Brock Stewart's rise through the Dodger system has been fast and fierce. Another thing it's been is fortuitous.
Stewart caught the eye of Illinois State coaches as a two-way player coming out of Normal (Ill.) West High. He hadn't pitched much as a senior, but punctuated his season with a surprise six-inning start in a championship game in which he was only slated to toss one frame. Stewart was drafted in the 40th round by the Mets, but chose to play for ISU as an infielder with pitching as a fallback option.
That fallback option came to pass in Stewart's redshirt junior year. He was shifted to the bullpen and then used another well-timed outing to propel his draft status. Making his first and only college start, the Illinois native stymied Casey Gillaspie's Wichita State Shockers to lead the Redbirds to the MVC title game. With just 27.2 collegiate innings under his belt, the Dodgers saw enough to snag Stewart in the 6th round of the 2014 draft.
Tasked with repeating the California League in 2016, Stewart has surged from high-A to a big league trial in less than a half-season. On Wednesday night he'll make his MLB debut at Miller Park against Junior Guerra and the Brewers, in a tilt that will be streamed over the interwebs free of charge.
Stewart sits 92-96 with an exploding fastball that's been clocked* up to 98. He estimates he splits the heater 85-15% between four and two-seamers, and the pitch plays up with the increasingly stealth command he's shown.
Stewart's preferred secondary offering appears to be the changeup, which he dials down to the low 80's with occasional heavy fade action. There is consistency to be gained with his change, but it's encouraging that he's so adept with it in just his second year as a starter. His success against batters of both sides is a testament to its promise, as is the tape that's available.
A hodgepodge of reports on Stewart's slider indicate an offering that can be used as a hybrid cutter, thrown anywhere from 83-89. I suspect he'll rely on it more in the Show than he has in the minors, where he guessed after a recent outing that he went 80-20 with his CH:SL ratio. He'll need to continue to develop the breaking ball as a weapon against advanced hitters who can deal with his big heater and are apt to wait back on the change.
Stewart brings free-and-easy heat from a high three-quarters look. There is some extra arm action in his release, which smacked to me like a mashup of cambio artist Doug Jones' and sinkerballer Kevin Brown's delivery. He repeats his motion with ease, leading to astonishing command and control for a pitcher with just 34 career minor league starts.
As the cherry on top, Stewart has a nice lefthanded stroke thanks to a former life as a run-producing third baseman. He might be a little out of practice, but I'll be bold in my assessment that he could be one of the league's top-hitting pitchers right out of the gate.
The Other Stuff
As if the son of a former coach and current Rays scout needed any more breaks going his way, Stewart's ascent matches up with his team's' current pitching needs. Injuries, innings limits, and general ineffectiveness in the back-end have resulted in Brock being the next man up for Dodgers.
Stewart's 2016 could proceed in a variety of ways. His call-up could serve as a showcase to other teams, many of whom would be interested in a serviceable #3-4 arm that has six years of team control left. He could give the big club up to a dozen starts down the stretch, or shift back to the bullpen to provide his last ~60 innings in relief. If he's deemed not ready and/or McCarthy/Ryu/Stripling/Alex Wood are back in the fold, Stewart could yet be optioned back to the PCL.
In examining his amateur career, Stewart seems to have a penchant for being in the right place at the right time. Everything's had to break perfect for him to go from infielder to reliever to dominant minor league starter in just two years, and everything has. The Dodgers will hope that luck continues in his MLB debut. History has shown that when Brock Stewart hits a fork in the road of his career, he takes it.