Tonight, 21-year-old Dustin May is set to bring his flaming red hair to Dodger Stadium when he makes his major league debut against the Padres. Every prospect’s journey to the bigs is unique, but they start in similar places, on amateur fields, often under the watchful eye of scouts. May’s path is especially familiar to me; though I was far from the only person in the Dodgers organization involved, I was the scout who signed him.
The funny thing is, I wasn’t especially enamored with May the first time I saw him pitch. It was a little more than four years ago to the day, at the annual Texas Scouts Association showcase game on a characteristically hot July day in San Antonio. May pitched one of the later innings of the day; he worked in the upper-80s with his fastball and threw a sharp upper-70s slurve with good spin. While he pitched well against the high school competition he faced, his stuff didn’t stand out among a crowd of intriguing 2016 high school draft prospects that included players such as Forrest Whitley, Hudson Potts, and Kyle Muller.
Still, May’s prospect status continued to rise at a relatively quick pace following that initial outing. After a solid performance in two separate appearances during the fall of his senior year, he was planted firmly among the list of “must see early” players – a list commonly populated by projectable high schoolers who might make a jump during the springtime. May, who was an ultra-skinny 6-foot-6 with a quick arm, fit the bill well.
By time his senior spring rolled around, May’s velocity had crept up from where it was during my first look. Touching 94 and routinely working in the low-90s with life, he began to morph into a prospect who didn’t seem as far away as he had a few months before. To go along with the increased fastball velocity, the breaking ball, which had always spun well but often got sweepy and had slurvy shape to it, began to develop into more of a true slider.
As an area scout, my responsibility was to gather as much information as I could so the scouting department could make the best decisions possible when choosing among hundreds of options during the draft. It was no different with May. I spent the spring speaking with his coaches, teammates, and teachers, to the college coaches who had recruited him, and advisers who were assisting his family in the process. May was selected in the third round of the 2016 draft as a projectable high school righty with the makings of two pitches that projected to potentially be plus in the future. He was given a $997,500 signing bonus and went straight to work in the AZL.
Between then and now, May has thrown just over 400 innings in the minor leagues, showcasing advanced command and inducing groundballs at an above-average clip. He now works with a four-pitch mix, highlighted by a plus low-90s cutter he added last year. His sinker, which has averaged 95 mph and touched 99, would be among the hardest sinkers major league starters throw. His curveball would be among the highest average spin breaking balls of any major league starter as well. His changeup, still a work in progress, is thrown just over 8% of the time and flashes average.
Beyond being a part of May’s signing process, I also served as one of his coaches – first during Fall Instructional League in 2016, and then again at the end of the 2017 season in his brief but impressive stint in the Cal League. I vividly remember having a conversation with him during instructs after a two-inning outing. He was told to only throw fastballs and changeups during his second inning of work in order to gain reps throwing the changeup, which was developmentally behind his breaking ball. May threw a total of 24 pitches in his two innings – 12 fastballs, 12 changeups. After the outing, he was asked if he intentionally threw the exact same number of each pitch, and if he was aware he could have utilized his breaking ball in his first inning of work. His response was succinct. He explained that he didn’t know it was an exact 50-50 usage split, but that he’d known he could use the breaking ball and decided not to. When asked for his rationale, he said he knew he needed a changeup to get big league hitters out. The coaches who observed this discussion nodded in approval. It’s rare for a teenager to possess the sort of foresight and maturity present in May’s response, one that suggests not only an awareness of what the exercise is intended to achieve in the moment, but also of the purpose it is meant to serve years down the road. It was then that I fully realized that May’s mental makeup would be a strength as his professional career continued.
Coming into the 2019 season, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked May second in the Dodgers system and 21st overall, earning a 55 FV and a report that heralded him as a near-complete prospect, only missing a changeup to round out his arsenal. Their report on May detailed the strength of his curveball and his curls:
May’s flamboyant ginger curls and Bronson Arroyo-esque leg kick are maybe the third and fourth most visually captivating aspects of his on-mound presence once you’ve gotten a look at his stuff. His mid-90s fastball plays up due to great extension, and further incorporation of a running two-seamer has given May’s heater enough tail to miss bats in the strike zone. His vertically-breaking slider (May calls it a slider, but it has curveball shape) has one of the better spin rates in the minors and enough vertical depth to miss bats against both left and right-handed hitters. It’s May’s out pitch, but he also has a developing cutter and its movement is a great foil for his two-seamer. After trying several different changeup grips in 2017, it seems like May is still searching for a good cambio, but his fastball and breaking ball command should suffice against lefties for now.
In 79.1 innings in Double-A this year, May produced a 3.18 FIP, a 19.8% K-BB%, and a 50.5% ground-ball rate. He earned a promotion to Triple-A, an invite to the Futures Game in Cleveland, and a 60 FV, moving closer to fulfilling the promise that had Eric and Kiley describe him as, “what was once a prospect with mid-rotation upside has become one with mid-rotation likelihood.” May is now ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers system and eighth overall in baseball on THE BOARD.
Now, after a trade deadline that saw Los Angeles decline to make a significant pitching acquisition, May is getting the call. He’s a young pitcher with a unique combination of a high floor and a high ceiling. There’s a strong likelihood that he is a mid-rotation starter – a plus athlete who throws four pitches for strikes and has never had a major arm injury – and the chance that he continues to refine his arsenal and becomes someone featured at or near the top of a major league rotation. He’ll likely contend for a playoff roster spot on the 2019 Dodgers team, and figures to be featured in the rotation beginning in 2020 and moving forward. His path to the bigs might be complete, but his journey is just beginning.
Josh Herzenberg has served as an area scout and a minor league coach for the Dodgers. He can be found on Twitter @JoshHerzenberg.