TJ Zeuch leaped into the consciousness of many Blue Jays fans when he tossed a no-hitter for Buffalo last night. It was the first no-hitter for the Bisons since Bartolo Colon tossed one in 1997, and the first nine-inning no-no in the Blue Jays system since Kyle Drabek since recorded one for New Hampshire in 2010 (there have been two combined no-hitters in the system since then).
Blue Jays social media was full of calls for Zeuch to make his way to the big club after last night’s performance. And truth be told, his last five starts have been good ones for Buffalo as he rounds into shape after missing almost the first three months of the season with shoulder soreness.
Is the 2016 1st rounder ready for prime time? Will he be, in the words of Keith Law, a GUY who can front a rotation, or is a guy, one whose ceiling projects to the back end.
The majority of scouting reports seem to suggest the latter.
Still, before we get into that, there are a lot of positive takeaways to last night’s performance, starting with the 15 ground ball outs Zeuch induced. When he’s on, his two seamer is like a bowling ball, boring in on a steep downward plane, making it very difficult to elevate. If he had enough innings to qualify, Zeuch’s 57.5% GB rate would be among the leaders in the International League. And Zeuch is no soft-tosser – he was hitting 94 on the Sahlen Field gun into the 9th inning. He certainly has the build at 6’7″/225 to eat a lot of innings.
On the downside, there’s Zeuch’s inability to miss bats – he fanned only 3 last night, just below his season average of 4.6/9. Of course, that’s a feature of a Pitcher who pitches to contact, but he’ll never be a strikeout/inning guy who relies on his infield defence. Like any young starter making the transition from the minors to the majors, it will be the effectiveness of his secondary pitches (currently ranked as fringy) which will determine how his bread-and-butter pitch – the sinker – fares. Fangraphs’ assessment of him is about the most succinct and accurate one out there:
Zeuch doesn’t have dominant stuff but he’s a keen sequencer with a firm grasp on how best to deploy his pitches to efficiently tally outs.
Zeuch is currently ranked the Blue Jays #18 prospect by MLB Pipeline, and while that may seem a bit disappointing for a 1st rounder in this fourth year in the organization, it’s more a matter of the project-ability of the players ahead of him in the system. For a guy taken in the last third of the first round, many teams would consider a guy capable of pitching a lot of innings at the back end of a rotation to be a developmental win.
For one night, Zeuch looked every bit the part of a future MLB starter. There may be higher profile names ahead of him in the system, but he should be a serviceable player at the big league level.