In 2015, the bullpen was the strength of the Dunedin Blue Jays. In 2016, there were some pitchers who really picked up some momentum in their climb through the Jays’ system but for others, the fact that they could pitch through the whole season was reason enough for optimism.
We’ll start with one of those pitchers from whom staying on the field was a big plus, Adonys Cardona. While the 22-year-old Venezuelan’s numbers weren’t great, it was the first time he’s managed to get through a whole season since he blew out his elbow after only 10 appearances in 2014. His surgically repaired joint made it through the 2016 season and Cardona led the Blue Jays with 41 appearances although the staff was noticeably cautious with his arm, getting him just 37 2/3 innings. Cardona had a 5.02 ERA and 1.83 WHIP, walking 17.5% of batters and striking out just 14.7% but (and boy, is this one of the bigger “but”s I can write) he still has some filthy stuff that, when harnessed, is difficult to hit. I saw a high-90s fastball that sat between 95 and 97 mph with a nasty slider in spring training. There’s going to be a lot of interest in Cardona going forward but he could stick around in Dunedin for part of a year in order to try to find his control.
One pitcher who had a major turnaround in 2016 is lefty Alonzo Gonzalez. The 6-foot-5 24 year old spent most of the season in Dunedin (with a little taste of New Hampshire coming in towards the end of the season) and was extremely effective. While righties hit him to a tune of a .225/.333/.325 slash line, lefties were pretty defenseless, compiling a .150/.292/.200 slash line with just two extra-base hits in 97 plate appearances. In 58 innings with Dunedin, Gonzalez had a 2.48 ERA with a 1.31 WHIP, striking out 22.5% of batters but walking a rather high 13.5%. After his promotion, Gonzalez threw another 13 1/3 innings with a 3.38 ERA and 1.35 WHIP but saw his rate stats decline, to 18.3% for his strikeout rate and 18.3% for his walk rate. Gonzalez has seen a marked velocity increase since I saw him the first time in 2013 with Lansing and he’ll likely escape A-ball next year and start with the Double-A Fisher Cats.
Now 27, Brad Allen wasn’t as effective in Dunedin as he was last year. He did throw more innings and made nine starts for the Blue Jays but Allen struggled with his control, walking 12.0% of batters while striking out 19.1%. His 5.50 ERA, 5.09 FIP and 1.50 WHIP were all worse this year than last.
25-year-old Carlos Ramirez, in his third year as a pitcher, put together a very solid season, learning more about pitching to go with his cannon of an arm. Throwing in the 94-95 mph range, Ramirez struck out 24.6% of batters and walked 12.6%. Despite the walks, Ramirez left 85.7% of runners on base and gave up just 32 hits in 41 innings, giving him a very solid 1.29 WHIP to go with his 2.20 ERA and 3.42 FIP. Ramirez likely gets a chance to pitch in Double-A, a level he never got to as an outfielder.
The Blue Jays have a Jose Fernandez in their system but he’s a 6-foot-3 lefty from the Dominican Republic. After a strong season in Lansing last year, Fernandez spent the year in Dunedin, throwing 43 2/3 innings over 29 appearances with a 4.12 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, a 21.2% strikeout rate and a career-worst 17.6% walk rate. For Fernandez, a stint on the DL might have been at the root of the problems although his worst walk rates were in April (when he walked 13 in 12 2/3 innings) and July (12 walks in 13 1/3 innings). Was Fernandez compensating for an injury which then threw off his mechanics and control? Or is there some other problem? We’ll probably find out next year when the 23 year old returns to Dunedin.
24-year-old power lefty Tim Mayza came to our attention in March when he struck out four batters in two innings of major league spring training. Mayza went to Dunedin, his highest level yet, and dominated Florida State League opponents, striking out 41 and walking 10 in 35 1/3 innings before a promotion to New Hampshire. Things turned around on him a bit in Double-A, as he walked 15 and struck out 13 in 15 1/3 innings, posting a 4.11 ERA and 2.02 ERA. Back in Dunedin, he threw 13 1/3 more innings, giving up just one earned run the rest of the way. Overall, he had a 26.1% strikeout rate, a 7.5% walk rate, 1.66 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in Dunedin. Mayza heads to the Arizona Fall League soon and then look for him back in Double-A to start 2017.
Traded to the Chicago White Sox for Dioner Navarro, Colton Turner had a coming-out party this year, starting in Lansing and pitching 12 scoreless innings, giving up eight hits and three walks and striking out 13 before an inevitable promotion to Dunedin. The 25-year-old lefty threw 31 2/3 innings with a stellar 0.57 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, striking out 47 and walking just nine before another promotion, this time to Double-A. In New Hampshire, things hit a snag when he gave up six runs on 12 hits and eight walks in 10 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts before he was traded. Kept in Double-A with the White Sox’ organization, Turner finished the season with four scoreless innings, giving up three hits and three walks with six strikeouts.
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