The Bluefield Blue Jays had an outstanding year despite getting swept by the Pulaski Mariners in the first round of the playoffs. It’s also the first team that I’m writing about that I saw in person this season. I saw the Bluefield Blue Jays for five games over three days in mid-July and can provide some first-hand information about a lot of the players (which you’ll see in the discussion below). If you browse the archives of Blue Jays from Away (particularly through late July), you’ll find some of my scouting reports. You can also find my lengthy conversation with Bluefield play-by-play announcer Trey Wilson (@TreyWilson757 on Twitter) on Podcast Episode 17.
I’m going to discuss the starting pitchers here. You’ll notice that I have included neither Shane Dawson nor Tom Robson here. I’ll be discussing them with the Vancouver Canadians.
Lefty Zakery Wasilewski was one of the biggest draws for the Bluefield Blue Jays, mostly because he hails from the next town over in Virginia — Tazewell. I didn’t see the 20 year old (he turned 20 in June) but he had a solid season for the Blue Jays despite struggles with his control. He posted the most starts for the team (11) and went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA over 51 1/3 innings but his control issues led to a 1.48 WHIP. He walked 30 to go along with 47 strikeouts and needs to get his control in check before he’ll have success in full-season ball. The 2012 14th round pick improved drastically this season in Bluefield over last year in the GCL. I don’t really have a scouting report on Wasilewski but I can tell you that old (high school) reports say that he was throwing in the low-90s before he was drafted. My feeling is that Wasilewski might see another short season, perhaps in Vancouver next year or he could start the season in the bullpen in Lansing.
Chase DeJong had the second most starts for Bluefield (10) and led the club in innings pitched (56) and strikeouts (66). The 19-year-old 2012 2nd round pick really stood out for me amongst the pitchers that I saw live and showed some very impressive poise on the mound in addition to a devastating 12-6 curve ball. He had a 3.05 ERA and 1.21 WHIP but a lot of the numbers come from an inflated BABIP of .359 and his FIP of 1.90 reflects that. DeJong showed outstanding control, walking just 10 batters (4.3%) and earned a call-up to Vancouver to help out in the bullpen in their playoff drive. I see DeJong getting stretched out in full-season ball next year with Lansing.
Making 8 starts was 19-year-old international free agent Jairo Labourt. Labourt had an excellent season posting a 1.92 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP over 51 2/3 IP with 45 strikeouts and 14 walks. He got a very good ratio of 1.68 ground outs to air outs in 2013. He didn’t give up a lot of hits (just 39) but his low .247 BABIP helped him out a lot in that respect. I’ll defer to my colleague Jared Macdonald in the scouting report for Labourt. He writes that his fastball sits in the 89-92 range (occasionally touching 94) and has an average slider that he threw (at least in Jared’s observation) from a different arm angle than his fastball. Labourt also earned a call-up to Vancouver for the playoffs and I could easily see him in Lansing next year.
Next on the list is Brady Dragmire. You probably haven’t heard much about him but he was a key piece in the “piggy-back” starter situation in Bluefield. In fact, the 20 year old who was drafted in the 17th round in 2011 had such a good season, I strongly considered him for the Pitcher of the Year Award (which ended up going to DeJong). Dragmire just put up a 2.16 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 50 innings in which he walked just 8 batters and struck out 40. His low BABIP (.236) and more reasonable FIP (3.62) contributed to DeJong getting the award in the long run, but Dragmire’s season was outstanding nonetheless. I attribute his success to his ability to command his cutter. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, sitting in the 84-86 mph range (touching 88) and throwing a changeup around 77 mph and a slider around 73-75. I can see him having more difficulty as he goes up through the system, especially without dominating stuff. He may spend one more year in short-season ball but I have a feeling that he’ll be given a shot in Lansing this year (particularly after his playoff call-up to Vancouver).
Alberto Tirado was probably the hottest commodity for scouts in Bluefield and while that big talent translated into good numbers, it’s clear that the 18 year old still has a long way to go. I’d say that overall, Tirado had a very good year, pitching 48 1/3 innings with a 1.68 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP with 20 walks and 44 strikeouts. The walks are a little on the high side but Tirado boasts excellent stuff even if it is a bit raw. Jared Macdonald wrote an excellent scouting report on Tirado after seeing him this summer. According to Jared, Tirado throws 92-95 with a good slider that he tended to rely on when he couldn’t spot his fastball. He also reports that Tirado is becoming more mature, that is, he’s starting to understand when he’s coming out of his mechanics and is getting better able to make those adjustments on his own. I would not be surprised to see the him in Lansing next year in a large group of young, piggy-backing starters that include Robson, Labourt, Dawson, Gabryszwski, DeJong and Dragmire.
Highly touted prospect Adonys Cardona did not have a good year for the Bluefield Blue Jays. Despite tantalizing with impressive heat, the 19-year-old Venezuelan did not pitch after August 4 and did not go on the DL. However you want to interpret this turn of events, it’s definitely a troubling sign. He threw 25 1/3 innings in 2013 with a 6.75 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP with 13 walks and 27 strikeouts. The walks are actually an improvement over his 2012 numbers in the GCL and the strikeouts are at a very good pace although down a little from last season. If you look at Fangraphs, you’ll actually see a discrepancy between Cardona’s ERA there and his ERA at MiLB.com and Baseball Reference (which give the 6.75 figure). Over at Fangraphs, they say he gave up only 16 earned runs (as opposed to 19 at the other sources) and his ERA was 5.68. The reason I found this out was because I wanted to see what his BABIP and FIP were — numbers that are only calculated at Fangraphs for minor leaguers. I found what expected to find (apart from the weird different ERAs); Cardona’s BABIP is unsustainably high at .418 and his FIP is a more respectable 3.12.
I’m sure the Jays want Cardona to develop but there’s a lot that needs to go right. I saw him in July and while he was throwing consistently in the 93-95 mph range at the beginning of the game, he had absolutely no control of it. That velocity faded to 90-92 mph velocity that he was better able to command. Other people have noticed similar things which may mean that Cardona (unless he develops better stamina) will end up as a bullpen arm at the very best. I can see Cardona repeating the year in Bluefield or working out of the bullpen in Lansing to start the year.
Mark Biggs is a 6’3″, 20-year-old righty that the Jays drafted in the 8th round in 2011. He had an ok season going 29 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA and a 1.77 ERA. Walks weren’t unreasonably high (13) but he doesn’t have the stuff to really get a lot of strikeouts (17). He tended to get hit fairly hard and although his BABIP was somewhat high (.349), his FIP only clocked in about half a run better than his ERA (4.46). When I saw him pitch in July, he was throwing in the high-80s (87-89 mph) with a 79-81 mph slider and an 80-82 mph changeup. For a guy with pedestrian stuff, he needs his control to be better. He seemed to come out of his mechanics a bit, yanking his body down and missing away to righties. I have a feeling he’ll either repeat the year or head to Vancouver next year.
The final pitcher that I’m going to put in this category is a guy that I didn’t see in Bluefield, 6’3″ lefty Tim Mayza. Mayza is 21 and was selected in the 12th round of this year’s draft by the Blue Jays. He started in the GCL and was promoted quickly to Bluefield. Once there, his numbers weren’t great. He threw 22 innings with a 6.95 ERA and a 1.82 WHIP with 10 walks and 17 strikeouts. These definitely aren’t the numbers you want to see from a young pitcher. Fangraphs puts his BABIP at .368 and his FIP at 4.34 which makes things a little more reasonable but the high number of walks is a little more troubling. According to reports, I think the Blue Jays like his fastball and his mechanics but came into the draft without any real secondary pitches. Obviously, the Blue Jays have him working on refining his weak off-speed offerings so it might take some time to see better results in the field. Depending on how Mayza does in Instructs and Extended, I could see him in Vancouver next year.
Stay tuned for more on the relievers from the Bluefield Blue Jays coming up next!