Joey Murray Hopes to Continue His Disappearing Act

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cs+plusbaseball.ca//Nial O’Donohoe photo

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.

 

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Blue Jays Draft Recap

Sorry for being a bit tardy with this review, dear readers.  Life comes at you fast sometimes, and last week was Formula One-like.

Only the hardiest of prospect hunters could really offer an evaluation of the Blue Jays picks on Days Two and Three.  It’s during that time that teams look to scoop up players who may have slipped through the draft cracks; it’s also time that they also look to building rosters at their short season affiliates for the Day One guys to play with.  At the same time, as Director of Amateur Scouting Steve Sanders told us last year, every player they select had someone who believed in them enough to convince the team to draft them.  That’s how you come up with a Kevin Pillar in the 32nd round, a Danny Barnes in the 35th, and Chavez Young in the 39th.

A quick review of several sources suggests that the Blue Jays had a decent draft, particularly on the first day.  Selecting Texas prep teammates Jordan Groshans and Adam Kloffenstein may have been a bit of a coup, but there were other picks that observers centered out.  Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline feels that Florida HS SS Addison Barger, taken in the 6th round, ” has a strong arm and the potential for at least average tools across the board.” Carlos Collazo of Baseball America is even more sold on Barger’s ceiling, saying he “has solid tools across the board, impressive bat speed and a high baseball IQ.”

Over at Fangraphs, Eric Longehagen and Kylie McDaniel were enthused about 8th rounder Joey Murray, he of the deceptive delivery and high K totals, predicting that he, “could turn into a Yusmeiro Petit type who makes fringe stuff work due to an invisiball.”

Our good friend Jeff Ellis, who probably knows as much about the draft pool as any scouting director, listed a couple of names that jumped out at him, starting with Murray’s Kent State teammate, RHP Austin Havekost.  Ellis says that Havekost is, “a player I had seen a bunch, good velocity and size.”  At 6’4″/220, he throws in the low 90s and can hit 95, and seems to profile as a back end of the bullpen guy.  Havekost also has what BA calls a “sharp” split-change and a slider, and that, “He pounds the strike zone with both offspeed offerings and pitches with above-average control.”

There are many stories about Wake Forest 3B John Aiello, who the Blue Jays took in the 14th round.  A legendary high school slugger, Aiello hit 20 HR as a sophomore, but had a poor draft year season.  That sounds like a similar scenario to Ryan Noda, who was taken in the 15th round last year, and after being named the Appy League MVP last year, has started to heat up for Lansing.  As Ellis puts it, Aiello has, “Big power, but horrible pitch recognition.”

Toronto selected a number of middle infielders, and Ellis singled out 20th round pick Vinnie Capra from Richmond, who he says, “is undersized and from a small school, but was really good back to back years in Atlantic 10, type of guy who makes a ton of sense as a day 3 gamble. There are reasons he is there, but also are reasons he could find success.”

Finally, Ellis mentioned 30th round pick Cobi Johnson from Florida State, son of the Blue Jays bullpen coach and longtime minor league instructor.  Ellis says of Johnson:

I thought he would be drafted out of high school as a first rounder. Turns 23 this year, struggled in college but did miss bats the last two years. Maybe hope he can straightened out and turn into a reliever.

There are likely several other names that stood out to others, but these are several intriguing players who are worth a follow.  We won’t know, of course, how successful this draft will be for several years, and we don’t know how many of these players will reach MLB, but it will probably only be a handful.  The fun is in watching their development, and seeing how far they can go.  The draft is more than an educated guess, but not a lot more.  Teams can follow players for several years, get to know them, and analyze the growing mountain of data that’s coming from college programs, but ultimately no one can predict a player’s maturity, and their ability to overcome adversity.  Many wash out at short season, but if a player reaches full season ball and manages to stick around for at least a season there, you have to consider that a small victory for the prospect, and a small success for the team.