Last summer, I dedicated one of my minor league updates to the unsung guys who virtually never make a top prospect list – the relief pitcher. The general truism, even in the majors, is that relievers are failed starters. That’s not strictly accurate, many of them are guys who were never viewed as starters to begin with and occasionally you have the guy who’d probably be a good (at least) starter if the circumstances of his career had gone differently. In the Blue Jays ‘pen there’s an example of each of these three in Tepera, Barnes, and Osuna.
In the minors, that perception clouds the prospect status of any pitcher throwing primarily in relief. It’s assumed that those guys are by definition lesser prospects than the one’s who are starting and mediocre starters are still often evaluated on whether they have any potential major league utility as a reliever. For example, not a few of the relatively successful starters in the Toronto farm system are commonly discussed in the context of potential bullpen pieces for the Jays (Francisco Rios, Angel Perdomo and Jordan Romano have all been discussed in these terms on occasion). That’s why guys like Danny Barnes, who was a dominant reliever statistically in the minors, barely get noticed. So down below I’ll highlight some of them.
Hottest Pitcher: Conner Greene
Shoutout to Gideon Turk who wanted to see this more than a month ago. Thing is, though, by my lights Greene’s constant struggle to stay in the zone is something I can’t look past. When he overcomes that difficulty he’s aces, but when he doesn’t – which is most of the time – things can get ugly. For example, just this last week he threw two innings in the AA All-Star Game (the only All Star pitcher to go more than one) and he struck out four while walking no one, being every bit as impressive as anyone might have hoped. Before that his last first half start saw him complete seven innings for the first time since April, thanks in major part to complimenting his six strikeouts with only one walk.
But oh those previous five outings. Across those he threw 24.2 innings and walked 24 (to go with only 16 K). It might be a stretch to call him “hot” now, but lately you ave to seize the opportunity when you can.
Hottest Hitter: Ryan Noda
There are actually several candidates here from the 2017 draft. First rounder Logan Warmoth debuted this week for Vancouver with a couple of great games. His teammate 3rd round catcher Riley Adams was almost my choice here and Kacy Clemens is worth a salute as well. But Noda, drafted in the 18th round as an outfielder but playing 1B in Bluefield, has been Bichette-esque in the early going. It’s true he’s a 21 year old former college player who should be doing well in the Appy League but a 1.136 OPS in your first 21 professional games doesn’t come along every year.
5 Other Stat Lines
- John Stilson – 3.09 ERA, 35 IP, 31 H,18 BB, 31 K – a 2011 3rd rounder with an injury history in college made it to, and impressed at, Buffalo back in 2013. But the injuries were not done and he about half of 2014 and essentially all of 2015. He lost his spot in line a bit, pitching in AA last year. But he’s back in AAA and if he could get his command back he might live up to the talent he was believed to have on draft day.
- Carlos Ramirez – 0.00, 13.2 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 21 K – up until 2014 the now 26 year old Dominican was a weak hitting outfielder in the Jays lower minors but he gave that up for the mound and he’s only now approaching 130 professional IP. From 2015 to 2016 he made huge strides in lowering his contact rate but until this year he still struggled with a really high walk rate. What you see above is, to be clear, a REALLY small sample size (due to injury) but that BB/9 rate is down from 4.6 last year to 2.6 and if he sustains that along with the crazy K rate, you might be seeing next spring’s Tim Mayza story.
- Tom Robson – 3.21, 33.2 IP, 28, 11 BB, 29 K – when he was drafted in the 4th round in 2011 he was considered a promising SP, and a 1.12 ERA in 12 starts in 2013 seemed to confirm that view. But his arm blew up in 2014 and he missed a year plus, followed by an awful 2016 in which command was nowhere to be found. But this year he seems to be getting back into his grove. It’s uncertain whether the team is resigned to keeping in the ‘pen from now on.
- Kirby Snead – 2.02, 35.2 IP, 26 H, 15 BB, 38 K – Snead is a 22 year old lefty taken in the 10th round in 2016. Those stats are split across two levels (Dunedin and Lansing) and his left-handedness makes him a name to watch as he moves up the ladder.
- Chris Hall – 212, 17 IP, 11 H, 3 BB, 20 K – Those stats exclude a really ugly cup of coffee at Lansing but other than that aberration, the 2016 4th round pick has been dominant. Opposing hitters have hit .190 against him at Vancouver, it was .198 last year in Bluefield.
The Bisons are 2-10 in July and playing like it. Little to see here except Dalton Pompey and he’s been mysteriously absent since July 8.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Similarly, the Fisher Cats are up raking up the wins, 4-10 in July, but you might catch a good game from Greene or Sean Reid-Foley (and if you do you’re reportedly in for a treat) and they have Danny Jansen and the newly promoted Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
Dunedin Blue Jays
The D-Jays are 8-6 this month but more importantly, if you watch a game right now you might well get a chance to see a top of the line-up that goes Anthony Alford>Bo Bichette>Vlad Guerrero, Jr>Max Pentecost. That’ll entertain. Even more so if you’re on a night when Ryan Borucki or Jordan Romano is starting.
The Lugnuts continue to be plagued by horrendous starting pitching most nights and it shows in their 4-10 July record. For a while that’s going to be harder to overcome without Bichette and Guerrero around. Edward Olivares is the one consistent offensive performer right now.
The Canadians are closing in on the first half playoff position, leading their division by 2.5 games with a week to go. VanC fans are loving the offense when six 2017 draft choices are in the lineup and productive.
Bluefield Blue Jays
The Baby Jays won their first eight games in the month and sit one game back thanks to a potent offense led by Noda and catchers Ryan Gold and Yorman Rodriguez to go with a killer bullpen in the early going.
One final note: the Blue Jays can’t get enough of bloodlines. You know about Guerrero, Bichette, Biggio, and Clemens – but did you notice the addition of Brandon Grudzielanek? Yup. The 22 year old nephew of Mark signed as an udrafted free agent and played his first game in the GCL yesterday, at shortstop, going 2 for 3.
Lead Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports