The remarkable turnaround of Jordan Romano, who went from 40-man surplus to Rule 5 pass-around to minor league and ultimately MLB reliever in the space of about 8 months reminded me of something Mark Shapiro said at the end of an interview almost two years ago.
We had just migrated to a new website, and Shapiro was gracious enough to grant some time in his office to a guy who had to fight through Highway 400 southbound construction and a sprint from Union Station to make it in a timely manner.
At the end of our conversation, as the sun sparkled on Toronto harbour on a beautiful late September afternoon, Shapiro stole glances at his watch, and this eagle-eyed reporter knew that his allotted time was coming to an end. We had been talking about the difficulties of roster construction in the modern game, and I remarked on how in this day and age of reliever turnover and “Quality” starts, building a bullpen must be a General Manager’s most difficult task, at least in terms of cost efficiency and effectiveness.
“I think building a starting rotation is his hardest job,” countered Shapiro.
I saw his point, and while I don’t necessarily wholeheartedly agree in this era of twice through the order, it certainly explains much of the organization’s thinking in developing Pitchers: if you have the mix of pitches to keep hitters off balance, physique to handle the workload, and mindset to get through the rough stretches, the team will go to the limit to develop you in a starting role.
While the previous management team had some deficiencies as far as player development was concerned, they were not afraid to turn a guy like Ryan Tepera, who had 85 mostly mediocre starts, before they sent him to the pen, or Roberto Osuna, who everyone had pegged as a future starter, into a lights-out closer if the situation called for it. Miguel Castro had sped through the minor league system in a starting role, and while some of us thought that meant a chance for an MLB rotation spot, the team used him in that manner in order to build up his innings, knowing ultimately that his two-pitch repertoire would mean a bullpen assignment in the long run. Having him start just moved up his timeline.
But the Blue Jays have to be pleased with how Romano pitched last night, dialing his fastball up to 99, and showing increased poise with every pitch. Contrast that with the performance of Elvis Luciano an inning later – Charlie Montoyo appears to finally have approval to have the youngster on a short least, and there was a look on his face somewhere between resignation and disgust when he went out to yank him. You really have to wonder how much longer the Blue Jays are willing to keep Luciano, or perhaps they knew that this was a 90+ loss team coming out of spring training, and they’re willing to pay the price to develop the next Johan Santana – in their minds (and if you compare stats between the two, they’re very similar, except for Luciano’s walks).
Who are the next candidates for a bullpen conversion? For most, Sean Reid-Foley’s name comes to mind, and he did have some Jonathan Papelbon comps earlier in his career. SRF has undergone numerous adjustments this season, but the results still are inconsistent, and with each valley start between peaks he’s probably moving closer to the bullpen. But given the organization’s philosophy, that move seems more likely next season.
Below AAA, you need look no further than New Hampshire’s Yennsy Diaz for the next most likely candidate. Many look at Diaz’ stats and see a future starter, but if you actually watch him pitch, you’ll see a guy who has trouble holding runners on, and tends to have concentration lapses on the mound. Let him start out with a clean sheet at the start of the 7th, and you’ll probably see high 90s velo and a quick inning. But again, after having been added to the 40 only last year, the Blue Jays still have time to try to develop him as a starter, and that’s likely exactly what they’ll do. Hector Perez might fit the relief bill as well, but he will be given a leash as long as Diaz’ in the starter’s role.
Of course, seconds before hitting the publish button comes word of Luciano’s move to the DL because of ‘elbow soreness.’
The quotes are mine.
The best thing for Luciano is to head to Dunedin, rest that elbow if need be, and get in some side sessions under the tutelage of former Major Leaguers Rick Langford and Darold Knowles in Florida for say, the next three-four months.