The Bluefield Blue Jays’ relief pitching corps consisted mostly of newly drafted college-age pitchers with one or two Latin American pitchers in there as well.
Tyler Burden led the squad with 17 appearances, posting a 3.54 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 1.57 WHIP. While Burden had a high 12.6% walk rate, he also struck out 17.3% of batters. The 6-foot-1 righty came to the Blue Jays in the 20th-round out of Chowan College in North Carolina and added a couple of innings in Vancouver, giving up just a hit and a walk, striking out one. Look for him in Vancouver as a 22 year old in 2016.
Zach Rodgers also made 17 appearances in Bluefield, compiling 22 2/3 innings. Finishing the season as a 22 year old, the undersized righty (5-foot-9) was a non-drafted free agent who had a 4.76 ERA but a very solid 3.74 FIP to go with a 1.59 WHIP, a 16.0% strikeout rate and a 7.0% walk rate. Rodgers is also a strong candidate to head to Vancouver in 2016.
22-year-old Alberto Guzman led the Blue Jays in saves with four and showed great improvement pitching at the same level as he did in 2014. Jumping from the Dominican Summer League last year, Guzman was roughed up in Bluefield to the tune of a 7.84 ERA and 2.06 WHIP. He rebounded in 2015, throwing 24 1/3 innings over 16 appearances, posting a 4.07 ERA and 4.55 FIP, lowering his WHIP to 1.48. He also maintained his strikeout rate just over 20% while lowering his walk rate by 4.5% to a very manageable 8.3%. At 23 next year, Guzman could certainly jump to Lansing to join their bullpen.
Zakery Wasilewski, 22, has had a rough go over the past two seasons since putting up a strong season in Bluefield in 2013. Wasilewski, a native of Tazewell, Virginia, just 10 miles down the road from Bluefield, has regressed since, struggling in the Northwest League in 2014 and having another difficult season in 2015 back in Bluefield. Wasilewski had a 5.65 ERA, 5.09 FIP and 1.81 WHIP over 28 2/3 innings this year. He walked 11.0% of batters, a career low, but still on the high side, especially considering that he only struck out 13.9%. Wasilewski could be jumped up to Lansing next year after four years of pitching in Short-Season ball but he could also wind up back in Vancouver.
At the age of 23, lefty Joe Claver had a rebound year from last year, his first in the Jays’ system after signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2014. Claver notched 16 2/3 innings with the Bluefield Blue Jays, posting a 3.24 ERA, a 4.18 FIP and 1.44 WHIP, striking out 17.3% and walking 11.1%. He also got a promotion to Vancouver where his numbers weren’t as good over a small sample of six innings. Claver could also head to Lansing next year but might also be sent to Vancouver for 2016.
The next pitcher on our list is another Bluefield repeat but Miguel Burgos is the youngest player we’ve talked about so far. Burgos, a 20-year-old Venezuelan lefty joined the Bluefield Blue Jays as a 19 year old in 2014 and had a solid year, but pitched only 16 innings. This year, he added 41 1/3 innings, putting up a 3.48 ERA, 5.31 FIP and 1.57 WHIP with a 17.5% strikeout rate and 10.6% walk rate. As a 5-foot-9 pitcher, he’s got reliever written all over him and he could be in Vancouver next year, especially considering that he’ll only be 21 in June. That said, he’s already had four years of short-season ball (including two years in the DSL) and could easily be primed for a jump to Lansing.
Our Reliever of the Year, Geno Encina, had strong season in his draft year, throwing 44 1/3 innings (and making five starts in 12 appearances) with a 3.86 ERA, 3.34 FIP and 1.24 WHIP, striking out 24.3% of batters and walking just 5.4%. Encina is actually among the younger pitchers on this staff, having turned 21 in July and could easily be seen to jump to Lansing next year.
Daniel Lietz started his season in Vancouver, getting hit hard for a 7.50 ERA over 12 innings before moving down to Bluefield in mid-July to finish off the year. In Bluefield, his surface numbers improved but his peripherals actually regressed. While he had a 5.26 ERA and 5.58 in 25 2/3 innings with Bluefield, he struck out only 9.6% of batters and walked 20% after seeing a 14.3% strikeout rate and 12.7% walk rate in Vancouver. Lietz, 21, was the fifth-round pick of the Jays in 2013, needs to have a good offseason and spring training in order to turn things around in 2016, likely with another crack at Vancouver.
John Kravetz, a 6-foot-4 righty who signed as a non-drafted free agent out of college in Illinois, pitched at three levels in 2015, throwing the most innings with Bluefield. He had 14 innings and had a 7.07 ERA, 4.80 FIP and 2.21 WHIP, but only walked 5.3% of batters while striking out 13.3%. Kravetz pitched 10 innings, much more successfully in the GCL, posting a 0.90 ERA and 4.61 FIP in 10 innings, striking out 20.0% and walking 11.1% and threw 1 1/3 innings for the Dunedin Blue Jays, allowing a walk and striking out a batter. Kravetz could also be in Lansing next year in his Age-23 season.
Grayson Huffman had a surprisingly rough season after an excellent first professional campaign in 2014. The 20-year-old lefty struggled with his control and being able to strand batters, resulting in a 10.54 ERA, a much better 4.76 FIP but a poor 2.63 WHIP, striking out just 10.4% and walking 13.0% in just 13 2/3 innings. Either Huffman was going through a very difficult mechanical change or he wasn’t pitching at 100%, but either way, he was certainly not the same pitcher he was in 2014.
23-year-old Jackson Lowery was another three-level pitching in 2015. Lowery threw 6 1/3 innings with the GCL Blue Jays, another 10 in Bluefield and two more in Dunedin where he got roughed up for five runs. Outside of that outing, however, Lowery had strong numbers in rookie ball, allowing just one run in the GCL and striking out seven without walking anyone. He gave up just one earned run in 10 innings in Bluefield, striking out 14 and walking one. It looks like he can definitely handle a move up in 2016, moving either to Vancouver or Lansing.
In the case of another pitcher who took a step back in 2015, 6-foot-8 lefty Matt Smoral started his season late because of a back injury and then, pitching in Dunedin, gave up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings before moving back to Bluefield where he had a 5.06 ERA, 5.02 FIP and 1.97 WHIP in 10 2/3 innings. He struck out 28.6% of batters but couldn’t find the strike zone enough, walking 25.0%. Look for Smoral, 21, in Lansing next year if he can get out of camp healthy.
Signed out of the Frontier League late last year, Christian Cox, 23, made just two appearances for the Bluefield Blue Jays, pitching just 2/3 of an inning and allowing seven runs. Look for Cox to go to a full-season team next year (or Vancouver) and hopefully a larger sample size will give us a better idea of what he can do.
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