By Jon Weisman
A year after being drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers, Brock Stewart turned in a reasonably solid 2015. He had a 2.84 ERA in seven starts for low Single-A Great Lakes, then got the half-step promotion to Rancho Cucamonga.
Things were moving in the right direction. The right-hander got roughed up for eight runs in his first start for the Quakes and logged a 5.43 ERA for them, but progress is progress. In 2016, he’d have every opportunity to move up another level.
Or two …
Or three …
Remarkably, after beginning 2016 at Single-A, the 24-year-old Stewart has climbed all the way to the Major Leagues, where he will be making his MLB debut for the Dodgers as their starting pitcher against Milwaukee tonight.
I'm so incredibly fortunate to say that the dreams I've had since I was a young boy have come true. I got the call!!
— Brock Stewart (@Brock_A_Stewart) June 27, 2016
For a starting pitcher to go from Single-A to the Majors in the same season — let alone the same half-season — is practically unheard of, based on my research at Baseball-Reference.com. Though others such as Paco Rodriguez and Hung-Chih Kuo have gone from A ball to the bullpen in the same year, only Hideo Nomo (1995) made his Dodger debut as a starting pitcher after never pitching above A ball prior to that season. (Similarly, Kaz Ishii and Kenta Maeda went straight from Japan to MLB.)
Without a doubt, injuries and attrition to the big-league staff created an opportunity for Stewart. Without a doubt, he seized it.
After allowing one run in his first 11 innings for Rancho Cucamonga, Stewart moved up in mid-April to Double-A Tulsa, where he absolutely thrived, pitching 56 1/3 innings with a 1.12 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 62 strikeouts.
From there, it was to Triple-A Oklahoma City in June. In 18 2/3 innings, he has allowed six runs on 17 baserunners, while striking out 27 — including 10 in back-to-back games.
David Hood of True Blue L.A. watched one of Stewart’s final starts for Tulsa:
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.
He has little wear and tear on his arm, having thrown only 27 2/3 innings at Illinois State while mostly playing third base before his final year. (Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America has more on the amateur background of Stewart, the son of MLB scout Jeff Stewart.)
As was the case with Ross Stripling and Julio Urías, Stewart’s promotion might not be permanent. Though he has the advantage over Urias of being 24 and 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Stewart has already thrown 86 innings this season, after hurling only 101 the year before.
So even if he performs well, there could certainly be a limit — before you even factor in the potential returns of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood. (McCarthy threw five innings and 72 pitches in his latest rehab outing Monday, while Ryu had a 26-pitch rain-shortened appearance on Tuesday).
But to his credit, Stewart has been working deeper into games than some of the more recent Dodger youngsters. Of his 14 minor-league starts this year, he has gone at least six innings in 11.
Stewart could have been playing in the Double-A Texas League All-Star Game on Tuesday. Instead, he’ll be preparing for his MLB debut.