The Dunedin Blue Jays had a little bit of trouble finding starters to get through the season, using no fewer than 14 players with at least three starts each. Several players who started for Dunedin have been or will be discussed with another team but there are still quite a few pitchers who started a significant amount for Dunedin.
Making the most starts for the Dunedin Blue Jays was Justin Shafer who logged 115 1/3 innings for the club in his Age-23 season. While his results were certainly better than they were in a 12-game stint in Dunedin last year, they were a significant step back from what he did with the Lugnuts in 2015. Shafer had a 5.23 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, with a very low 12.0% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate. Shafer could improve some of those numbers with better infield defense behind him as he has always been a ground-ball pitcher with a 1.67 ground-out-to-air-out ratio last year (and 1.71 over his career). I’d expect to see Shafer have a little more success in A-ball before he moves up to Double-A so look for him back in Dunedin in 2017.
Mexican righty Francisco Rios had a terrific run in A-ball at the age of 21. Rios not only pitched in the MLB Futures Game at the All-Star break, but he had (what appears to be) very sustainable success in Dunedin. After starting the season in Lansing where he dominated the Midwest League, throwing 30 innings with a 1.20 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 35.8% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate, he moved up to Dunedin where he would pitch in 19 games (15 starts) with 90 2/3 innings and a 3.47 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 17.4% strikeout rate and 5.6% walk rate. We’d like to see the strikeout rate improve and he could return to Dunedin to start the 2017 season before he’s tested further in Double-A.
It seems like it was just yesterday when Conner Greene was the premiere pitching prospect in the Jays organization but his stock took a bit of a hit with a development year in 2016. Still, Greene is younger than one might think (he’s still just 21) and he’s already got over 80 innings under his belt at the Double-A level. Returning to Dunedin in 2016, Greene started the season with 15 starts for the Blue Jays and had a 2.90 ERA, 1.44 WHIP with a 15.0% strikeout rate and 11.1% walk rate in 77 2/3 innings. When he moved up to Double-A, Greene improved his strikeout rate to 16.4% but his walk rate went up slightly to 11.3% and his WHIP dropped to 1.31 despite a rise in ERA to 4.19. When you look at his FIP at each level (4.36 in Dunedin and 4.48 in New Hampshire), you can see that improvements in some areas cancelled deficiencies in others out. Greene still has great stuff but his struggles in locating his pitches within the strike zone have made him a little erratic. If he can find a bit more command in 2017 (likely starting in Double-A), he could be in the majors in less than a year.
Making 14 starts among his 31 appearances for the Dunedin Blue Jays, Chris Rowley was actually the club’s leader in innings at 123 2/3 for the season. After missing two years of baseball while he served in the US Army, Rowley returned to log a ton of innings and put up some extremely solid numbers despite his absence. He had a 3.49 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 16.7% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate. Rowley, in his Age-25 season, threw a lot of strikes and was particularly successful when coming out of the bullpen, sporting a 2.89 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 35 strikeouts and five walks in 43 2/3 innings as a reliever. I can see Rowley moving up to Double-A in a relief role next year.
Conor Fisk is another pitcher who started in Lansing and made his way to Dunedin before the year was up. With Fisk, his numbers in Lansing weren’t even all that good, with a 4.91 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. But Fisk’s 26.8% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate were strong and he was promoted to Dunedin. After 11 appearances out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen, Fisk was moved to the rotation for most of the rest of the season where he actually fared better than he did in the ‘pen. In his 13 starts on the year (including one in Lansing), Fisk had a 2.87 ERA with a 0.91 WHIP and 62 strikeouts and 15 walks in 81 2/3 innings. As a reliever, he had a 4.73 ERA (over the course of the year) with a 1.51 WHIP and 17 walks and 45 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings. I think that Fisk might get a chance to start in Double-A in 2017, mainly because there are going to be few starters’ spots up for grabs in Dunedin, particularly with a large group of players graduating from Lansing next year.
One of the pitchers the Blue Jays tried out along the way was 6-foot-3 righty Kyle Westwood. Released by the Astros at the end of spring training, he was signed by the Blue Jays and made 12 appearances (and nine starts) for Dunedin. With a 7.03 ERA and 1.63 WHIP over 56 1/3 innings, Westwood struck out only 12.3% and walked 5.5% before he was released in June.
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