We’ll start our in-depth look at the pitching staff of the Bluefield Blue Jays by looking at starting pitchers. Bluefield had a much more established starting rotation with most of the players vying for starts already in the Blue Jays’ organization before the season started.
Making 11 starts (of his 12 appearances) and throwing 57 1/3 innings for the Bluefield Blue Jays, 20-year-old Nicaraguan lefty Randy Pondler made his mark on the league, winning the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year in addition to being on the post-season All-Star team. Pondler had a very strong 2.51 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with just a 5.0% walk rate and an 18.9% strikeout rate. Interestingly, Pondler posted reverse splits, allowing lefties to hit .333/.447/.410 against him while righties hit just .193/.211/.298. Randy made one start in the postseason, giving up three runs on eight hits (including two home runs) with a walk and three strikeouts in five innings. Pondler will likely head to Lansing next year after such a strong season, his second in the Blue Jays’ system.
Josh Winckowski, 19, was selected by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2016 draft out of Estero High School in Florida. After some success in limited work in the GCL in 2016, Winckowski moved up to Bluefield and saw some progress but also had some issues to work through. The good: Winckowski didn’t regress much and his batted-ball data didn’t change much. The not so good: Winckowski’s walk rate regressed, rising to 9.8% from 6.3% last year, while his strikeout rate dropped slightly to 18.3%. Winckowki’s 5.33 ERA and 1.57 WHIP are both reflective of his increased walk rate while the ERA also shows that he continued to give up home runs at an elevated rate (1.33 HR/9). Winckowski’s fly-ball rate rose slightly (to 25.3%) and his ground ball rate dropped to 56.0% but both are pretty good and show that he’s keeping the ball on the ground. I think Winckowski could be in Vancouver or Lansing but considering that he’s still pretty young, I think he could start the season back in Bluefield if the club wants to take things slow with him.
After a debut season in which he got several people’s attention by coming to the US and pitching well at the age of 17, Maximo Castillo moved up to the Bluefield Blue Jays for his Age-18 season. The 6-foot-1 Venezuelan righty posted some very strong numbers with Bluefield, having a 3.80 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with a very “maximo” 26.0% strikeout rate and a “minimo” 3.5% walk rate, dropping his rate even further from last year. He was able to post those numbers despite a rather high .368 BABIP. The only real concern in his numbers is the fact that he allowed a line-drive rate of 24.1% which is higher than it was at any level last year. That said, he’s otherwise posting some solid numbers and I could see a move to Vancouver next year. I’d say Vancouver over Lansing mainly because I think with a season at 50 innings in 2016 and one at 47 1/3 in 2017, the club may want to use a short season league to help control how much he’s throwing. In fact, Castillo , after throwing five innings each in his last five starts, was shut down after his August 20 start before throwing four innings, giving up two runs on four hits with six strikeouts in his only playoff appearance.
19-year-old righty Alvaro Galindo appeared as a starter in two-thirds of his games. In his third professional season, Galindo hit a bit of a speed bump in his development, putting up some tough numbers. In 47 1/3 innings, he had a 4.94 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, striking out only 13.6% of batters and walking 9.8%. Galindo finished the season on a great note, making two consecutive starts in which he pitched five innings without allowing a run, giving up a total of seven hits and three walks in those 10 innings and racking up seven strikeouts. I’d say that Galindo could probably move up to Vancouver although he may stay in Bluefield to start the 2018 season.
Lefty Elio Silva, 22, has been working his way up the ladder, jumping to the Bluefield Blue Jays after two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. This year, in 45 1/3 innings, Silva posted a strong 3.77 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, striking out 21.0% and walking just 2.6%. The Venezuelan lefty, like Randy Pondler, had reverse splits with lefthanded hitters hitting for a .748 OPS against him while righties had a .681 OPS. Silva gave up three runs in four innings in his only playoff appearance. His advanced command tells me that he’s going to be in Lansing next year in his Age-22 season.
After being drafted in the 21st round of the 2017 draft by the Blue Jays, Turner Larkins, 21, was sent to Bluefield where he had a very strong pro debut despite his innings being controlled by the club. Larkins made six starts among 10 appearances and threw 35 1/3 innings with a 2.04 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 21.0% and walking 7.7%. Larkins appeared to give up quite a bit of hard contact, with 24.2% of his batted balls going for line drives, but he didn’t give up a lot of fly balls and had a strong 58.6% ground ball rate. Larkins could be in Vancouver or Lansing next year.
Despite starting fewer than half of his games, Joel Espinal matched innings pitched with a couple of other starters and so he’ll be discussed here. Espinal, a 21-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic split his season between the GCL and Bluefield last year, struggling at the higher level. Espinal had his struggles in 2017 too, posting a 5.51 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over 47 1/3 innings with the Bluefield club, striking out 18.3% and walking 6.8%, both vast improvements on his numbers at the same level in 2016. Espinal had a fairly high BABIP (.333), lowering his FIP to 4.51. Espinal also had reverse splits, with lefties having a 128-point lower OPS against him than righties and he also seemed to take to starting more than relieving, with a 151-point-lower OPS against in that role. Espinal could very well be in Vancouver next year.
Colton Laws was the Blue Jays’ seventh-round draft pick this year, coming out of the University of Charlotte and he acquitted himself well in his limited action. The 6-foot-7 righty was dominant in Bluefield, with a 0.82 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 11 innings in three starts and three relief appearances. he struck out 11 while walking just one, giving up one run on nine hits. Promoted to Vancouver, Laws allowed two runs (one earned) in four innings, striking out four and not walking anyone. I can see Laws in Vancouver or Lansing in his Age-22 season next year.
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