The Lansing Lugnuts had a big group of relievers over the course of the season and most were fairly effective. There were a few standouts including a true flame-thrower and a guy who took some major strides of what I saw last year.
Leading the bullpen in appearances was 24-year-old lefty Scott Silverstein, drafted in the 25th round in 2013. Silverstein overcame a lot of injuries throughout his college career to even get drafted and he had a fairly solid season overall for the Lansing Lugnuts in his first full pro season. The 6-foot-6 lefty had a 4.08 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 64 innings for the Lugnuts, walking 27 and striking out 67, giving him some very solid peripherals, striking out 22.8% of batters and walking 9.2%. He throws in the low 90s with a slider and should move up to Dunedin next year.
My reliever of the year for the Lugnuts, Brady Dragmire, was a workhorse, throwing 77 1/3 innings over 43 appearances with an excellent 2.91 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, walking just nine and striking out 45. The walk rate is very impressive and, as I mentioned in Part 1, the low strikeout total is deceiving, considering how many groundouts Dragmire induced. I’ve only seen him throw in the mid-to-high-80s (the highest I’ve seen him touch over the past two years is 88 mph) but if he’s getting a little more juice on his fastball and it has a heavy sinking action, he could be very effective at higher levels thanks to his pinpoint control. The 21-year-old should be heading to Dunedin for his Age-22 season.
Roberto Espinosa, a 22-year-old lefty from Mexico, was selected by the Blue Jays in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this past year but had never really pitched above the Short-Season-A level despite having been with the Pirates’ organization since 2009. He had an up and down year with the Lugnuts, logging 70 innings and posting a 4.37 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, walking 36 and striking out 72. While the 11.3% walk rate is high, 22.6% as a strikeout rate isn’t bad at all. Espinosa was throwing in the high-80s when I saw him in May but he had a slider with some late, hard bite to it. I could see Espinosa moving up to Dunedin in 2015.
In his Age-24 season, the Blue Jays put Phil Kish to work in his first full season of professional baseball after signing as an undrafted free agent last year. Kish was dominant, pitching for Lansing and Vancouver, keeping his ERA to 2.26 (combined) and his WHIP to 1.08 (combined), striking out 60 and walking only 15 in 75 2/3 innings. Another ground ball pitcher (2.68 GO/AO this season) whose strikeout totals might be a bit deceiving, Kish throws in the high-80s/low-90s with great movement on his fastball while his secondary offerings are fairly solid. Look for Kish to be another guy moving up to Dunedin.
The Blue Jays’ 18th-round selection in 2012, Alonzo Gonzalez had a better season than his numbers indicated, earning my Most Improved Player award for the Lugnuts. Despite his 5.11 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, his secondary numbers all improved significantly since last year, particularly his strikeout percentage which doubled in 2014 to 25.5% as he racked up 90 Ks over 79 1/3 innings while walking 30, down 12 from his Lansing totals last year in the same number of innings. I can see the 6-foot-5 in Dunedin for his Age-23 season.
One pitcher who really impressed when I saw him in Lansing early in the season was Griffin Murphy. Murphy had had some injury problems over the years but he really seemed to find himself coming out of the bullpen in Lansing before struggling with his control in Dunedin after a promotion. In 36 Lansing innings, Murphy had a 2.00 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP, striking out 47 and walking just eight. When I saw him, he was throwing with a three-pitch mix (fastball, change, curveball) and was spotting his pitches exceptionally well (especially his offspeed pitches), hitting 93 mph from the left side. In Dunedin, things were a bit different as Murphy walked 15 in 21 innings, striking out 15 and allowing 14 earned runs for a 6.00 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. Murphy definitely has what it takes in terms of the velocity, pitch quality and control to be better at higher levels and I’m interested to see what he might be able to do at the Double-A level next year.
Starting several games at the beginning of the year, 24-year-old lefty Matt Dermody became a solid bulpen arm who could make spot starts on occasion and was a very useful pitcher for the Lugnuts. The Jays’ 28th-round pick in 2013, Dermody was outstanding in Vancouver last year but couldn’t quite match those numbers, putting up a 4.67 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP with 36 walks and 65 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings with Lansing (including 12 starts). When I saw Dermody as a starter, he was throwing in the high-80s (touching 90 mph) with a decent chngeup and a slider that he was leaving up. Dermody has a short-armed deliver that I think will play better out of the bullpen but for a guy with his size (6-foot-5), and his splits bear that out: Dermody had a 6.46 ERA and 1.84 WHIP as a starter and a 2.36 ERA and 1.17 WHIP out of the bullpen. He doesn’t sink the ball as much as you would think, though, allowing 1.06 ground outs for every air out. Dermody could move up to Dunedin but the bullpen there is already getting crowded so he could remain in Lansing to start the season.
It’s always fun to see a pitcher throwing heat and 22-year-old righty Jimmy Cordero was one of the only Blue Jays’ farmhands to light up the radar gun in triple digits. With only one season in the US before 2014 (last year, mainly in the GCL), Cordero started the season with the Lugnuts but was hurt before April was done, going on the DL. Returning in July, Cordero was throwing his 100 mph fastball, electrifying the crowds in Lansing. His ERA was very good (3.06) but his control was suspect as he walked 20 batters in 32 1/3 innings, striking out 34. When I saw Cordero pitch at the end of the season, I saw a guy with one pitch. His slider was rarely thrown in the strike zone and although it was thrown very hard (88-91 mph), it wasn’t very effective for him at all. For Cordero to reach the majors, that offspeed pitch will need to develop quickly. Still, the velocity will get him by in Dunedin if he’s there next year.
A guy that I really liked last year was Adaric Kelly who has one of the best changeups in the Jays’ organization. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough in his 32 innings in Lansing as he had a 6.19 ERA and 1.75 ERA with 17 walks and 19 strikeouts before being sent down to Vancouver where he was much better (1.64 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, five walks, 10 strikeouts in 11 innings).
Lefty Francisco Gracesqui split his Age-22 season between Vancouver and Lansing and was one of the pitchers who really left an impression on me this year. Having seen Gracesqui last year in Bluefield, I noticed two things about him that really took his pitching to another level. First, his fastball velocity was up a tick to the 89-91 mph range (he was throwing 87-91 mph last year) and second, he is now a three-pitch pitcher, adding a curveball to his fastball/changeup mix. I was impressed with the change last year but his curveball is now an extremely effective third pitch. In 14 1/3 innings in Vancouver, Gracesqui didn’t give up an earned run over 14 1/3 innings, allowing only six hits and seven walks with 16 strikeouts. That success translated to Lansing as he allowed only five runs in 21 1/3 innings (2.11 ERA) with better control — nine walks (including two intentional walks) — and very high strikeout numbers with 28 Ks. I could see Gracesqui becoming a starter, as he was generally used in multi-inning appearances in Lansing and the youngster from the Bronx could move up to Dunedin next year and be a swing man in 2015.
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