It’s time to look at the seasons that the starting pitchers for the Bluefield Blue Jays had in 2016. There was less “piggybacking” with the starters this year and as such, we’ll use our regular criteria for including them here. If a pitcher threw most of his innings with the Bluefield Blue Jays and at least half of those appearances in Bluefield were starts, he’ll be discussed here.
21-year-old Osman Gutierrez continues his progression through the Blue Jays’ minor league ranks. After three years in the DSL, Gutierrez had a decent season in the GCL last year and moved up to be the Bluefield Blue Jays’ Pitcher of the Year, leading the club in starts and innings with 11 and 65 (respectively). Osman improved in ERA (3.88) and WHIP (1.38) while also maintaining his walk rate (7.3%) and increasing his strikeout rate (22.8%). Gutierrez’s 6-foot-4 frame is likely going take his predilection for ground balls (1.45 ground-outs-to-air-outs ratio) to Lansing next year where the Nicaraguan righty will finally get a chance to pitch a full season.
Yennsy Diaz (pronounced “Jen-sie”) appeared to regress in his second year with the Blue Jays but the 19 year old tantalized with a stunning six-inning, two-hit, one-walk, eight-strikeout performance on August 2. Unfortunately, Diaz went on to allow at least five runs in three of his remaining five starts (and in the other two starts, he walked nine batters in nine innings combined). Diaz is known to throw hard (up to 97 mph according to some reports) but has yet to really harness his velocity, getting hit hard, allowing nine home runs in 56 innings and posting a 5.79 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, with an 18.8% strikeout rate and 10.6% walk rate. Because of his young age, there’s no problem with Diaz spending another year in Bluefield.
Jose Espada, a Puerto Rican high schooler drafted by the Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 2015 draft was one of the eye openers in the GCL last year. Espada took a step back when he moved up a level to Bluefield this year, starting 10 games and throwing 53 innings with a 4.92 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. While Espada continued to show good control with a 5.3% walk rate, he wasn’t fooling as many batters, striking out 14.1% (down from 22.8% in the GCL last year). Espada probably has the makeup to move up a level, possibly to Vancouver, but he’ll have to throw stuff that’s a little trickier to hit in order to recapture his 2015 success at a higher level.
Lefty Juliandry Higuera pitched at three levels in his Age-21 year in 2016, making four appearances with the Dunedin Blue Jays in April (10 1/3 IP, 8.71 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 9.4% K rate, 13.2% BB rate) before heading back to extended spring training. Higuera opened the short season with Vancouver, making five starts with somewhat disappointing results, keeping his ERA to 3.92 but his WHIP was 1.84 with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. Demoted down to Bluefield where he spent 2015, Higuera threw another 39 innings with much better results, posting a 3.23 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP, a 20.2% strikeout rate and a 9.3% walk rate. Most of those number were improvements over his time in Bluefield in 2015 but the walk rate jumped up over two percent. Higuera will likely get another chance (at least) at Vancouver in 2017 but as a soft-tossing lefty, he might be hard pressed to find success at higher levels without cutting down on his walks.
In his Age-19 season, Dominican righty Joel Espinal dominated the Gulf Coast League so much in his first shot there this year that he earned a mid-season promotion to Bluefield. Espinal started the year with a 0.62 ERA and 0.62 WHIP in 29 innings, striking out 30 batters and walking only four in 29 innings (for a stellar 29.1% strikeout rate and 3.9% walk rate). Espinal promptly fell apart after getting promoted to Bluefield, making seven starts and racking up an 8.62 ERA and 1.98 WHIP with an 11.3% strikeout rate and a 12.0% walk rate. Having just turned 20, Espinal can certainly afford to repeat the season in Bluefield, possibly reaching Vancouver some time in 2017.
19-year-old Hansel Rodriguez was well on his way to demolishing the Appalachian League before he was traded to the San Diego Padres before the trade deadline. After two years in the GCL, Rodriguez threw 32 1/3 innings for Bluefield with a 3.06 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, striking out 19.3% with an 8.2% walk rate. After the trade, Rodriguez found himself with the Padres’ Northwest League affiliate and struggled there, with a 6.97 ERA and 1.79 WHIP over 20 2/3 innings in six starts, striking out 13 and walking 12.
The Jays drafted 6-foot-4 righty Kyle Weatherly in the eighth round of the 2016 draft and the 21 year old provided some solid innings for the Bluefield Blue Jays with the promise of a potential solid starting pitcher. Weatherly started half of his 10 games and posted a 4.06 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 37 2/3 innings, striking out 20.9% and walking 5.7%. With a low-to-mid-90s fastball and developing offspeed offerings, Weatherly could very well be a sleeper next year for the Lansing Lugnuts.
The Blue Jays signed 22-year-old lefty Eric Veglahn out of the independent leagues where he threw 53 1/3 innings with a 4.39 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, striking out 32 and walking 18. He was assigned to Bluefield where he made two starts, throwing 11 1/3 innings and posting a 3.97 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, striking out seven and walking four. Look for Veglahn to be in Vancouver next year.
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