Trying to determine which Pitching prospects in the organization might have a breakout season in 2018 is more difficult than it is for position players.
This administration has proven that they’re not afraid of promoting relievers to multiple levels over the course of the season, but with pitch limits a factor, they’re more conservative with starters. A season like Kendall Graveman’s (5) or Daniel Norris’ (4) in 2014, when both pitched at a number of levels, just doesn’t seem likely with this management group.
There are several Pitchers who could break through this season, however:
RHP T.J. Zeuch
Zeuch is an obvious candidate to have a break out season. Shut down in May with shoulder soreness, he injured a hamstring during rehab, and didn’t return until August.
He rebounded nicely during Arizona Fall League play, getting the start in the championship game. Zeuch’s featured pitch is a bowling ball sinker, which he gets a great downward plane on. When he is locating that pitch, hitters have an extremely difficult time squaring him up.
Zeuch will start the season in AA, and if he stays healthy, could move up fairly quickly. He could even find himself in the back of the Blue Jays rotation later in the season.
Emerson Jimenez RHP
Originally signed as an IF by the Rockies, he reached AA in his sixth year in the organization this year. After posting a .238/.267/.305 line in his career, the Rockies released him in mid-May. He decided to give Pitching a try, and the Blue Jays signed him a month later.
Sent to the Gulf Coast League, Jimenez regularly hit 99 with his fastball, and the complex league hitters were no match for him, as he fanned 15 in 9 innings. Exposed to the Rule 5 draft, there was even speculation that a team might take him earlier this month.
While that would have been a huge leap for a team, it shows how valued Jimenez’ arm is, and the Blue Jays will likely challenge him this season. Improving his command and developing a second pitch will be necessary for Jimenez to get hitters out at higher levels. While he may start the season in Extended, it’s not hard to see Jimenez move quickly through the system, and the Blue Jay may have another difficult 40-man decision to make with him next fall.
Justin Maese RHP
Maese reached full season ball in only his second pro season in 2016, but a shoulder problem and command issues led to a sideways 2017.
When he’s healthy, Maese pounds the bottom of the strike zone, and keeps hitters off-balance with a three pitch mix. He experienced an uptick in velocity this year, touching 97. An excellent athlete, Maese repeats his delivery and fields his position well.
Maese missed all of June and July, and was shut down for the season after his second start in August. He will likely begin the season under the watchful eyes of the team’s medical staff at Dunedin. A return to health, finding his command again, and maintaining that increase in velo would allow Maese to move up in a hurry.
Travis Bergen LHP/Brayden Bouchey RHP
Bergen missed most of his first two pro seasons after being drafted in 2015, and didn’t begin his 2017 season until late July. He was a mainstay in Manager Rich Miller’s bullpen down the stretch and in the playoffs, and both he and White Rock, BC native Bouchey were lights out in relief.
Bergen formerly had a cross-fire delivery, but his mechanics are now more conventional. He throws 92-94, with a slider that shows great depth. The 6’6″ Bouchey throws from an over-the-top delivery, giving him a good downward plane on all of his pitches. His size gives him some late life on his fastball – Bouchey has fanned over 30% of the hitters he’s faced in two minor league seasons.
Both should begin the season in Lansing’s bullpen. If they pitched like they did over the last month of the season, neither will be there for long.