It may be only early June, but we’re rapidly reaching the half way point in the minor league baseball season. Players have had their ups and downs, which is to be expected, because the minors are one big learning process. No other sport has a developmental system as elaborate as baseball’s, and it’s inevitable that for some players, progress will be made in a steps forward/steps back manner.
After a spring of watching a great deal of the four full season Blue Jays affiliates (well, three of them, but I have a good set of eyes in Dunedin), here’s how the team’s Pitching prospects shape up in this observer’s eyes:
1. Ryan Borucki, LHP
Few players breeze through the minors free of injury and/or inconsistency woes, and Borucki is no exception. With the possible exception of RHP Patrick Murphy, there is not a grittier prospect in the organization. Borucki has fought his way back from Tommy John, back issues, and a demotion two years ago to become the brightest light in the system from a starting perspective.
The execrable April northeastern weather wreaked havoc with Buffalo’s rotation, but Borucki has now settled in nicely, pitching into the 6th inning in 6 of his last 7 starts. His mix of pitches has kept hitters off-balance, and when he gets ahead in the count, his change-up becomes an absolute weapon. He’s held International League hitters to a .239 average, and lefty hitters have been limited to .172.
Given the issues with the major league rotation, that we haven’t seen Borucki in Toronto yet may be a combination of readiness (or slight lack thereof) and his turn in the rotation not matching up with the Blue Jays’. Nonetheless, it would be a shock if he did not make his MLB debut this summer. At the moment, he’s the most polished and most MLB-ready arm in the system.
2. Nate Pearson, RHP
Pearson dazzled in his pro debut last year, overmatching Northwest League hitters, and becoming the Blue Jays top Pitching prospect after only 20 Innings Pitched.
Speaking of a step backward…..
Pearson’s 2018 debut was derailed for a month due to oblique issues. The Blue Jays at first thought he would only miss his first start, but that stretched into May. Pearson was rocked in the first inning of his first Florida State League start, and appeared to be settling down in the following frame when he took a line drive off of his Pitching arm. Pearson suffered a non-displaced fracture of his ulna, and was shelved for at least ten weeks.
Pearson is expected to make a full recovery, and will be reevaluated this week, with a probable return later this summer. Still, it’s a setback in the fireballer’s development. He has the highest ceiling of any Blue Jays Pitching prospect, but his timetable has been set back at least a year.
3. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP
No Blue Jays Pitching prospect has had as jagged a line of progression as Reid-Foley has. Sent back to AA to begin the season to work on his command and pitch economy, SRF has been dominant, fanning 52 Eastern League hitters in 44 IP, and holding them to a .174 average.
Promoted to Buffalo in late May, he found too much of the strike zone in his AAA debut and was touched for 8 Earned Runs in just over 2 innings. Reid-Foley’s second start was a thing of beauty, though, missing bats en route to a 6 inning/10 strikeout outing. Just as impressive, he walked only 1.
Reid-Foley needs more seasoning, and it’s not reasonable to expect to see him this year, barring either a major breakout, or a significant meltdown in the Blue Jays’ rotation. But after talk of converting him to a back of the bullpen power arm in years past, his future as a starter seems more than secure. He has learned to correct the mid-game inconsistencies in his delivery that led him to lose the strike zone and drive up his pitch counts.
4. Thomas Pannone, LHP
Pannone is the forgotten man in the Blue Jays system for some, but he is still very much a part of the organization’s plans. Suspended prior to the season for a positive PED test, Pannone is still over a month away from returning to action.
Pannone has a mix of pitches and feel for Pitching that, combined with Borucki, would have given Buffalo a solid 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. His debut with Buffalo probably will not happen until late July/early August. If Borucki and Reid-Foley are still there, the addition of Pannone makes the Bisons legitimate post-season threats.
5. Jordan Romano, RHP
Romano has been one of the most pleasant surprises from a Pitching standpoint. Romano tied for the Florida State League in K’s last season, but there was a concern about how many bats he would miss when he made the jump to AA, particularly against left-handed hitters.
Romano has been lights out this season, and his newfound effectiveness against lefties is a big part of that. His change-up, a pitch which takes time to develop a feel for, has helped him limit left-handed hitters to a .163 average, and when Buffalo needed a starter last week, Romano deservedly got the call before returning to New Hampshire. His 0.87 WHIP for the Fisher Cats leads the Eastern League, and is evidence of his ability to hang out on the margins of the strike zone. Romano is giving up more flyball contact this year, but not a lot of it has been of the hard-hit variety.
Like Reid-Foley, Romano is not quite ready for the bigs. But after being left off of the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft, he appears to be a lock to being added to it this offseason. On Jeff Blair’s show on The FAN590 this week, Romano admits that the development of his change has what has helped him break through this year, and is helping him as the opposition batting order turns over a third time.
6. T.J. Zeuch, RHP
The 2016 1st round pick made up for an injury-interrupted 2017 with a fine Arizona Fall League showing. Sent back to Dunedin to start 2018, Zeuch has continued to pound the bottom half of the strike zone, generating a 62% groundball rate.
Promoted to New Hampshire, he’s giving up better than a hit per inning over his first 5 starts. Zeuch will always pitch to contact (he gave up a couple against the shift in his last start), and will need to refine his pitches in order to continue his upward progression.
Zeuch profiles as an inning-eating, mid-rotation starter (he’s failed to pitch into the 6th in only one of his 11 starts so far), who will need a solid infield defence behind him.
7. Yennsy Diaz, RHP
Outside of Pearson, no Blue Jays Pitching prospect has boosted their stock over the past calendar year as much as the hard-throwing Diaz.
Diaz made his full-season debut for Lansing last June 10th, and he’s allowed only 55 hits in 106 innings over 20 starts since then.
Diaz’ main offering is a 96 mph fastball that he can command to both sides of the plate, and a curve that is shaping up as a decent complement to it. He gets that velo from a nice, easy delivery. After a 10 K performance over 5.2 innings in his first start of the season, his whiffs have tailed off somewhat. In his last start for Lansing before his recent promotion to Dunedin, Diaz was leaving his fastball up, and hitters were not chasing it as much as they were a month ago.
The challenge for Diaz at Dunedin will be for him to continue to develop his secondaries, and refine his mechanics.
8. Angel Perdomo, LHP
The enigmatic Perdomo teases with a mid-90s fastball with late life, but injuries and inconsistency have set his development back.
Shut down for the final two months last year, Perdomo returned to Dunedin for 2018, and the Blue Jays have continued to bring him along slowly, limiting him to around 80 pitches per start.
Still, Perdomo has been effective, fanning just over a batter per inning over his first 7 starts, and limiting FSL hitters to a .191 average. Still, when the call has come from the higher levels for spot starters, Perdomo has not been sent to answer the call, indicating that the Blue Jays are not quite ready to take the reins off just yet.
9. Eric Pardinho, RHP
He has yet to throw a professional pitch, but it’s hard to keep the Brazilian off this list. The top-ranked IFA Pitcher last year, Pardinho received raves from Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, saying he’s never seen a combination of stuff, command, velocity, and feel for pitching in a 16-year-old.
Pardinho hit 97 after signing last fall, and will no doubt be the focus for a lot of eyes when he makes his debut in the GCL in a few weeks.
10. Zach Logue, LHP
A mainstay in the rotation of NWL Champs Vancouver last year, Logue continues to use a combination of location, movement, and sequencing to get hitters out. He began the year with Lansing, and used his command and ability to pound the bottom of the strike zone to advance to Dunedin this past week. In 10 starts for Lansing, he pitched into or beyond the 6th in 8 of them, tossing a career-high 8 innings in his last start.
Logue does not overpower hitters, but keeps them off-balance. It’s always interesting to see how college Pitchers who dominated at Low A fare once they move up.