The Dunedin Blue Jays’ starting rotation featured, among others, a Canadian with an injury history, a rising lefty and an innings eater.
In terms of starts made for the Dunedin Blue Jays, Markham, Ontario native Jordan Romano led the way. He made 28 appearances, 26 of them to start the game, tossing 138 innings with a 3.39 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Romano led the D-Jays in strikeouts with 138, giving him strikeouts to 22.6% of batters faced while he walked 8.8%. A slightly high BABIP (.344) and a low ground ball rate (35.5%) indicate that there could be some positive regression for Romano in the future. Romano may have tired down the stretch, putting up a 4.10 ERA with a .708 OPS against in the final two months of the year, whereas he had a 2.86 ERA and .661 OPS against in the first three months. It also appears as if the Blue Jays started holding Romano back in terms of how many innings he was throwing. In back-to-back starts at the beginning of July, Romano threw seven innings, eclipsing the 90-pitch mark both times, but he only threw 90 pitches or more once for the rest of the season. Most importantly, however, was the fact that Romano pitched the entire year without injury in his first full season beyond his 2015 Tommy John surgery. The Jays’ 10th-round pick in 2014, Romano could very well begin his Age-25 season in Double-A next year.
The Blue Jays have several “Connor”s in their organization, in addition to one “Conner” but no one spells his name like Conor Fisk. Fisk, 25, was a 24th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2014 and has turned himself into one of the most durable and steadfast pitchers in the organization. Fisk led the Dunedin Blue Jays with 152 1/3 innings over 28 outings (including 22 starts) and had a 3.84 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, striking out 17.6% and walking 5.2%. That low walk rate helped Fisk, as did his 44.4% ground-ball rate as he was able to get slightly more ground outs than air outs (1.10 GO/AO ratio). Fisk struggled in June (6.75 ERA and 1.90 WHIP) but got things together, posting a 3.22 ERA and .642 OPS against in the final three months of the season. Fisk is likely to head to New Hampshire next year after spending the bulk of two seasons in Dunedin.
Lefty Ryan Borucki started his second consecutive year with the Dunedin Blue Jays. In 2016, things got off on the wrong foot as he had a 14.40 ERA through 20 innings before spending the rest of the season back in Lansing. After making huge strides, the 23-year-old Borucki, who has missed much of the 2012, 2013 and 2015 seasons due to injuries, was back in Dunedin to start 2017 and, for the month of April, we were wondering if it was more of the same. In four starts, Borucki had a 6.52 ERA and .808 OPS, allowing 18 runs (14 earned) in 19 1/3 innings. But from that point on, things turned around and Borucki punctuated his time in Dunedin with just one more start allowing over four earned runs and with two 10-strikeout games. By the middle of July, Borucki had amassed 98 innings with the Blue Jays, posting a 3.58 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, striking out 26.5% of batters and walking only 6.6%. He was promoted to New Hampshire and made his first Double-A start on July 23, bringing his newfound confidence with him. In seven starts with the Fisher Cats, Borucki completed seven innings five times and struck out seven batters four times. He finished his time with the Fisher Cats with a 1.94 ERA and 0.84 WHIP, striking out 23.5% and walking only 4.5% before he was given one final promotion, making a start in Triple-A with the Buffalo Bisons and throwing six scoreless innings with one walk and six strikeouts. Borucki is a player who may start in Double-A next year but will be on a fast track if he shows anywhere near the dominance he had in the last few months of the season. Buffalo for a couple of months is well in the cards and he could even arrive in Toronto next year.
6-foot-6 Dominican lefty Angel Perdomo was also seen as a pitcher who might move up to Dunedin and mature this year. Leading the Lugnuts in strikeouts in 2016, Perdomo, who has been in the Jays’ system since 2012, had mixed results before succumbing to injury in July. Perdomo tossed 75 1/3 innings with a 3.70 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 16 starts. He lost 10% of his strikeout rate, dropping to 19.1% this year with Dunedin from 29.1% in Lansing last year, and his walk rate, already high at 10.1% in 2016, rose to 12.6% with Dunedin this year. Perdomo only worked two innings each in his last two starts, his final one of the season being on July 6 before he was put on the DL. Look for Perdomo, 23, to be back in Dunedin next year.
24-year-old righty Josh DeGraaf showed how valuable he can be for the second year in a row, moving between a starting and bullpen role for the Dunedin Blue Jays and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. With Dunedin, DeGraaf had an excellent 3.32 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, striking out 20.8% and walking just 5.3% over 105 innings. Interestingly, in his 15 starts, he had a 3.01 ERA and 1.09 WHIP while he had a 5.40 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 11 2/3 innings as a reliever. De Graaf moved up to New Hampshire for nine games from May 7 to June 7, pitching mostly in relief with a 3.45 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings, striking out 16.2% of batters and walking 14.7%. I can see DeGraaf back in Dunedin to start the 2017 season but a New Hampshire assignment wouldn’t be out of the question.
2016 first-round draft pick T.J. Zeuch struggled through an injury-plagued 2017 season. The 6-foot-7, 22-year-old righty only made 12 appearances for the D-Jays, pitching 58 2/3 innings with a 3.38 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, striking out only 17.5% of batters and walking 6.5% despite getting an outstanding 61.5% groundball rate. Zeuch only managed to make 10 appearances before getting hurt, missing all of June and July and throwing two rehab outings in the GCL, allowing four earned runs in four innings. He pitched again for Dunedin on August 12, allowing seven runs (three earned on four hits and two walks with just one strikeout before returning to the DL and resurfacing on August 28 with the GCL Blue Jays, firing three innings of one-hitter with one walk and three strikeouts. He returned again to Dunedin, throwing four scoreless innings at the Clearwater Threshers, striking out three. Zeuch also got a start in the postseason, throwing four innings of one-hit ball, giving up an unearned run, walking one and striking out one. Zeuch could start 2018 in Dunedin again, especially if the team is concerned about his healthy. I can see a month or two there before moving up to New Hampshire.
24-year-old Hawai’ian lefty Tayler Saucedo has been a swing man for a couple of seasons in A-ball and has shown some maddening inconsistency from outing to outing. Saucedo started his 2017 in the Lansing bullpen but also got into three starts, posting a 4.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, striking out 20.3% of batters and walking 8.8%. Moved up to Dunedin, he started in 10 of his 16 appearances, putting up somewhat similar numbers with a 4.47 ERA and 1.60 WHIP, but his strikeout rate fell to 18.7% and his walk rate spiked to 11.3% over 56 1/3 innings. Saucedo is an enigma, his ground ball rates rose in Dunedin but he hasn’t been able to sustain any good stretches. Saucedo allowed four runs in 6 1/3 innings in his last start but just one unearned run in 11 2/3 innings in the two before that, but the two starts before that had him giving up nine runs in 7 2/3 innings. I’m sure Saucedo will have another chance to figure out a way to produce consistently but I think he’ll do that in Dunedin to start 2018.
The Blue Jays tagged veteran minor leaguer John Straka to rejoin the the organization late in the season when they needed an extra arm to help get through the year. Straka, 27, had pitched in New Hampshire last year but was pitching in the independent American Association to start the year. He made 10 starts for St. Paul, posting a 6.02 ERA and 1.72 WHIP over 55 1/3 innings with 21 walks and 37 strikeouts. Straka pitched three times for the Fisher Cats, getting lit up to the tune of an 8.18 ERA and 2.09 WHIP, walking three and striking out nine in 11 innings. He moved down to Dunedin where he made five starts, posting a much improved 3.41 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, striking out only 12.2% and walking 4.9% in 29 innings. It’s unclear whether the Jays will re-sign Straka for 2018 but he likely won’t rejoin the organization unless there’s an emergency.
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