I had a chance to meet Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro in his Rogers Centre office a few weeks ago. The plan was to talk about the state of the team’s farm system, but it developed instead into a wide-ranging discussion about the team and baseball in general.
One thing that Shapiro said toward the end of our conversation stuck with me. In talking about finding and grooming young players in general, he observed that, “people forget just how hard it is, and how long it takes to develop starting pitching.” And while that wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering observation, we do tend to forget sometimes that staring pitching is where this game begins. But the gestation period of a minor league to MLB pitcher can be 4 years. Or more.
Case in point: LHP Ryan Borucki.
Concerns about his elbow had caused Borucki’s draft stock to tumble in 2012. He suffered a partial UCL tear while pitching a no-hitter in March, but played primarily 1B in his senior high school season as he opted for rehab over Tommy John surgery. The Blue Jays were at the peak of their “roll-the-dice” approach to the draft that year, and selected him in the 15th round.
The rehab ultimately proved unsuccessful, and Borucki underwent Tommy John, which cost him his entire 2013 season. He had a strong return in short season ball in 2014, but shoulder and elbow woes limited him to 5 innings in 2015. It wasn’t until his fourth year as a pro in 2016 that he graduated to full season ball – the Blue Jays opted to keep him in Dunedin to keep an eye on his health, but Florida State League hitters teed off on Borucki, and when he was sent to down to Lansing after 6 starts, there was little hint that 16 months later, he would be on the cusp of a big league job.
With the help of Lansing pitching coach Jeff Ware, Borucki added some deception to his delivery, giving hitters less of a glimpse of his pitches. Borucki dominated Midwest League hitters as a result, and even though he’d had limited success above that level, the Blue Jays opted to add him to the 40-man roster in order to avoid the chance of losing him in the Rule 5 draft.
Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told Shi Davidi, in a piece for Baseball America, that there was a huge consensus for adding Borucki to the 40:
“It’s rare that you have a group of people absolutely pound the table for a player without one exception. When that happens, when they are talented, albeit he was in low-A ball and had a previous injury, he did have a good year. It was unanimous across player development that from a work-ethic and competitive standpoint, what he means to this organization as a teammate, that it was somebody we were excited to add to our 40-man.”