As you probably read yesterday, the Dunedin Blue Jays’ starting pitching staff was stocked with talented pitchers who excelled in the Florida State League. Some used the High-A level as a spring board for an eventual major league call up while others struggled when given the opportunity to pitch at a higher level. While 16 pitchers started for the Blue Jays, there were only seven were really integral parts of the starting rotation which is a testament to the team’s health and ability of the pitchers to get things done.
Taylor Cole made some waves this season by racking up prodigious strike out totals. The 25-year-old righty from Las Vegas was recapturing the form that saw him win multiple awards in 2012 as one of the best pitchers in the Northwest League with the Vancouver Canadians. This year, Cole finished the season with 181 strikeouts, leading all of the minor leagues. While his 12 1/3 audition in New Hampshire wasn’t pretty (more on that later), Cole had a 3.07 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 171 strikeouts and 39 walks in 132 innings with the Blue Jays.
I saw Cole’s first Double-A start and while he was hit for eight runs (seven earned), I could see significant improvement over what I saw last year when he was with the Lansing Lugnuts. Cole’s fastball was in the 90-91 mph range and touched 93 mph while his changeup was excellent and his slider was pretty good. Unfortunately, in the game I saw, Cole didn’t have much fastball command and needed to pitch backwards. His second start was better as he threw seven innings and allowed only three runs. My gut feeling is that Cole could have stayed in Double-A but the Blue Jays wanted him back in Dunedin for the playoff run. I can see Cole back in Double-A to start 2015 and, if he starts off well, he could see Triple-A, particularly if he manages to find his fastball command.
Soft-tossing righty Jesse Hernandez spent his Age-25 season with the Dunedin Blue Jays for the second year, regressing despite eating up 129 innings for the Blue Jays over 23 starts (and 27 appearances). Hernandez had a 4.67 ERA and 1.49 WHIP, showing improved control over last year (4.8% walk rate) but a reduced strikeout rate (down to 10.4% in 2014). While Hernandez had a very good ERA and FIP last year (3.49 ERA, 3.77 FIP), this year, his FIP was 5.26 which says that the he was probably still pretty lucky. When I’ve seen Hernandez, he’s been throwing in the 84-86 mph range with some sink on his fastball and decent offspeed stuff.
Another 25 year old was a stalwart of the Dunedin rotation with Ben White making 23 of his 25 starts with the club, posting a 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP while striking out 79 and walking 32 over 125 1/3 innings. He made two starts with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and had excellent peripherals despite giving up two home runs over his 11 innings.
23-year-old lefty Matt Boyd made the fourth-most starts for the Dunedin Blue Jays, throwing 90 2/3 utterly dominant innings with a 1.39 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a strikeout to walk ratio of over five to one (103 Ks, 20 BBs). Boyd didn’t fare nearly as well in 10 starts in Double-A, with an ERA approaching 7.00 but a 1.59 WHIP (which isn’t horrible). His 44 strikeouts to 13 walks were excellent and the 6-foot-3 lefty had solid strikeout rates at both levels.
Having seen Boyd before (although not this year), I think that he’s going to be just fine in Double-A New Hampshire next year. His .379 BABIP was very high while his .270 BABIP in Dunedin wasn’t much lower than league average. That, combined with his solid peripherals lead me to believe that he’s going to be just fine with his three good pitches and excellent control.
Making his major league debut at the age of 23, Kendall Graveman completed a meteoric rise through the Blue Jays’ organization that started in Class-A Lansing. Graveman, the 2013 eighth-round draft pick spent the most time with the Lugnuts this season, starting 16 games, pitching 96 2/3 innings and posting a 2.23 ERA, 1.11 WHIP with 18 walks and 64 strikeouts. Overall those numbers were a 1.83 ERA and 1.03 WHIP over 167 1/3 innings up to Triple-A Buffalo. With a 3.86 ERA over 4 2/3 innings in the majors, Graveman’s 64.3% ground ball percentage is the most impressive of all and he reminds me of a Marcus Walden with a little better stuff. His development of a cutter has also helped him and I can see Graveman in the Buffalo rotation waiting for a chance to pitch in the majors again next year.
Daniel Norris was another Dunedin Blue Jays pitcher who made the major leagues this year although Norris wasn’t nearly as successful in the big leagues. That’s okay because the 21-year-old lefty from Tennessee was just showing us glimpses of what he can do. In the minors, Norris made 13 starts with Dunedin, throwing 66 1/3 innings (on a fairly strict pitch limit), taking huge strides by reining in his control, posting a 1.22 ERA and walking only 18 batters with 76 strikeouts (an outstanding 4.22 ratio). In Double-A New Hampshire, where I saw him pitch, Norris threw 35 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and five home runs against, ballooning his ERA to 4.54 despite striking out 49 batters in 35 2/3 innings. Those numbers settled down in Triple-A Buffalo where he struck out an incredible 44.7% of batters faced (38 Ks in 22 2/3 innings) and walked eight. Over his first three starts in Triple-A, Norris faced little resistance, striking out 32 over 16 1/3 innings but a strong Pawtucket club got to him in his last start for Buffalo, giving up six runs over four innings.
I saw Norris pitch in Double-A last season and I was impressed by him even though he was somewhat of a slow starter, struggling to find his release point and command in the first inning. The fastball was sitting in the 91-93 mph range (touching 95) while he relied mostly on his curve and changeup as his primary offspeed pitches. His high three-quarters delivery gives his curve a sharp downward bite but it was the slider that really impressed me when he threw it. Both the curve and change are solid, major-league calibre pitches but the slider could be plus. Norris will likely start the season in Buffalo and will be ready to become a full-time major leaguer when the opportunity arises.
Roberto Osuna is still only 19. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Osuna put up some ugly numbers in Dunedin but people who saw him said that he stuff was back and that he was just refining things and getting his feel back. Osuna had a 6.55 ERA with a 1.68 WHIP over 22 innings for Dunedin, walking nine but striking out a whopping 30 batters in his limited work. The mature young Mexican righty is headed to the Arizona Fall League to pick up some more innings before before he’ll be back on the radar next year. If his recovery goes well and he impresses in spring training, look out for him to be in New Hampshire before long in his Age-20 season.
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