It’s time to get to talking about the Bluefield Blue Jays starting staff. There were a couple of big names and many not so big ones but the Blue Jays’ more aggressive promotional strategy left the Bluefield Blue Jays in the lurch after several of their better starters were promoted midway through the season.
Once again, the Blue Jays were using a piggyback system for starters for much of the season and, to be included in this part of the team report, a pitcher needed to make about half of his appearances as a starter.
Leading the club in starts with 12 was Venezuelan righty Jesus Tinoco. Tinoco, just 19, held his own in the league, throwing 56 1/3 innings with a 4.95 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 20 walks and 47 strikeouts, numbers that are very comparable to his season in 2013 in the GCL. When looking at his strikeout and walk rates, both went down as he jumped to a higher level and so, while the numbers aren’t fantastic, they’re not horrible either. Having seen Tinoco’s stuff in spring training, I can see definitely see him heading to Lansing next year (maybe in a bullpen role) in his Age-20 season, especially since he’s already pumped his season’s innings total up over 50.
Hawaiian Joey Aquino came to the Blue Jays in the 2014 draft (35th round) and was a stalwart for the Bluefield staff, throwing 54 1/3 innings and making 11 starts. He had a 2.48 ERA along with a 1.05 WHIP, 10 walks and 32 strikeouts. As a 23 year old coming out of a four-year college, Aquino’s peripherals (especially the strikeout numbers) are not impressive with only a 14.7% strikeout rate and he also benefited from a low, .253 BABIP and a relatively high LOB%. I can see Aquino in Vancouver next year.
Francisco Rios, a 19-year-old Mexican righty, jumped directly from the Dominican Summer League to Bluefield and didn’t miss a beat, putting up somewhat similar numbers that were bloated thanks to a high BABIP. While his overall stats don’t scream “prospect” (5.91 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 18 BB, 38 K), the Blue Jays let him work through his propensity to get hit hard and kept sending him out to pitch, letting him rack up 53 1/3 innings. Since I didn’t get down to Bluefield this year, I’m not sure what to make of this young righty. His K% of 15.0% is a little low but he was definitely on the young side for the league. He could easily repeat the level to start next year and not be behind the eight-ball in his development, especially since most international pitchers his age were still in the Dominican league.
6-foot-5 lefty Evan Smith started his Age-18 season in the GCL but was quickly promoted to Bluefield as he dominated his competition in Florida. In the spring, I saw Smith throwing an 89-90 mph fastball with a very easy arm motion and a good slider in the 78-80-mph range. He obviously was able to locate the ball as he only walked 15 batters in 52 combined innings with 12 of those coming in 40 innings in Bluefield. In the Appalachian League, he struck out 34 batters with a 4.05 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, turning 19 on August 17. This fourth round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2013 could either head to Vancouver next year or make the jump to Lansing. I see Smith as a guy who could be a dark horse in a couple of years, especially if he picks up a couple of ticks on his fastball.
If you’re looking for dark horses, look not further than to Ryan Borucki. The 20 year old was a 15th round pick coming out of the 2012 draft and had some serious talk about his mid-90s fastball. After injury troubles caused him to throw just six innings in 2012 and miss all of 2013, people told me to keep an eye on him in 2014. He obviously impressed with his command, posting a 5.00 K/BB ratio in Bluefield through 33 1/3 innings before being promoted to Vancouver where he actually improved that rate to 7.33. He walked only nine batters over 57 innings at both levels while striking out 52 and posting a 0.84 WHIP with a 2.37 ERA. I’m looking for Borucki to be used in a piggy-back role in Lansing next year to keep the strain on his arm down for one more year, but he’ll be 21 next year, an age where the Blue Jays typically take the training wheels off.
Another big name prospect started the 2014 season in Bluefield and finished in Vancouver. Matt Smoral was a supplemental round pick in the2012 draft but missed his whole draft year due to a broken foot. The Blue Jays didn’t want to rush the 6-foot-8 lefty and they kept him in the GCL last year where he put up some ugly numbers thanks to control issues that plague most tall pitchers. 2014, however, was the first year that the Blue Jays really allowed Smoral to go out and pitche regularly and he showed some flashes of his potential despite still struggling with his control. In Bluefield, Smoral had a 3.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP to go with 18 walks and 51 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. Yep. Smoral struck out 32.5% of his opponents in Bluefield but had a high 11.5% walk rate. Those numbers both regressed in 20 innings in Vancouver that saw him walk 15 batters and strike out 19 (for an 18.3% BB rate and 23.2% K rate). Obviously Smoral wasn’t fooling the older competition quite as much in Vancouver and he still needs work on his control but he could start the year in Lansing, piggybacking and working with Vince Horsman, a highly regarded pitching coach who some credit with really helping Daniel Norris take that next step.
Like Francisco Rios, Miguel Burgos was a 19-year-old who made the jump from the Dominican Summer League to the Appalachian League. The short (5-foot-9), Venezuelan lefty started off strongly, throwing 16 innings with a 1.69 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, three walks and 14 strikeouts before he stopped pitching after his July 9 start in which he went only three innings. It looks like an injury cut Burgos’ season sort but it isn’t known what kind of injury it was.
Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!
The All-Star Break Supplement to the Minor League Handbook is also available at Smashwords.com for only $2 US! Get an update on how your favourite players have been doing this season as well as a report on the 2014 draft!
All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2014) and may not be used without permission.