RHP Joey Murray, the Blue Jays 8th round pick in last June’s draft, was very hard to see last year.
Pitching for Vancouver in tandem with 4th rounder Sean Wymer, Murray’s pitches were very closely monitored last summer, and his stints were limited to two innings after throwing 95 for Kent State. And with only a pair of teams (Hillsboro and Eugene) streaming their games on milb.tv, Murray’s appearances did not sync with the C’s visits to the two cities. Most importantly, as far as the Blue Jays are concerned, his high spin rate four seamer, which some call an invisiball, made him very hard for Northwest League hitters to see. NCAA hitters certainly had a difficult time picking it up -Murray’s 141 Ks were 9th in the nation, his 13.26 K/9 5th.
Blue Jays Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders said early last July that the team was surprised Murray was still available in the 8th round:
Joey doesn’t have the big velocity like some of the Pitchers that can strike out 140 guys (in a college season) I think he’s effective – his velocity can play up a little bit because of his ability to change speed and throw strikes with multiple pitches. He’s got deception you know that’s hard. That part that’s carried over to an extent -you know with his start in Vancouver. He’s got a feel to stay off of barrels, and any time you talk about a college pitcher who pitches in the upper 80s/low90s, I’m not sure if surprised is the word for where we got him but he was a guy that we certainly were interested in, and probably considered him a little bit higher than that, but we’re certainly happy with the opportunity to get him where did.
The beauty of a four-seamer with a high spin rate is that its high turnover makes the laces on the ball very difficult for a hitter to see in that fraction of a second they need once the pitcher releases it to determine the type and potential location of a pitch. A high spin rate pitch also tends to drop less as a result of gravity than an average spin rate pitch does. Even a four-seam fastball with average velo can play up with high spin. That’s how Marco Estrada had a successful run in Toronto, and why Murray fanned 39 in only 25.2 innings this season.
At 6’2″/200, Murray has a thick middle third and incorporates his legs well into his delivery. He releases his pitches from between a three-quarters and over-the-top delivery – working on the consistency of that slot is no doubt what the Blue Jays wanted him to work on at Instructs. He has good command of the strike zone (10 walks in those 25.2 IP), and tends to work up in the zone with his four-seamer, which results in swings and misses (14.5% whiff rate), or hitters hitting under the ball.
Murray throws a four-pitch mix, with his slider being his preferred secondary, according to an interview he had with C’s+ Baseball:
“I just throw a traditional four-seam fastball and then my go-to breaking ball is usually my slider but every now and again, my curveball could be a little bit better depending on the day. I’ve been working really hard on trying to get a feel for a changeup. I’ve been working on that for about two years now. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there. What I’ve really been working on is my changeup and really being able to command my fastball in and out of the zone.”
Clearly, working on that curve and change will determine whether Murray progresses as a starter or relegates him to relief work. Because his fastball lacks velocity, it’s hard for scouts to give him more than average grades for it. But it will be his calling card just the same. Murray should begin next season in Lansing (if the team wants him to work on feel pitches like his curve and change, they may opt for the warm weather of Dunedin), and may move quickly through the system if his four-seamer continues to look like a cueball.