Padres giving Stoops his first real shot
Even during his first healthy offseason in years, when the pounds just seemed to melt off his body, Dylan Stoops had a major concern hanging over his head.
He didn't know if the San Diego Padres would re-sign him and invite him to their minor league spring training in Arizona.
"I was sweating it out," Stoops admitted during a February phone interview from his offseason home in Richmond, "because you never know."
The Eastern York graduate had been a surprise late-season pickup of the Padres at the end of the 2016 season. After finishing an injury-plagued career at the University of Richmond, Stoops spent the last two seasons in independent baseball — trying to earn a shot with a major league organization. After a solid season in the Frontier League, the Padres came calling in August last year with an assignment to High-A Lake Elsinore.
The 6-foot-4 lefty had overcome left shoulder (labrum) and right knee (microfracture surgery) injuries during his college career, with doctors telling him both times he could be looking at career-ending surgery. After posting back-to-back solid seasons in indie ball, including a 3.18 ERA in 90.2 innings last season, Stoops — who has a master's degree — began to wonder if he would ever earn a shot in affiliated baseball.
He split his offseason between his childhood home in York County and working out with pros and college players in Richmond. What started with him throwing buckets of balls against the fence at the East Prospect field, ended with him flying to Arizona March 1. In between, he even worked at Eastern York School District as a guest teacher.
"I'm just this minor leaguer, and the students think I'm a star," Stoops said laughing.
Stoops, 25, is at his first spring training with a major league organization. Instead of joining an independent team with 24 or 29 other players, he is now among more than 50 pitchers in Peoria, Arizona, in the Cactus League.
"It's only human to be a little nervous," Stoops said. "I'm unsure of what it will be like, but it's also exciting."
The good news for Stoops is he's been through the ringer before.
"I've had to prove myself constantly," he said after a throwing session at his alma mater.
And he's already reached his first goal, make it to spring training healthy. His right knee, which was slow to bounce back after surgery during college, is finally back to 100 percent. He experienced his first healthy offseason since college.
"Legs make everything go," Stoops said.
The healthy offseason meant he could be more active, and he managed to shed 20 pounds while completing the Padres offseason throwing program and working out.
"I feel like I'm in better baseball shape, and I see results," Stoops said. "I've been more consistent."
A Swiss Army Knife in a pitching staff, Stoops has succeeded by working with off-speed pitches. He throws a curve, slider and change-up. So despite sitting in the mid- to high-80s and topping out in the low-90 mph range, he has been effective.
So he makes it no secret what role he wants with the Padres: Any one that will keep him on the roster.
"I like to win, and as a starter you can control the pace of the game," Stoops said. "But as a reliever, you really get an adrenaline rush. I'm willing to do whatever keeps me going (with the Padres), I'll be ready.
"I'm just preparing to throw multiple innings."