For the first three months of the 2021 minor league season, 2018 2nd round pick Michael Grove‘s fastball was 92-94 mph, which is where it was prior to Tommy John surgery back in May of 2017. Seemingly out of nowhere, it saw a big jump (95-97), as did the curve (78 to 80) and the slider (86 to 89).
Here’s a look at the improved stuff — note that he held the velo increases for the rest of the season:
Grove was regarded as a mid-1st round talent when he was breaking out as a sophomore for the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2017. His strong campaign — 2.87 ERA, 11.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 — was cut short by the aforementioned TJ surgery, and his draft outlook shifted to more of a follow for the 2019 draft than a candidate for a high selection for 2018. Then, the Dodgers came along, doing what we’ve almost become accustomed to them doing by now, finding creative ways to add higher ceiling talent despite baked-in draft limitations for successful clubs.
We’ve seen prospects add velo after joining the org before, but a sustained 2-3 mph mid-season velo increase, that’s a bit more rare. So, what the heck happened this season? First, a side by side, Grove in the windup vs stretch from June 16th at Northwest Arkansas. Apologies for the bootleg quality, MiLB streams are a mixed bag:
A couple other observations I didn’t have room for in the tweet: differing levels of head whack, arm timing is out of sync between the two deliveries, left foot lands in different places, and there’s probably more (#notascout). It’s very difficult to have any sort of command (let alone velo increases) when your mechanics can vary this much, pitch to pitch, windup to stretch, so his early season struggles come as no surprise.
All of that said, here’s what Grove at 92-94 looks like side by side when he’s hitting 97:
Well, that’s rather apparent. Additionally at foot strike, on the left, the ball is well up and visible to the hitter. On the right, Grove is still in his scapular load, and the ball is not yet elevated, so there’s the two-fold benefit of his arm being more on time, and the ball being hidden a bit longer — a little added deception never hurts.
For Grove, cleaning up and finding more consistency with his delivery bore dramatic results:
This offseason, the Dodgers will have to decide whether to add Grove to the 40-man roster, or expose him to the Rule 5 draft. While it will take more than a good six outing run to cement Grove’s long-term outlook, the talent is unquestionably there. I think he should be added to the 40 man, and a dose of optimism for his 2022 campaign is certainly warranted.