During our recent discussion of the Los Angeles Dodgers Top 20 prospects list for 2017, a reader asked me to weigh in on lefty Grant Dayton, who was rated as a Grade C+ prospect but outside the Top 20. Dayton is something of a special case and a pitcher I've had my eye on for several years. Let's explore.
Dayton pitched three years of college baseball at Auburn, with so-so results: a 4.66 ERA in 249 innings with a 217/49 K/BB and 289 hits allowed. He threw strikes but wasn't dominant, falling to the 11th round in the 2010 draft and selected by the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins moved Dayton to the bullpen and he was immediately successful, dominating Low-A, and High-A, and Double-A. He continued to throw strikes as he did in college but his dominance ratios took a huge leap forward, with a 12.43 K/9 in 2011, 10.65 in 2012, and 13.26 in 2013. Despite this, he didn't receive much attention on prospect lists.
I wrote him up in the 2014 book with the following comment:
You seldom see Grant Dayton mentioned as a prospect. Despite his relative anonymity, his performance record in the minors is excellent. An 11th round pick from Auburn in ’10, he’s racked up first-rate K/IP and H/IP ratios at every level and usually throws strikes. He’ll vary his fastball anywhere between 88 and 94 MPH, he has a good slider, he has a good changeup, and hitters just seem to have a really tough time getting a read on him. His stuff is better than the typical LOOGY type and I suspect he’ll be an effective source of relief innings. The Marlins have a lot of material with which to build a bullpen, and Dayton looks like one of the better bricks. Grade C+.
The numbers were terrific and he was almost unhittable when I saw him in person. Why didn't he get more attention?
He had another good year in '14, this time in Double-A and Triple-A, though his control slipped a bit. He posted a 3.13 ERA (the worst of his career to that point) and walked 26 in 72 innings, while striking out 79. There was still no major league promotion. For 2015 I wrote this:
Nobody ever talks about this guy as a prospect. I’m really not sure why. The numbers are there and when I’ve seen him the stuff has been at the very least in the decent category and sometimes more. He can hit 93 with his fastball, his slider has some bite to it, and his control is generally good. He had some gopheritis at times in the Pacific Coast League but that isn’t exactly unusual and hasn’t been an issue for most of his career. He’s 27 now but still strikes me as a plausible bullpen piece. Grade C.
He was finally liberated in 2015, traded to the Dodgers for lefty Chris Reed in July. And after another round of strong pitching in 2016 (2.42, 91/11 K/BB in 52 innings) he finally got a chance in the majors.
And as you know, he made the most of it. MLB hitters were not more successful than Double-A and Triple-A hitters. In 26 innings he posted a 2.05 ERA with a ridiculous 39/6 K/BB.
Dayton's fastball topped out at 95 in the majors with an average reading of 92. It plays up because of his command. He relies primarily on the fastball but his secondary pitches are solid enough, with a curve in the 70-80 MPH range and a change-up in the 80s. He can hit any velocity marker between 69 and 95 MPH, giving him a lot of options. He's had no trouble with platoon splits and gets right-handers out as well as lefties.
At age 29, he is not a classic prospect age-wise. But he's also not exactly a "pop up out of nowhere" guy. He has always been an effective pitcher. The only time his ratios slipped was when he first reached Triple-A and saw a rise in his walk rate, but he quickly corrected that. He has a career 11.51 K/9 in the minor leagues, while giving up less than three walks per nine innings. There's nothing especially weird about his delivery. no obvious mechanical red flags to scare scouts off. He's always been healthy. There doesn't seem to be anything negative in his makeup.
So how did this guy get missed?
I think there was some groupthink going on here. When I first noticed Dayton dominating hitters a few years ago, there seemed to be a lot of skepticism about his ability to pull it off at higher levels due to his non-elite fastball. The Marlins didn't seem particularly impressed, and if you focused on "inside sources" you might not think much about him.
However, the strikeouts kept coming, and it wasn't like he was throwing 84 MPH or something; his velocity was always decent and it slowly but steadily ticked up. As noted the numbers were there, and if you saw him in person you could see that the hitters just could not pick him up.
So that's Grant Dayton. I think he's for real, and he always has been.