By the time pitchers get to Bluefield, their roles are much more entrenched, meaning that starters will start and relievers will relieve rather than work within a piggyback system designed to limit pitchers’ innings over the course of the season. Players included here are those who came in to relieve in at least half of their appearances and, if they pitched for more than one team, accrued the most innings in Bluefield.
Connor Eller led the Bluefield Blue Jays in appearances (tied) while logging 34 2/3 innings. Eller led the club with seven saves coming out of Ouachita Baptist University and was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 draft. Eller was outstanding for the Blue Jays with a 2.60 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, striking out 24.6% of batters with a very good 6.7% walk rate. I’d look for Eller in Lansing next year.
Another later draft pick in 2016 by the Blue Jays, 20th-round Angel Alicea used his training from Alabama State University to great effect, earning the Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year award. Alicea was used exclusively as a reliever in his draft year (at the age of 21) and had a 2.76 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, striking out a whopping 33.3% of batters and walking 7.4% in 32 2/3 innings. Alicea could move up to Lansing for a challenge but his stuff might be better suited to the Northwest League.
Chris Hall was the third part of the Blue Jays’ terrific trio of relievers, coming into 16 games and throwing 30 innings coming out of Elon University in the 14th round of the 2016 draft. Like Eller and Alicea, Hall had a low ERA (2.40), WHIP (1.00) with great control (6.5% walk rate) but he wasn’t able to strike out as many batters (17.1%) as the other two. Hall, already 22, will probably end up in Vancouver or Lansing to start 2017.
Another selection in the 2016 draft, Andrew Deramo, made his professional debut with the Bluefield Blue Jays. 6-foot-6 Deramo came out of a better-known university (University of Central Florida) but didn’t have the same success. In 23 1/3 innings, Deramo had a 7.71 ERA and 2.14 WHIP, walking 7.0% of batters and striking out 15.8%. Deramo appeared to be fairly easy to hit, allowing batters to hit .404 against him with five home runs. Look for Deramo, 21, in Vancouver next year.
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Frontier League last year, Christian Cox spent 2016 mostly back in Bluefield. The 24 year old had a 4.12 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, striking out 17.5% and walking 3.1% in 25 strong innings in the Appalachian League. Cox earned a late-season promotion to Vancouver, throwing one inning and striking out one, walking one and giving up a run on two hits. Cox will likely start 2017 in Vancouver.
Hard-throwing 21-year-old lefty Kelyn Jose continued his climb up through the ranks in 2016, pitching with the Bluefield Blue Jays and throwing 17 2/3 innings. Jose has gone through some mechanical adjustment and control issues, leading to the Jays’ brass likely trying to control his innings. Jose walked 19 batters in those 17 2/3 innings (22.1%) with just 17 strikeouts (19.8%) and had a 4.08 ERA (but a 5.30 FIP) and 1.75 WHIP. Jose will likely be moved along slowly, possibly getting a Vancouver assignment, but the fact that he’ll be in his Age-22 season next year means that he could find himself in Lansing at some point in 2017.
Vancouver native Brayden Bouchey spent most of his season in Bluefield after getting drafted in the 33rd round of the 2016 out of college in the US. Bouchey, who stands 6-foot-6, didn’t have a great start to his pro career, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks in five innings in the Gulf Coast League (striking out six) but was much better after moving up to the Appalachian League. With Bluefield, he threw another 21 innings with a 2.57 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and a 33.3% strikeout rate despite a very high, 15.6% walk rate. Bouchey could very well pitch in his hometown in his Age-21 season in 2017.
Hunter Barnett, the Jays’ 34th-round pick of the 2015 draft, moved up to Bluefield from the GCL in 2016. Barnett missed about a month with an injury from mid-July to mid-August and threw only 8 2/3 innings over eight appearances with limited effectiveness. He allowed seven runs (six earned) over 8 2/3 innings with 10 hits and three walks allowed, striking out only four. Barnett could return to Bluefield in his Age-22 year or move up to Vancouver, particularly if his struggles were due to an injury.
Jose Nova, 21, split his season between Bluefield and the GCL, throwing about two-thirds of his season in the Appalachian League. Starting in Bluefield, Nova struggled with a 5.16 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 22 2/3 innings, striking out and walking 11.4%. The lefty was demoted to the GCL where he threw 11 2/3 innings with a 4.63 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, striking out 14.0% and walking 10.0%. Nova will need to get a handle on his control and will likely get another chance to pitch in Bluefield in 2017.
The Blue Jays have drafted a few players out of military academies in the past few years and Luke Gillingham was their military player this year. The 37th-round pick from 2016 threw 9 2/3 innings before he left to begin his service, posting a 2.79 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, striking out 11 and walking just three.
Mike Estevez threw one inning in Vancouver before being sent to Bluefield where he threw another 4 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on two hits and two walks with eight strikeouts before succumbing to an injury and missed the rest of the year.
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