Jonah Dipoto Is More Than Just a ‘Familiar Name’ (“Royals Rule 5 Radar”)

Often, it is easy to dismiss prospects who are the kids of MLB managers or general managers. They often are late-round picks, usually chosen because they are familiar and will add to the depth of some lower-level Minor League team for a couple of years before eventually following some other career path in baseball.

And at first glance, it appeared like Jonah Dipoto, the son of the current Seattle Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto, was going to follow that same career path.

Dipoto was a 35th-round pick by the Royals in the 2019 MLB Draft as a pitcher from the University of California-San Diego. After going back and forth in his career between the rotation and bullpen, Dipoto settled into a role as a reliever during his senior season at UC San Diego.

The results were slightly better but not impressive by any means. In 19 appearances with the Tritons in 2019, Dipoto posted a 4.17 ERA in 36.2 IP, which included a 1.31 WHIP and K/BB ratio of 2.25. All those numbers were vast improvements from his metrics in 2018 as a junior when he started 14 games and pitched 64.2 innings.

Dipoto gained some intrigue in the draft thanks to a Fastball-Slider combo that some scouts felt could help him profile be a solid reliever at the Major League level. When looking at the tape from his senior year, one could definitely see the potential Dipoto showcased during his final season at UC San Diego.

As a 35th-round pick, the expectations have certainly been low for Dipoto. That has been true for him ever signing quickly after the draft and debuting in the Royals organization in 2019 in the Arizona Complex League and Appalachian League with the Burlington Royals.

And yet, as Dipoto has developed in the Royals’ minor league system, he has become more promising as a reliever, with his most recent campaign in the Arizona Fall League perhaps being his biggest career highlight thus far.

Which makes Dipoto more than just the son of a “famous baseball person” (to quote the infamous Tony La Russa), but perhaps a pitcher who can contribute, and maybe continue to develop under the right tutelage, at the Major League level.


High Strikeout Rates (But High Walk Rates As Well)

Dipoto got off to a solid start in 2019 in Burlington, as he produced a 0.94 ERA in 16 appearances and 28.2 IP with the Rookie-League Royals. After COVID canceled his season in 2020, Dipoto was promoted to High-A Quad Cities in 2021 and produced a decent 3.19 ERA with eight saves in 22 appearances and 31 innings of work.

While the ERA and saves numbers were nice to see from Dipoto, a lot of his other metrics produced a more questionable profile. Dipoto did strike out 11.32 batters per nine innings with the River Bandits in 2021, which was a 0.65-point improvement from his rookie campaign in Burlington. On the other hand, he did walk 6.68 batters per nine innings, which produced an overall K/BB ratio of 1.70, which is pretty disappointing. Hence, it’s not a surprise that Dipoto’s FIP (4.09) and xFIP (5.41) were much higher than his ERA in Quad Cities.

In 2022, it was kind of the same story for Dipoto on a metrics end, but this time in Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

Dipoto saw an increase in workload with the Naturals, as he made 42 appearances and pitched 63.2 innings. His ERA bumped up a little to 3.68, but he also increased his K/9 to 11.87, a career-high for him. Unfortunately, his BB/9 rose to 7.35, and his K/BB ratio dipped to 1.62, the latter being a 0.08-point decrease from a year ago in High-A ball.

Not surprisingly, his FIP (5.08) and xFIP (5.41) were considerably higher than his ERA for a third straight season, according to Fangraphs. However, while it’s easy to dismiss Dipoto’s 2022 season because of those K/BB and FIP numbers, a deeper dive should give more hope for optimism.

Here is a look at Dipoto’s year-by-year metrics via Fangraphs, and pay attention to the trends in BABIP, groundball percentage (GB%), and home-run to flyball percentage (HR/FB%).

In Quad Cities, Dipoto benefited from an abnormally low BABIP and HR/FB rate. That explains why there was such a huge difference, and why some scouts and prospect experts were skeptical of Dipoto as a prospect, despite his solid numbers with the River Bandits.

Last season in Northwest Arkansas though was a different story in regard to those categories. His BABIP was 65 points higher in Northwest Arkansas and his HR/FB rate was 6.1 percent higher as well. While at the surface level that may not be encouraging, the fact of the matter is that the hitting environment of the Texas League is pretty hitter-friendly, and Double-A is a major step up in competition as well. So some regression from Dipoto in his transition from Quad Cities was to be expected.

On a positive end though, he did increase not only his K/9 in Northwest Arkansas but also improved his GB rate by 3.1 percent. These metrics showed that not only was Dipoto developing his strikeout stuff with the Naturals, but also improving his ability to generate outs on the ground as well.

Here’s a look at Dipoto generating a nasty “sword” strikeout with his slider in a game against Frisco back in April:

Considering the number of pitchers who went through issues in Northwest Arkansas in 2022, the fact that Dipoto posted solid numbers out of the bullpen was a positive sign for his outlook as a Royals pitching prospect going into this offseason.


Dipoto Shining in Arizona

Even though Dipoto has never been a top-30 prospect in the Royals system, he earned an invite to the prestigious Arizona Fall League this September.

In the AFL, Dipoto has been stellar, and the Royals’ best reliever with the Surprise Saguaros beyond Christian Chamberlain (who was an AFL All-Star and absolutely dominated in the AFL All-Star game). In eight appearances with the Saguaros, Dipoto has posted a 2.16 ERA and has struck out 13 while allowing only one walk in 8.1 IP. He also has earned a save in his one and only appearance as well.

On tape, he hasn’t showcased the same kind of dominating stuff that Chamberlain has this Fall. Nonetheless, he still looks impressive, and it’s easy to think that Dipoto could find a spot in the seventh or eighth inning, very much like Kelvin Herrera or Tim Collins, who both found success in such spots.

And if that isn’t promising enough, Dipoto has also worked well in tandem this fall in Surprise with Nate Webb, a reliever (and Lee Summit product) who is currently on the 40-man roster, but was beset by injury a season ago.

Before the start of AFL play it seemed likely that going into this winter the Royals were going to leave Dipoto unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft. After all, it seemed unlikely that another club would utilize a draft pick and active roster spot on a guy who wasn’t even a club’s Top-30 prospect.

After this fall though, that decision may not be as easy for JJ Picollo and the Royals front office.


Why Dipoto Deserves a Spot on the Royals’ 40-Man

Last Spring Training, Mike Matheny put Dipoto in against the Seattle Mariners, his father’s organization:

At the time, it seemed like that was going to be Dipoto’s only shot to pitch against MLB hitters. But after a strong AFL campaign, Dipoto is certainly making his case that he deserves a more serious chance this Spring to earn a spot in the Royals bullpen.

There certainly will be an opportunity for Dipoto this Spring with the Kansas City Royals, should he be added to the 40-man roster.

The Royals purged the roster of three relievers recently: Ryan Weiss, Tyler Zuber, and Luke Weaver, the latter who was acquired from Arizona for Emmanuel Rivera. In addition, Wyatt Mills, Gabe Speier, Collin Snider, and Jose Cuas all have questionable futures in Kansas City. If Dipoto can outperform any of them this Spring in Arizona, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dipoto perhaps take their place on the active roster as well by Opening Day.

It’s easy to think Dipoto is only getting buzz because of his famous father, a current GM and former MLB player

However, the “other” Dipoto is slowly showing that he has not just gotten better each and every year as a pitcher in professional ball, but that he could make his own legacy at the Major League level as well (and as soon as next season).

Photo Credit: MLB.Com

3 thoughts on “Jonah Dipoto Is More Than Just a ‘Familiar Name’ (“Royals Rule 5 Radar”)

  1. No question he was drafted only for his last name, a very GMDM thing to do. How ironic that he might actually be able to pitch. Go forward, these are the prospects that the Royals must look at, the exact opposite of an older broke down has-been.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be fair, while it certainly was a GMDM thing, this stuff is quite common. I remember the SF Giants drafted Brett Bochy in the 20th round when Bruce was managing. Brett kind of was like Dipoto though and was more than his name, and he actually ended up making some appearances in 2014 and 2015. Hopefully the same can happen for Jonah, who deserves those opportunities over retread relievers as you mentioned.

      Like

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