At the end of June 2017, observers could have seen Gavin Lux’s performance as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League and been underwhelmed. Despite a solid 11.1% walk rate and 18.7% strikeout rate, the 2016 first-round pick was hitting .211/.304/.303. The skepticism that often surrounds high school position players from northern states followed Lux through his amateur and early professional days, and the Kenosha, Wisconsin native did little to allay those concerns.
Meanwhile, believers took a glass-half-full view of his performance at that point. A cold-weather player who shows good plate discipline and bat-to-ball ability in full season ball is nothing to scoff at; a middle infielder with athleticism and feel to play has a high floor. And the makeup for which Lux was lauded was thought to be a potential developmental separator, as the shortstop continued to gain strength and make swing tweaks.
Fast forward to the present day, a bit more than two years later, and the Dodgers have called up the 21-year-old, who notched his first two major league hits in his debut on Monday. After recovering in the last two months of 2017 to hit .244/.331/.362 with 27 stolen bases in the Midwest League, Lux turned on the burners. In 2018, he torched the Cal League through 88 games, hitting .324/.396/.520 with 41 extra-base hits. He made a 28-game cameo in the Texas League that year as well and continued to rake, hitting .324/.408/.495.
Lux entered 2019 as the 23rd-best prospect in baseball and the third-best in the Dodgers system, behind Keibert Ruiz and Dustin May. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel noted that Lux’s production was quickly interpreted as a result of adjustments that he had made, rather than a mirage:
Lux has become almost the inverse of what he was in high school. Drafted as a glove-first shortstop, he has developed throwing issues that we believe will push him to second base. His early-season onslaught at Rancho Cucamonga could have been interpreted as a Cal League mirage, but Lux continued to hit and hit for power at Double-A Tulsa after promotion and scouts have future plus grades on his raw power. Now much more physical and strong than he was when he was drafted, Lux is the latest Dodgers player to enjoy a beneficial swing change. His hands have become more active before they fire, and his swing has more lift now, resulting in a ground ball rate that fell from 52% in 2017 to 42% in 2018. His bat is quick enough to catch velocity up in the zone and Lux is strong enough to punish it. The changes haven’t had a negative impact on his feel for contact and he remains a selective hitter, as well. We’re somewhat concerned about the throwing issues but there’s middle infield speed and athletic ability here, and we hope those get ironed out because if they do, Lux could be an All-Star.
The throwing issues to which Eric and Kiley alluded became increasingly apparent in 2018, as Lux was challenged at shortstop by throws from deep in the hole and from different angles. Second base looks to be the likely long-term landing spot for him, although some evaluators believe he’s been able to iron out the throwing issues and that his arm strength and range – both graded as 55 by some – are good enough to stay at shortstop. Lux is also a plus runner on the bases and has shown good instincts, both of which are traits to be considered in his long-term defensive projection.
Whether Lux requires a migration to second base or not, the bat is exciting. He spent 64 games repeating his time in the Texas League to start 2019, where he once again posted the 147 wRC+ he put up at both levels in 2018. He was promoted to Triple-A in late June and put up absurd numbers since arriving. Even in such a hitter-friendly environment as the Pacific Coast League in 2019, Lux stood out, hitting .392/.478/.719 in 232 plate appearances while striking out less than he had in Double-A and walking at a career-high clip of 14.2%. Lux is now ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Dodgers system and ninth-best in the game.
Lux’s progression from a defense-first, contact-oriented middle infielder was less the result of a swing “change” per se and more a combination of strength gains, tweaks, and a more focused approach. Since his 2016 stints in the Pioneer and Instructional Leagues, sources indicate that Lux has roughly doubled the number of balls he has hard hit, and at an optimal launch angle. In 2017, he hit line drives 12.1% of the time; in 2019, that number is up to 23.1%.
With that being said, no one should reasonably expect Lux to sustain a .327 ISO or a .451 BABIP in the big leagues, both of which have helped his torrid Triple-A performance. Nonetheless, a 21-year-old middle infielder with a history of controlling the strike zone and developing power is an attractive commodity for a club, and they have already said there is a chance he could make the postseason roster. Given the success of the Dodgers and the depth of their farm system that should, conceivably, help to sustain big league success moving forward, it is a good time to be a fan. Lux is a big part of that excitement, and as Eric and Kiley have noted, he has a chance to be an All-Star one day.
Josh Herzenberg has served as an area scout and a minor league coach for the Dodgers. He can be found on Twitter @JoshHerzenberg.