DSL Blue Jays 2021 Report, part 3: Relief Pitchers

The Blue Jays DSL Facility. Photo by Pierre Lacasse

We continue our more in-depth look at the DSL Blue Jays by looking at relief 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 made more than 50% of his appearances as a reliever (or didn’t have as many innings as someone who was a starter).

We begin with the pitchers who made the most appearances and work our way downwards from there. With the DSL club, there isn’t much to go on scouting-wise, so we’ll basically be looking at the players’ stats to help get an idea of what might be going on. 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.

We begin with now 18-year-old Keiner Leon who just turned 18 a few days ago (on October 29) and pitched the season as a 17 year old. Leon, a Venezuelan righty, led the team in appearances with 19, logging 34 2/3 innings with a stellar 2.60 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, striking out 27.7% of batters and walking 7.8%. His FIP (3.93) and xFIP (3.23) indicate that there could be some regression but he’s definitely a guy to watch and I can see him moving up to the FCL in 2022.

Pitching throughout the year at 21 years old, Francis Mercedes was among the older pitchers on the staff and he tossed16 appearances while putting up decent numbers to the tune of a 3.86 ERA and 1.243 WHIP. In his second year of pro ball (having pitched in 2019 also in the DSL), Mercedes did improve with a 22.4% strikeout rate and 11.2% walk rate but the walk rate was still too high as he walked 11 and struck out 22 over 23 1/3 innings. Mercedes’ ground ball rate went from 64.2% in his debut to 41.8% this year and his BABIP was a lot lower (.363 in 2019 to .279 in 2021). It’s tough to know what he’s got but the Blue Jays must have seen something in him to bring him back at the age of 21 and it’s hard not to imagine him moving up in 2022 if he’s still around.

Righty Jean Lopez, who just turned 19 and hails from the Dominican Republic, threw 36 innings over 16 relief appearances for the Blue Jays, logging a 5.00 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. He struck out 19.1% of batters and walked 10.5% while posting a FIP of 4.51 and xFIP of 4.12. I’m wondering if he doesn’t throw particularly hard as opponents pulled 45.6% of balls in play. We’ll see where the Jays put Lopez in 2022, but he could return to the DSL.

18-year-old righty Yondrei Rojas comes from Venezuela and isn’t particularly big, coming in at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. Still, in DSL competition, he struck out an excellent 28.1% of batters and walked 9.4% while posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.59 WHIP and that’s with a sky high .431 BABIP over 21 1/3 innings. I can see him moving up thanks to solid peripherals.

Turning 19 in August was 5-foot-11 Venezuelan righty Gabriel Ochoa who made 14 appearances and tossed 14 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays, with a 5.02 ERA and 2.23 WHIP. Control was a big issue as he walked 26.5% of batters and struck out only 19.3%. He had FIP of 8.40 and xFIP of 8.99 and so he’ll need to make some improvements to get out of the DR.

Now 21 (although he pitched the season as a 20 year old), Frank Medina made his pro debut in 2021 with a 6.23 ERA and 2.15 WHIP, throwing 13 innings with a 28.8% strikeout rate but a 19.7% walk rate. Medina suffered from his control issues but was also easy to pull, allowing 54.5% of balls in play hit to the pull side. He’s another guy who will need to show some concrete improvements.

Angel Santana, 19, split time between the bullpen and rotation, making five starts and eight relief appearances over 22 innings in 2021. He had a 4.91 ERA and 1.64 WHIP, striking out only 13.7% of batters while walking 16.7%. Those numbers are going to have to go the opposite direction for Santana to make an impact going forward.

Pedro Acosta, a 6-foot-2 righty from the Dominican Republic, will turn 20 next month and he’s the next player on our list. Acosta had a 5.09 ERA and 1.58 WHIP over 17 2/3 innings, striking out 22.6% of batters and walking 14.3%. The walk numbers will definitely need to come down while his ground ball rate was low (34.0%) and the rate at which batters pulled the ball was quite high (64.0%), indicating that he might need to find more velocity or keep hitters off balance better.

At 6-feet, Dominican righty Robin De Jesus was one of the more unknown players on the DSL Blue Jays and he struggled in his pro debut, throwing 13 1/3 innings while having an 8.78 ERA and 2.25 WHIP, striking out 21.4% of batters but walking 25.7%. He’ll have to show better control at some point to get to the FCL.

The second player in the Jays’ system named Nathanael Perez (the other is 3 years older), this Perez is a 20-year-old Dominican righty who threw 19 2/3 innings over 12 games (two starts) and had a 4.12 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, striking out 11.9% of batters and walking 10.7%. He had a solid ground ball rate of 53.3% and could be inducing a lot of weak contact but he’s still going to have to strike out more batters to be competitive in professional baseball at the higher levels.

17-year-old Venezuela righty Neiyerbe Obeso made his professional debut in 2021. He tossed 10 games, throwing 14 innings with a 5.79 ERA and 2.29 WHIP, striking out just 8.2% of batters while walking 26.0% in a show of peripheral numbers that are not encouraging. His ground ball rate, however, was excellent at 52.8% and he’ll likely be back in the DSL to see how he pitches as an 18 year old.

19-year-old Dominican lefty Brahiam Jimenez was also making his pro debut and he fared better, throwing 15 innings over nine games with a 2.40 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, striking out 27.7% of batters and walking 9.2% He had a solid 50% ground ball rate and was able to put up those solid numbers even with a very high BABIP of .342 (indicating that he may regress if that BABIP normalizes). He could move up to the FCL next year.

One of youngest players on the team, Pedro Munoz, a 17-year-old Panamanian lefty, threw in eight games, posting an 8.22 ERA and 2.48 WHIP, walking 26.8% of batters while striking out 19.5%. He gave up quite a lot of contact the other way (36.4% of balls in play) so he might bear watching as he matures.

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