Yes, the Lugnuts’ pitching staff was bad last year but there were some standouts out of the bullpen.
Leading the club with 32 games was Nick Hartman. Hartman, 22, was the Jays’ ninth-round pick in 2016 and didn’t see action with the Lugnuts until the end of April. Hartman threw 38 1/3 innings with a 3.29 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, striking out 21.5% of batters while walking 8.7%. A key to Hartman’s success was his 50.0% ground ball rate. Moving up Dunedin at the end of the year, Hartman made four appearances, covering 7 1/3 innings and didn’t give up a hit, walking only one and striking out five for the Blue Jays. I think Hartman will begin 2018 where he left off in 2018, with Dunedin.
23-year-old righty Geno Encina logged 76 innings for the Lugnuts over 29 appearances. An 18th-round draft pick in 2015, the 6-foot-4 Encina had an up and down year, not giving up an earned run until May but he had some slumps throughout the year too, allowing six runs in a start on July 8 and he followed that with three runs in three innings in his next outing and then, on July 19, he gave up six runs in two innings. Encina got a promotion to Dunedin in early August and he was there for two appearances before making one more outing for Lansing before the end of the year. With the Lugnuts, Encina had a 4.26 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, striking out 16.2% and walking 8.6%. With the D-Jays, he gave up five runs in four innings, allowing nine hits including two home runs but didn’t walk anyone and struck out two batters. Encina was released on September 11.
22-year-old Andrew Deramo pitched for about three-quarters of a season with the Lugnuts, making 28 appearances. Moving up from Bluefield where he spent his draft year (he was a 29th round pick in 2016), Deramo tossed 49 innings out of the ‘pen with the Lugnuts, finishing with a 6.24 ERA and 1.98 WHIP, walking 12.0% of the batters he faced and striking out 17.8%. Deramo could be back with Lansing next year.
Denis Diaz, a 22-year-old Honduran righty, was in extended spring training to start the year. He made his first in-game appearance, starting the second game of a double header for the Dunedin Blue Jays, giving up just one hit in four innings but walking five and striking out three. He was then sent to Lansing where he was used mostly as a starter until the end of June when he finished the year working out of the bullpen likely due to the fact that his previous career-high was 49 2/3 innings. Diaz logged 70 innings with the Lugnuts with a 7.84 ERA and 1.93 WHIP, struggling with his control, walking 16.4% of batters and striking out 17.3%. Diaz had a one-run, one-hit outing with six strikeouts over five innings on May 19 and followed that up with three-hit, one-run game, walking three and striking out six in his next start. He never found that kind of consistency throughout the season. His best strikeout-to-walk ratio in one game was in his first as a Lugnut, walking one and striking out seven in 5 2/3 one-run innings. Diaz could move up to Dunedin next year and I think he very well might, but if he doesn’t cut down his walks, he may not be able to move up much further.
Griffin Glaude, 25, was the Blue Jays’ mileage kind when it came to his journey around the minor leagues in 2017. A non-drafted free agent out of Beebe, Arkansas, Glaude pitched at three levels but spent the most time with the Lugnuts, throwing 47 2/3 innings in 24 outings, posting a 5.48 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, striking out 22.3% and walking 9.0%. His solid numbers enabled the Blue Jays to send him to New Hampshire where he pitched twice, giving up a run on two hits and two walks with three strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings and to Buffalo where he also pitched twice, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and a walk over 1 2/3 innings. Glaude will probably be in Dunedin to start 2018.
Daniel Lietz, 23, got his second shot at pitching with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2017 and he nailed it. The former 5th-round pick in 2013 was one of the Lugnuts’ most effective relievers, throwing 39 2/3 innings with a 2.50 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, striking out 17.0% of the batters he faced but walking 12.3%, a fairly high number. Moving up to Dunedin, he wasn’t as successful, posting a 6.75 ERA and 2.10 WHIP over 20 innings and he saw his walk rate jump to 17.9% while his strikeout rate plummeted by half to 8.5%. He finished out the season with Lansing, making one final appearance there. Look for Lietz back in Dunedin in 2018, his sixth with the Jays.
The Blue Jays’ 35th-round pick in 2016 out of Austin Peay State University, Jared Carkuff made four stops in 2017, reaching as high as Buffalo. Carkuff started his season with Dunedin and, after he gave up six runs in two innings in his season debut, he settled in, finishing with a 5.14 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, striking out a respectable 16.5% and showing solid control with a 6.6% walk rate. When the short seasons opened, Carkuff found himself in Vancouver and he pitched twice out of the bullpen in mid-June, striking out three in three innings without walking anyone and giving up only two hits. The end of June had Carkuff moved up to Lansing where he spent much of the rest of the year. In 35 2/3 innings with the Lugnuts, he had a 3.79 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, striking out 21.2% and walking 5.3%. He got moved to Buffalo for his final appearance of the year, throwing 3 1/3 innings with just one hit against him, striking out one and walking one. Carkuff could start 2018 in either Dunedin or New Hampshire, depending on where he might be needed most.
A 22nd-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2016, 23-year-old Connor Eller also started his season with the Dunedin Blue Jays. He made 12 appearances there but it was his last three that probably had him sent to Dunedin. Until May 15, Eller had a 1.10 ERA and just a .507 OPS against but he allowed nine earned runs in his final three appearances over just three innings and was sent back to Lansing with a 5.12 ERA and 1.91 WHIP. Despite his early success with Dunedin, his strikeout and walk ratios were far from where you would like to see them with a 9.8% strikeout rate and a 19.6% walk rate. With Lansing, Eller had a 4.17 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 36 2/3 innings, striking out 14.6% and walking 11.1%. Obviously, his walk rate needs to come down and while he had some solid ground ball numbers (49.1% in Lansing, 40.3% in Dunedin), he’ll need to add some strikeouts to the groundouts. I can see Eller returning to Lansing next year.
Venezuelan lefty Juliandry Higuera, 23, spent most of his season in Lansing after starting the year in Vancouver, striking out nine batters over 4 1/3 innings, walking just one and giving up three hits. With the Lugnuts, Higuera had a 4.74 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP over 43 2/3 innings, striking out an excellent 27.0% of batters and walking 7.9%. In addition, Higuera boasted a 56.8% ground ball rate, showing that he may even improve as he moves up. With solid control, lots of ground balls and a very good strikeout rate, there’s nothing that I can see that would prevent me from having Higuera in Dunedin for his Age-23 season.
22-year-old Venezuelan righty Yonardo Herdenez also pitched at four levels this season. Getting his season started with the Lansing Lugnuts in mid-June but he didn’t make more than three appearances at any one stop until August. After his first two outings in Lansing, Herdenez went to Bluefield for three appearances, then to New Hampshire for two and back to Bluefield for one. Then he went to Vancouver for three outings, Lansing for one and three more in Vancouver. He finished the season back in Lansing and had a 4.13 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 24 innings overall, striking out 16.8% and walking 9.9%. With Bluefield, Herdenez allowed six runs in seven innings, striking out six without walking anyone and in New Hampshire, he gave up a run in four innings, striking out one and walking one. In 13 innings with Vancouver, Herdenez had a 2.08 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, striking out 14.8% of batters and walking 9.3%. It’s really hard to tell what to expect with Herdenez in 2018 since he didn’t spend much time at any given level in 2017. I think he could start in Lansing or Dunedin for his first full season.
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