Dodgers Prospects: Michael Grove – “Friday Night Lights” to Bright Lights of L.A.

 

*** This post was originally written and released by Dodger Poke Report and is being cross-posted on Dodgers 2080.***

Baseball and Apple Pie is a phrase used to symbolize everything that is right about America.  It’s also a phrase that is used to capture the imagination of every person that has picked up a ball, a bat, or a glove and has dreamed about their American Dream. 

Towns of every size roll out the balls and bats every Summer, mow the grass at the ball fields, and give millions of young kids the chance to become the next Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, Kirk Gibson, or Chris Taylor.

There have been songs written about this great game, poems that depict the heroes’ rise and fall, and books and movies that rekindle our childhood crush we all have on this game. 

Baseball is more than just a game.  It’s an idea, an institution, a dream, and just simply a way of life for so many.  But, no form of art can ever match real life and when someone writes their own story about their own American dream, nothing can compare to that.

American Dream

Michael Grove is a pitcher in the Dodgers organization who grew up in the Ohio Valley, on the Ohio River, and in one of the oldest and most historic towns in all of America.  Located at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, Wheeling West Virginia, in a lot of ways, defines America.  It was once a part of the great state of Virginia, but then became the capital of West Virginia upon its creation.  It’s had times where it was the richest of the rich, but also had times of Rust Belt depressions as well.  

Wheeling is known as the “Nail Capital of the World” and is a slice of mid-size Americana that symbolizes all that is good about this great land.  Kids that grow up in Wheeling learn a certain work ethic, how to have respect for all others, a sense of community pride, and a total appreciation of everything that has gone into making them who they are. It helps people like Michael Grove stay grounded, understand the importance of giving back, and to always take pride in what they call “home”.

Amateur Awesomeness

Michael Grove became a star at his Hometown High School, Wheeling Park High, then became a star at the local university, the University of West Virginia, and is now on his journey to becoming a star on the highest stage of baseball with the Dodgers organization.

Grove was not only a star on the field, he was also the equal off of it.  While he was earning one baseball award after the other in his amateur career, he was also earning a spot on the Dean’s List and the President’s Honor Roll.  

As a Junior in High School, Grove led his Patriots to the state Semifinals underneath the Guidance of his legendary Head Coach Mike McLeod.  McLeod is a Wheeling Park High School alum that decided to come home and give back to his community.  Many people in the Wheeling Community think that McLeod is the greatest athlete ever to walk the halls as a Patriot.  But, while that may be great talk for the folks at the local coffee shop, like Wheeling Coffee & Spice Co, one thing that is a total consensus is that McLeod is a coach that changes lives. McLeod has always believed in building relationships and has mastered the art of helping young kids grow up to be successful adults.  

This sense of pride is the reason why Michael Grove still makes time to go back home and watch his Alma Mater play, especially in the State Tournament, and why, even at his young age, he has already started giving back.  If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it should.  The culture that has been developed in Michael Grove is the exact culture that the Dodgers organization builds for its players and why Michael Grove fits in so well.

On the Field

Michael Grove’s amateur career was one that had a long list of accomplishments.  In High School, he posted a 1.20 ERA, hit .488, was named to the West Virginia Sport’s Writers Association All-Star team in 2 consecutive years, was named the 2014 Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, and was ranked as the #2 player in West Virginia by Prep baseball report as a Senior.  

After High School, Grove took his plus fastball, impeccable character, and great talent to the University of West Virginia and immediately started blazing his trail.  As a Freshman at West Virginia, the 6’3 Ohio Valley player of the year was named to the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention team, and then also named to the Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team.  He pitched in several roles and made 7 starts and was turning into one of the better prospects in the Big 12.

His Sophomore year started successfully but then halfway through the year, the dreaded Tommy John struck.  Grove was forced to shut it down and had to miss the remainder of that year and then all of his junior year.  Grove told Casey Porter of Dodger Poke Report that missing that time on the field at West Virginia was tough.

I’m sure for everybody they’ll tell you the timing was bad and it was for me as well, not being able to put an entire year of Sophomore tape together.  And then missing your entire Junior year from a team is demoralizing because I wanted to be out there competing and playing with my teammates.

Despite missing the back half of his Sophomore year and all of his Junior year, the Dodgers still drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2018 Draft.  Grove was considered a 2nd or 3rd round talent before his injury and Tommy John Surgery is not something that scares the Dodgers organization away.  In fact, many, if not most of the Dodgers recent pitching prospects have had Tommy John and it’s something that Billy Gasparino, the Dodgers director of amateur scouting, felt comfortable with when they drafted Grove.

“We feel very comfortable and confident in our player development and medical staff’s ability to get these pitchers back to where they were,” said Billy Gasparino, the Dodgers’ director of amateur scouting. “The Walker Buehler example is a good one, and we hope to repeat it with Grove.”

So, while Grove didn’t get to pitch during the second half of his Sophomore year or his entire Junior year at West Virginia, the Dodgers still drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft.

Professional Career

Grove started his Dodger career not having pitched in over a year in a real game and spent the remainder of the 2018 season, after being drafted, with the Arizona League Dodgers.  Then, after pitching with High A Rancho Cucamonga in 2019, the Minor League season was canceled in 2020.  So, coming into 2021, he had only 1 season of pitching under his belt since his Sophomore year of College. Trying to pitch at the Minor League level is tough enough, but trying to do it with the stops and starts that Grove has had complicates things in multiples of infinity.  So, when evaluating his performance and potential, it is vital that statistics and numbers aren’t what you judge him by.  He has +++ stuff and got more and more consistent as 2021 progressed.  Here is what Grove told Casey Porter of Dodger Poke Report about his stops and starts and then his 2021 season.

Tommy John is what it is, I missed a lot of time there, but the Covid one really was frustrating for me because I had played a full year since my Tommy John Surgery, and I was supposed to be let off the leash in 2020 and get up to a normal pitch count and that ended up not happening. I spent some time at the Alternate site but it’s not the same because it gets to be a little ground hog day like as you face the same hitters everyday, and you don’t get the same kind of adrenaline bump as you would in a real game.

When Grove gets to string a couple of years together to knock the rust belt off, pun intended, he has the potential to be really really good and is a Major League talent.

Now, that’s my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth, which is .02 cents and a cup of coffee at Island Coffee in Wheeling.  The coffee there is great, don’t get me wrong, but you get the point.  

In my defense, I will say this though, Dodger Poke Report has had the pleasure of getting to see Grove pitch on several different occasions, at multiple levels, and in high leverage situations. At all stops, he has been impressive with his command of the mound and also his stuff.

On April 1 of 2017, I saw him at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and watched him beat my beloved OSU Cowboys throwing strikes with both his fastball and his ++ curveball.   OSU was coming off of a Final 4 appearance in 2016 and was really good, so his performance stuck out.  

In 2016 I watched him come in relief against the University of Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament in OKC as a Freshman and his stuff popped on that occasion as well.  Then, this Summer, Dodger Poke Report covered him in a professional setting with the AA Tulsa Drillers and was equally impressed with how he handled his business.  

Elite Stuff

Grove is a pitcher that will sit 94-95 as he progresses and will be able to hit as high as 96-97. One of the things that gives him the potential to be not only unique but also elite is how athletic he is in using his motion to locate his pitches.  Most pitchers use their landing spot to locate the ball.  In other words, if they want to locate a pitch on the outside part of the plate to a right-handed hitter they land their foot on the first base side of the rubber.  If they want to locate a pitch on the inside part of the plate to a right-hander they land on the 3rd base side of the rubber.  Grove, however, is athletic enough to not have to do this.  Here is a side-by-side of 2 pitches from Grove.  The picture on the left is Grove throwing a fastball on the outside part of the plate and the picture on the right is of him throwing a fastball that is up and in.  

Notice that everything is literally identical in these 2 pictures.  His front foot has landed in the exact same spot, his spine angle as well as his head positioning, hips, chest, and then his arm slot is virtually identical on both pitches.  

So, there are absolutely no tip-offs to the hitter as to the location of the pitch.  When you can hit 96-97 and be this deceptive, it gives the hitter no time to react as you see in this video.

Grove also throws a 12-6 curveball that works really well off of the deception, location, and velocity of his fastball.

Grove’s fastball/curveball combination has the potential to be elite but is not all he has.  Grove also features a sinking changeup.

The next picture is a side by side of Grove’s fastball and changeup.  The picture on the left is Grove throwing a fastball and the picture on the right is of his changeup.  Notice that, again, everything is identical and that there is absolutely nothing for the hitter to pick up to tip the pitch.  

So, not only does Grove have a fastball/curveball combination that has the potential to be elite, but he also has a fastball/changeup combination that should be equal as well.

Adding to the idea of Grove having combinations of pitches that work together, he also has a combination of ways he can get ahead of hitters.  You’ve seen how he locates his fastball, but he also has a round house breaking ball that he uses as a strike pitch as well.  

Grove has a fastball that will range from 94-97, 2 different types of breaking balls, a changeup, a motion that makes his pitches unidentifiable, and is an ultra-smart pitcher as evidenced by all the Academic awards he has won.  He can get ahead in the count with multiple pitches but then can induce a lot of swing-and-miss with multiple pitches as well.  He has an exciting amount of potential!

Model of a Role Model

As good as Michael Grove is on the diamond, he is much more than just a talented pitcher in a High Profile organization.  He is someone that every parent wants their kid to become, and I’m not talking about becoming a baseball star.  He is the type of young man that makes the people close to him more proud of the type of person he is off the field than what he does on it.  And what he’s done on the field is a pretty high bar.

While Grove has talent that most kids will never have, he represents what every kid can be.  He is a hard worker, loyal, and appreciative of everyone that has helped along the way.   At such a young age he has already learned to give, give back that is.  But, now, after all he’s done, it’s finally time for him to take, take off that is!  Take off and become the elite pitcher that those of us that believe in him know he will become.

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