Earlier this week, I took an exhaustive look at all the hitters you might be interested in next year, over 40 names in all, today I’ll take a similarly deep dive into the pitchers of interest down on the farm, divided into two sections: starters and relievers. For the sake of organization, I’ll arrange them by the level on which they did their latest significant work (for example, Ryan Borucki will be mentioned in the AA group even though he made one start in Buffalo).
While he’s not the best SP prospect in the Blue Jays system, we’ll start with feel-good story Chris Rowley, because he’s the one true prospect that made a significant number of starts for Buffalo. While next year’s Bison rotation will be well stocked with young starters, this year it was all veteran re-treads for the most part. Rowley has a chance to break camp next year in the major league pen but the depth there, particularly among young RH pitchers, is impressive and it probably behooves the team to have Rowley be part of the SP depth to begin the year. I’ve written a lot about him previously, but I’ll call your attention to his 2.24 ERA and 1.02 WHIP across two minor league levels. Plus, he’s only logged 272.2 professional innings in the minors. Very few pitchers arrive that fast. That said, after the blowup on Sunday, he’ll need to re-establish himself a bit next spring.
Moving down to AA New Hampshire there are both success stories and troubling reversals. LHP Ryan Borucki who’s modeled his game after Mark Buehrle, continues his ascent up the Jays prospect list (for me he’s arguably their second best pitching prospect at this point) posting a collective 2.93 ERA across three levels with a 1.12 WHIP in 150.1 IP and more than a strikeout per inning. While he only has eight starts above Dunedin, he was so very good in AA that he has a good chance of opening in Buffalo in the spring.
Less heralded but similarly intriguing is recent acquisition Tom Pannone (from Cleveland for Joe Smith) who’s another lefty with impressive stats in 2017. After being posting five straight starts with 0 runs at High-A Lynchburg, Cleveland promoted him to Akron in early May, before he was traded to the Jays at the deadline. In 20 AA starts he had a collective ERA of 2.92 and a 1.09 WHIP. After his first start for NH, his ERA in the following five games was 2.67. When I was considering doing these reviews with a “Pitcher/Hitter of the Year” format I had three “nominees” for the pitcher and one reason i didn’t do it was because I couldn’t see any daylight to choose between Pannone and Borucki. I project him for Buffalo as well.
On the other hand, there’s a less rosy story to tell about the two guys who entered these season as Toronto’s most highly rated pitching prospects. As you might well be aware, Sean Reid-Foley failed to live up to expectations. Coming into 2016 the line on SRF was that he simply put too many runners on base. In the previous year his WHIP was an unsightly 1.55 but he cut it all the way to 1.01 in 2016 and vaulted into the Ttop 5. The organization pushed him to AA this year (at age 22) and he regressed pretty heavily on that key measure (1.49 WHIP). In his first 15 innings pitched (across six starts) he allowed 22 hits and 14 walks leading to 13 ER. After that he had somewhat improved results, but his ERA on the balance of the season was still 4.74 due to bouts of inconsistency. His last three starts represented the only trio in which he didn’t give up four runs at least once. Some are speculating he’ll be in AAA in April, but my guess is the team will force him to earn it with more consistency in AA.
The other crushing disappointment was Conner Greene. He was even more of a mess than SRF, with a 1.69 WHIP on the season. During the first half he was somehow keeping runs from scoring despite putting a ton of runners on, then that luck ran out. His ERA over his last 12 games was a horrendous 7.64 and that’s not bad luck you see. A 2.06 WHIP over those games serves witness. It would be shocking if they saw anything in this mess than prompted a promotion next Opening Day. Unless of course they give up and try him as a high-power closer.
The third member of the AA rotation to disappoint is Jon Harris. The 2015 first rounder was coming off a fairly impressive year and had never before struggled with putting runners on. He surely did that this year. Like Reid-Foley, he would flash dominance at times but couldn’t string together a consistent run of quality work (only once all year having more than two quality outings in a row. He too has done nothing to earn a AAA promotion.
At Dunedin the most prolific starter was Jordan Romano. Scouts I’ve read think he’s got the making of a fine major league reliever, but the jury remains out on the third pitch. I expect he’ll join the AA rotation next spring. The best starter on the team was 2016 1st Round Pick T.J. Zeuch, but he lost a lot of time to injuries. Before hitting the DL he was good, but not dominant. He apparently tried to come back too fast in early August and struggled in three short outings before going back on the list. He came back on August 28 and squeezed in two starts before the end of the season.
Beyond those two, the team got generally good work out of three other guys. Angel Perdomo, a 6’6″ lefty, went on the DL on July 7th and never returned. Without knowing what the nature of the injury was it’s real tough to speak on him here. He’s another guy that scouts have been saying “future reliever” about for some time. Then there’s Josh DeGraaf and Conor Fisk. They both did impressive work at times but have never been really discussed as future major leaguers. However, DeGraaf kind of made a case, walking 19 while striking out 75 in 89.1 IP. He probably needs the AA challenge but there might not be a starting spot for him to begin the year, which would force him to wait at Dunedin for his opportunity.
Now things get more sticky. Lansing’s rotation saw injuries hold back the two real prospects in their opening day rotation. Justin Maese suffered the first real adversity of his career, only managing 15 starts and putting on far too many baserunners. It’s impossible to know how much the injuries that sidelined him twice had to do with that outcome, but given it’s shoulder issues there’s cause to think so. I’d hesitate to believe he’ll open the season in Florida next year, though he could work his way into a mid-season promotion. Patrick Murphy also lost six weeks mid-season to a DL stint. What’s notable about his season though is that in his first six starts he had 19 BB and 17 K. After that point, for Lansing, those numbers were 14/40 in nine starts before moving up to Dunedin for the last two. If that improvement lasts it will put him on a lot more radars. The other guy with impressive stuff is Yensy Diaz…if only he could control it. He’ll surely repeat Lansing next year. The rest of these guys? The less said the better.
In short season there are smaller samples, less scouting info floating around, and less that I can relay to you, but I do want to point out dominating performances for you to wishcast upon. In Vancouver, “Big Nate” Pearson was a monster. For me he’s the best SP in the minor league system and as much as I hate to disappoint Lugnuts fans, my guess is he leapfrogs to Dunedin to begin the year. Behind him the C’s ran a piggyback tandem of Zach Logue and Justin Dillon and both will be at least considered for the D-Jays, but could easily be crowded out and start in Lansing. Both were dominant this year.
At Bluefield three guys stand out. Randy Pondler was the mainstay of the staff and I expect he’ll be assigned to Lansing next spring. Left-handed 2017 18th rounder Jordan Barrett was pretty dominant, but was 22 in rookie ball so we’ll need to see that play at higher levels. Because of his age I think he too jumps to Lansing. 18 year old Maximo Castillo sported a 7/52 ratio of walks to strikeouts. That’ll get him into the front of the Vancouver rotation next year. This year’s 21st round pick, Turner Larkins, put up pretty good numbers too, but he was a college pick and needs a bigger challenge. Finally, for this group, 6’7″ Colton Laws got a lot of praise from organizational staff, but he only got 15 IP so next year will be his coming out party. The question next spring will have to do with whether he earns a placement at Lansing.
On the complex teams, where statistical results are to be taken with the largest grains of salt, 2017 draftees Maverik Buffo and Matthew Gunter turned heads, but as college picks were far too old to dream on. In the Dominican Nathaniel Perez was a beast (7 walks, 55 K in 57 IP with a 1.42 ERA) and Naswell Paulino wasn’t far behind. I think the former two at least make Vancouver and the latter are young enough to make Bluefield the obvious assignment. There’s also the July 2 signing of Eric Pardinho who might be good enough to start out in Bluefield.
Due to length, I won’t go into a ton of detail about most of these guys, but it was a good year for relievers and a lot of guys might end up sliding into Toronto in the next year or two. I’ll nod first in direction of the guys who pitched mostly in the minors this year but have lately put themselves squarely in the middle of the major league plans next year, either from opening day or—because they have options—on the regular taxi squad. Those would be Tim Mayza, Carlos Ramirez, and Matt Dermody. Beyond those, oft injured John Stilson might be something, but he’s a six year free agent and would need to be signed. Chris Smith was praised a lot by the team last spring, but we saw how that played out. If they were right he’s another potential Rule 5 loss. So is Chad Girodo. Any of these who don’t make the major league team next spring are a lock for Buffalo.
There’s three names worth mentioning in AA. One is Andrew Case whom the coaches brag on, but, for me, doesn’t record enough strikeouts to point to a major league future. Still, over his career he’s consistently kept runs off the board so he might be a guy who has some other angle. It’s not ground ball outs though, he doesn’t have a track record of leaning that way. If you are looking for K’s and an impressive career BB/K ratio you could do worse than Dusty Issacs, but there’s no buzz around him. Both these guys would get a look for the Bisons if there’s room for them, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to find them back in AA. Then there’s Daniel Young, an 8th round lefty from the 2015 draft who split the year almost evenly between Dunedin (where he was excellent) and NH (where he was just okay). He’ll be one to watch for another step forward in 2018 as potentially the key lefthander in what may be a strong AA bullpen.
By far the big name on the next level is 2016 3rd round choice Zach Jackson. Between Lansing and Dunedin he had a combined 2.47 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and 68 strikeouts in 51 IP. They haven’t been using him strictly as a closer, but you have to think that’s the vision for him when he’s hits AA next spring. Another guy I’ll mention is Canadian RH Tom Robson. Tommy John surgery (and the injury which precipitated it) wrecked his ’14 and ’15 seasons and he couldn’t find his control in 2016. This year he found his groove pitching in relief, but he’s a six year free agent so we’ll have to see if they re-sign him.
Most of the really good Lansing relievers moved up during the year and have already been mentioned. However I’ll note that Jared Carkuff served the ‘Nuts well after a demotion from Dunedin, and Juliandry Higuera who got pounded on July 21 for seven runs but otherwise had an overall 3.20 (and had 60 K and 16 BB in 48 IP on the season) is probably one to keep an eye on
Several short season guys had impressive stats but are really too far away to be sure what will last when the promotions come. So I’m just going to list the guys who’s name you might hear about over the next few years:
Jake Fishman — 22 year old lefty, dominant for Vancouver (1.17 ERA)
Orlando Pascual — 21 y.o. Dominican, had a 2.17 ERA and the ratios to prove it legit.
Chris Hall — at 23 he’s older than league average, but didn’t give up an ER in his last 13 appearances (21.2 IP)
William Ouellette — Older even than Hall, the undrafted free agent was the Canadians’ closer. He put up a 2.72 ERA and struck out more than one an inning.
Brayden Bouchey — He had a 10.80 ERA on July 10. In 22 IP since he has allowed 10 H, 2 ER, 3 BB and recorded 28 strikeouts. All five of these guys will surely pitch at least in Lansing in 2018.
Marcus Reyes — a 38th rd LHP out of the 2017 draft, Reyes coasted through the Appy League, walking only two over against 25 K in 20.1 IP (1.77 ERA)
Ty Tice and Graham Sparker — another pair from the 2017 draft class, both righties, also cruised through the league’s hitters (1.05 and 1.62 ERA respectively)
Keyln Jose – said to be able to easily break 100 MPH, still has considerable trouble with location.
Emerson Jimenez — Another converted position player (like Carlos Ramirez), he reached A ball in the Seattle system, and landed briefly on Colorado’s AA squad this year but was released in May. The Jays signed him and dropped him into the GCL to learn to pitch and, well, he’s apparently a quicker study than Ramirez (who took a couple of years to master location). In 15 IP over nine appearances he surrendered six hits and five walks – and struck out 23. If there’s a guy in the system who could wear three or four different uniforms next year, it is probably this guy.
Gaudy Ramirez and Jon Cheshire — the former is a 20 y.o. Dominican who had a 1.21 ERA in the GCL with over a K per IP, the latter was a 38th rd. pick this year who’s K/BB ratio was a ridiculous 31:1 to support his 1.48 ERA. But he’s 22 and should succeed in the GCL, watch to see how he preforms next year at (at least) Vancouver.
Now if you’ve read this far you may be asking yourself “what kind of crazy person takes the time to blog about 27 minor league relievers? To this I can only say, “you’re still reading it so you’re right there with me aren’t you?” It’s probably crazy to do to this level of depth, but if a guy went out and had a heck of a year, somebody should call out his name, so I did.
Lead Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports