We’re going to start our more in-depth look at the Bluefield Blue Jays by looking at starting pitchers. At the Rookie ball level, the distinctions between starting pitchers and relief pitchers are frequently fluid so we’re going to include anyone who started at least a few times and managed to throw a number of innings that was comparable to guys who started most of their games. Yes, the line is pretty fuzzy in this category.
We begin with the pitchers who made the most starts and work our way downwards from there. If a player played for more than one team over the course of the season, he’ll be grouped according to the club he played the most with.
21-year-old Roither Hernandez, a 6-foot-4 Dominican righty has been plagued by injuries throughout his brief pro career but he took the ball for a regular turn, making 12 starts for the Bluefield Blue Jays and throwing 43 2/3 innings with a 5.56 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, striking out 20.2% of the batters he faced and walking 10.1%. The hard-throwing righty (I’ve seen him hit 100 mph on the radar gun in spring training) is likely to move up next year but could see time in Vancouver before he gets to Lansing.
Felipe Castaneda made 10 starts with the Bluefield Blue Jays and the 19-year-old Mexican righty actually got his season underway with the Vancouver Canadians, getting into the opening game and throwing two innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on three hits and four walks with two strikeouts before moving down to Bluefield. In Bluefield, however, he was a rotation regular, tossing 47 2/3 innings with a 5.10 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. His 12.2% walk rate was a problem and his strikeout rate of 19.3% was pretty decent. He could also return to Vancouver next year where his ability to get ground balls will hopefully be rewarded more than it was in his brief stint for the Cs in 2019.
I saw Jol Concepcion throw on my brief trip to Bluefield this year and the 20-year-old Dominican (he just turned 21 on September 17) was very sharp. After sitting out all of 2018 with a suspension, he was our Pitcher of the Year for the Bluefield Blue Jays, tossing 34 innings with a 3.18 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, striking out 21.1% of batters and walking only 6.1%. I can see Concepcion spending his Age-21 season either in Vancouver or Lansing.
Cuban righty Lazaro Estrada skipped the GCL in his Age-20 season and jumped straight from being a dominant pitcher in the DSL to a mediocre one in the Appy League. Estrada threw 47 2/3 innings with a 5.85 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, but he did show the ability to keep his walk rate down at just 4.7% (slightly up from the 4.3% he had in 2018) while his strikeout rate plummeted from 31.2% in 2018 in the DSL to just 18.1% in the Appalachian League in 2019. Still, Estrada’s numbers aren’t that bad overall with an xFIP of 4.84 (almost a full run below his ERA) and he could move up to Vancouver next year.
Another pitcher I got to see when I visited Bluefield this year was 20-year-old righty Sam Ryan, the Blue Jays’ 12th-round draft pick out of Virginia Commonwealth University in the 2019 draft. Ryan struggled at times in his pro debut, posting a 6.31 ERA and 1.57 WHIP over 41 1/3 innings (after throwing 53 1/3 innings in college) but his strikeout and walk rates were solid with an 18.3% strikeout rate and a 4.2% walk rate. He used a solid curveball effectively when I saw him and did get more ground balls than fly balls. While he’s still young and will only be 21 in 2020, I think his collegiate background can have him in Lansing next season.
Pitching in his Age-18 season, Alejandro Melean, a 6-foot righty from Venezuela, logged just 21 innings over seven outings (including six starts) with a 5.57 ERA and 1.67 WHIP, striking out a solid 25.3% of batters but walking far too many at 15.2%. Melean did get a lot of grounders, with 47.2% of batted balls on the ground. I think he’ll remain in rookie ball in 2020.
Another suspended pitcher from 2018, Naswell Paulino got into action earlier than expected in 2019 thanks to a one-off appearance for the Lansing Lugnuts in which he threw a scoreless innings, giving up two hits with two strikeouts. Heading to Bluefield to start the year with the Jays, the 19-year-old Dominican lefty had a relatively solid season, throwing 40 innings in 11 outings (five starts) with a 4.05 ERA and 1.63 WHIP, striking out 18.0% of batters while walking 9.0%. Look for Paulino to get another year in the short seasons but could finish his year in Lansing.
Jimmy Robbins, a 21-year-old Lefty who was drafted out of Rollins College in the 20th round of the 2019 draft, threw seven innings without giving up a run in the GCL allowing six hits and striking out 10 without walking anyone before moving up to the Bluefield Blue Jays where he got into four games (including three starts) with 12 innings. Robbins had a 4.50 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, striking out 24.6% of batters while walking only 5.3%. I think Robbins could also move up to the full-season teams in 2020 and could be an interesting lefty for the Lugnuts.
Elixon Caballero, a 19-year-old Venezuelan, started his season with the Bluefield Blue Jays, throwing 3 1/3 innings and giving up a hit (a solo home run) and struck out two but appears to have down with an injury after that game. He was assigned to the Vancouver roster for two months without pitching but reappeared on August 26 to throw 2/3 of an inning with the GCL Blue Jays, allowing a hit and a walk with a strikeout. It’s unknown what his health situation is like and I’d expect to see him back in Bluefield next year.
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