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Gavin Stone | Lake City’s Rookie Sensation

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There is a prophetic photograph of Gavin Stone in his high school yearbook wearing his Riverside High School baseball uniform. The caption reads, “You are your only limit.” For Gavin Stone of Lake City, Arkansas, that unlimited aspiration may have placed him in a major league baseball uniform, pitching in a big-league stadium before 50,000 fans. That childhood dream is now a reality.

On June 26, Gavin Stone pitched a complete game shutout against the Chicago White Sox. He is the first major league rookie to pitch a complete game shutout since 2022 and the first Dodgers rookie since 2013. The historic victory was Stone’s ninth win of the season and moved him into the top ten pitchers in the National League with a 9–2 record.

Gavin Stone grew up in the kind of hometown made famous in 1950s TV. Everyone seems to know their neighbor in Lake City, Arkansas. The St. Francis River is about 5 minutes away, the nearest Walmart is a 20-minute drive to Jonesboro, and the Riverside Rebels play in Arkansas’ Class AA, far from the headlines in the state newspapers. Close-knit rural communities are a great place to grow up, but a town of 2,300 in Northeast Arkansas is not a typical destination for big-league baseball scouts.

There is a saying in big-league baseball, “If you can play, they will find you.” While that prediction is basically true, Gavin Stone did not exactly go unnoticed as a high school pitcher at Riverside High. He was All-Conference four times and named to the All-State team in 2016 and 2017. As a senior, Stone was selected as the Outstanding Player in the 2017 Arkansas High School All-Star Game.

Gavin Stone (center) with parents Kerry and Jennifer Stone Photo by Kelly Mann

A College Star at UCA

Although SEC-caliber schools did not come calling, Stone ended up in a quality baseball program at the University of Central Arkansas in the Southland Conference. True to the “the big leagues will find you” prophecy, Stone’s success at Central Arkansas did not go unnoticed by major league scouts.

As a freshman in 2018, Stone appeared in 20 games with a 4–3 win-loss record and 20 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. In 2019, he started two games and assumed the closer role. Stone led the Bears in ERA (1.52) and saves (6).

Gavin Stone’s No-hitter Earns Pitcher of the Week Award

Stone was named to the 2020 pre-season All-Conference team and chosen for the All-Academic Team for the second time. In the Covid-shortened 2020 season, he pitched the third no-hitter in UCA history on March 6, earning Southland Conference Player of the Week honors. When the season was canceled on March 17, Stone was among the Southland Conference pitching leaders with a 3–1 record and a 1.63 ERA. Gavin Stone is the first UCA player to reach the major leagues since Jonathan Davis (Camden), who played 205 big league games from 2018-2023.

Minor League Pitcher of the Year

The LA Dodgers picked Gavin Stone in the fifth and final round of the MLB Draft in the summer of 2020. He was the next to last player chosen. Draft position does not guarantee a pitcher an opportunity to reach major league baseball, and all Gavin Stone needed was a chance. The Dodgers made an excellent choice.

The distance from Lake City, Arkansas, to Dodger Stadium cannot be measured in miles.”

–LA Dodgers’ Fan Blog 2024

In 2021 pitching for two Class A Dodgers farm clubs, Stone posted a good 3.76 ERA and an impressive 138 strikeouts in 91 innings. The promotions came fast in 2022. Stone started at Class A Great Lakes, moved to AA Tulsa for 14 games, and finished the year with six starts at AAA Oklahoma City. His cumulative record at three levels was 9–6, with a 1.48 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 123 innings pitched. Stone was selected by the Dodgers as their 2022 Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Gavin Stone, Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year 2022

What a difference a year makes.

On July 1 of last year, Gavin Stone had started four games for the LA Dodgers. Those four appearances had not gone especially well. He had pitched 12 innings, giving up 28 hits and allowing 17 earned runs.

The Dodgers didn’t give up. On the contrary, Stone became a “frequent flyer” from the Dodgers’ farm club in Oklahoma City to emergency starts in LA. The Dodgers publicly said all the right things. “I’m not saying he’s Orel Hershiser,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, “but he’s a bulldog.”

In that up-and-down 2023 season, Stone pitched 31 innings and gave up 31 earned runs. His 9.00 ERA was easy to calculate, but the Dodgers were confident, and they were correct. The 2024 season saw the Gavin Stone the Dodgers had hoped for and folks back in Lake City expected.

As the 2024 baseball season reaches All-Star Week, rookie Gavin Stone leads the 2024 Dodgers’ pitching staff with nine wins. He won his last five decisions from May 28 through July 5, and over his most recent seven starts, his ERA is an excellent 2.36. Stone was tied for third in the National League in wins and eighth in ERA.

The summer Gavin Stone pitched in his first season for the UCA Bears, a rookie named Shohei Ohtani won the American League Rookie of the Year Award playing for the California Angels. Ohtani came to California from a bustling city in Japan named Oshu. The charismatic Dodgers star is now one of the most famous baseball players in the world and the teammate of an outstanding rookie named Gavin Stone. In the 2024 season, the Dodgers rookie making headlines is from Lake City, Arkansas. There is more than one road to realizing a major league dream.

Note: Special thanks to Anthony Cossey, Poinsett County Democrat-Tribune, for his assistance in this project. UCA photos courtesy of Athletic Department, University of Central Arkansas

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Jim Yeager is a baseball historian who resides with his wife, Susan, in Russellville. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Robinson-Kell Arkansas Chapter of SABR, Yeager is a frequent presenter on the history of rural baseball in Arkansas. His books titled Backroads and Ballplayers and Hard Times and Hardball feature stories of Arkansans who played professional baseball in the first half of the 20th century. More information on Backroads and Ballplayers, Hard Times and Hardball, and other publications – www.backroadsballplayers.com

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2 responses to “Gavin Stone | Lake City’s Rookie Sensation”

  1. Joe Farmer says:

    Hello? Shohei Ohtani won the AMERICAN League Rookie OTY Award in 2018 as a member of the Los Angeles ANGELS, not the NL ROTY as a member of L.A. Dodgers. Ohtani became a Dodger at the start of the 2024 season.

  2. Jim Yeager says:

    Hello Joe,

    Thanks!
    I got a private message a few days ago from a friend who told me I had made a careless mistake. So, this was changed before I saw this post, but I want you to know I always like comments from readers.
    I do appreciate you reading this story. I am proud of this young Arkansas pitcher. I hope he has a long successful career.

    Best wishes and thanks again for your help.
    Jim Yeager

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