Blue Jays Breakout Pitching Prospect Candidates

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.

Bouchey
Brayden Bouchey Twitter photo

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.

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Who Do The Blue Jays Risk Losing in the Rule 5 Draft?

MiLB: SEP 23 Florida Instructional League -  Blue Jays Work Out
Max Pentecost Sportsnet.ca photo

Baseball’s Rule 5 draft takes place this Thursday, as the annual winter meetings draw to a close.

The Blue Jays have been participants in the past two Rule 5s, striking paydirt with Joe Biagini two years ago, but whiffing on Glenn Sparkman last year.

It’s impossible to predict who the Blue Jays might be considering, but given their depth at several everyday positions and starting pitching, it’s safe to say they may look at adding another arm – and there are many availabe.  With the 12th pick, some of the better candidates may be off the board, however.  One off-the-radar pick might be Tampa C Nick Ciuffo, who like Stu Turner with the Reds last year, might stick as a back up.  One of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire are the favourites at the moment to back Russ Martin up, but Ciuffo might help buy both a little more development time.   Another name which might intrigue the Jays is Twins RHP Kohl Stewart.  Stewart, the 4th overall pick in 2013, has a blazing fastball, but troubles repeating his delivery have led to high walk totals throughout his pro career.  If the Jays are serious about contending in 2018, they likely won’t take a chance on this talented but enigmatic pitcher.

What is possible to forecast is who might be taken among the players the Blue Jays chose to leave off their 40-man roster last month.  There are several players who might be selected:

  1.  C/1B Max Pentecost  was something of a surprise omission from the 40, but the Blue Jays are obviously gambling that his history of shoulder issues will dissuade teams from taking him.  There have been some reports that some teams might consider selecting him and stashing him on the 60 day DL, but it’s hard to see how that will be beneficial to his development.  Pentecost is a premium athlete, but he needs more time in the minors.
  2. OF Roemon Fields has elite speed, but has struggled to get on base throughout his minor league career.  This year, he managed a .344 OBP between Buffalo and New Hampshire – maybe not enough for the top of an order, but certainly a good fit for the singles hitters that tend to populate the bottom of most batting orders.  Fields can play all three OF positions, and his 50 steals this season underscore his speed.
  3. OF Jonathan Davis  has quietly gotten on base at every level he’s played at.  Like Fields, he can play all three OF spots, and unlike Fields has some pop in his bat.  Davis has speed, but is not in Fields’ category.  Both could profile as fourth outfielder types. Davis opened some eyes in the Arizona Fall League.
  4. Jordan Romano RHP the Markham, ON native has pitched in a starter’s role well since returning from Tommy John surgery in May, 2016.  But his command may concern some, and for those considering converting him to a relief role, he’s never pitched above High A.  There is probably too much pitching depth in this draft for Romano to be selected.
  5. Emerson Jimenez RHP  if you’ve never heard of Jimenez before, don’t be alarmed – few Blue Jays fans have.  Originally signed as an OF by the Rockies in 2012, he advanced as far as AA before being released in May.  Toronto signed him, and sent Jimenez to the Gulf Coast League to begin his conversion to the mound.  Pitching exclusively in relief, he fanned 23 in 15 innings.  Jimenez is raw in Pitching terms, but his fastball sits 94-99, and his change up has been described as surprisingly advanced.
  6. Francisco Rios RHP Rios had success as a starter in the lower levels, but struggled in AA this year.  Rios sits 90-92, but has some deception with his delivery, and has a slider that would play role in a relief role with that fastball, which would likely tick up.  Again, with the depth of this draft crop, it’s hard to see a team selecting Rios.

I really enjoyed this piece by J.J. Cooper of Baseball America on the Rule 5.  Coming at the end of the winter meetings, it comes at a time when many baseball executives are anxious to get out of Dodge and catch their flights back home.