two more rehab starts before being ready for a return, so they are out.
Ross Stripling: he pitched three innings on Thursday in the Arizona Rookie League, after spending most of the previous four weeks only conditioning in Arizona to limit his 2016 innings. He tweeted this on Sunday afternoon:
Until next time AZ ✈️— Ross Stripling (@RossStripling) June 26, 2016
But with just three innings on Thursday, he's not built up to rejoin a major league rotation yet, plus manager Dave Roberts ruled out all three of Ryu, McCarthy and Stripling in meeting with reporters on Saturday, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. It seems much more likely Stripling is headed for Oklahoma City.
Roberts on Sunday also eliminated Mike Bolsinger from consideration, per J.P. Hoornstra of the LA Daily News, and said a bullpen game was highly unlikely. Bolsinger could technically be brought back from his optional assignment by Wednesday since it will have been at least 10 days down in the minors, and though he pitched one inning in relief on Sunday, that could have been the equivalent of a between-starts bullpen session.
But it makes sense he isn't a candidate for Wednesday because it was his bad pitching that got him sent down to Triple-A in the first place and helped put the Dodgers in their current quandary.
So that really only leaves Carlos Frias, who pitched 5⅓ scoreless innings on Wednesday in relief of McCarthy for Oklahoma City; and Stewart, who has only made three starts in Triple-A but struck out 10 batters in each of his last two outings.
Stewart's last start was Friday, too, so pitching on Wednesday would be regular rest for him.
There is also the fact that Frias was optioned last Tuesday, so to be called up before July 1 (Friday) he would have to replace an injured player. Over the course of a long baseball season, nobody is 100 percent, and I'm sure the Dodgers could find someone on the active roster they could place on the DL if they had to. But that is just one more step they would need to take just to have Frias back for Wednesday.
Frias is scheduled to start for Oklahoma City on Monday night, so we should have some idea of the Dodgers' plans by then.
That makes Stewart a very real possibility, which given his performance to date shouldn't really be a surprise. He is 8-3 with a 1.47 ERA in 14 starts across three levels, with 99 strikeouts and 14 walks in 86 innings. With some prodding by the beat reporters, Roberts did acknowledge Stewart was under consideration for Wednesday.
Brock Stewart might be a candidate, Roberts said.— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) June 26, 2016
Try that again -- #Dodgers mgr Dave Roberts would not dismiss Triple-A RHP Brock Stewart as a possibility for Wednesday start— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) June 26, 2016
This by no means a slam dunk decision. There are real risks to bringing Stewart up now. He'd have to be added to the 40-man roster, which given the short-term nature of this assignment means he'd eventually burn an option year in 2016, and would be out of options by 2019.
But he's already 24 and in Triple-A. If they deem his arm to be at least close to major league ready now, it seems silly to worry about Stewart at age 27 not being able to stick in the majors.
I can't say I remember a Dodger who made the jump from Class-A to the majors in one season, let alone by the All-Star break. That Stewart is even under consideration for such a promotion is remarkable in and of itself. We'll find out in a day or two if he makes that final jump this week.