We’re going to start our more in-depth look at the Lansing Lugnuts by looking at starting pitchers. We’re going to include anyone who made 50% of his appearances as a starter, or logged enough innings to gain consideration. If a player played for more than one team over the course of the season, he’ll be grouped according to the club he played the most with.
We begin with the pitchers who made the most starts and work our way downwards from there.
Big Maximo Castillo, a 6-foot-2, 256-pound righty, was just 19 years old in 2018 but he took the ball and logged starts like a veteran, leading the Lugnuts with 22 starts (in 28 appearances) and 131 1/3 innings. He had a 4.52 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, striking out 20.3% of batters and walking 7.4%. Both of those numbers are a regression from 2017 in Bluefield but in 2018, Castillo was focusing on pitching to contact despite a regression in his ground ball rate (from 51.1% in 2017 to 38.9% in 2018). While he sits in the low 90s with his sinking fastball, there are thoughts that he could gain some velocity despite his frame being quite mature already. Castillo should move up to Dunedin in 2019, though.
Matt Gunter made the second most starts on the Lugnuts and the 23-year-old lefty drafted in the 33rd round of the 2017 draft out of Hawaii Pacific University started 16 out his 17 games to toss 75 innings with the Lansing Lugnuts (and 12 2/3 with Dunedin). Gunter got into early action with the D-Jays, making three appearances. After four hitless innings in his season debut on May 12, walking one and striking out three, he gave up a run in four innings but then got his for six runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings in his final appearance for the Dunedin Blue Jays before heading to Lansing for his first start there May 28. Gunter had two strong starts for the Lugnuts before he started to get into trouble and finished with a 5.88 ERA and 1.69 WHIP over 75 innings with an 11.8% strikeout rate and 11.5% walk rate (both well off his 21.2% strikeout rate in Dunedin and 5.8% walk rate there). Gunter got a lot of fly balls at both stopps but benefitted from a very (unsustainably) low line-drive rate in Dunedin while his LD rate was quite high (29.2%) in Lansing. Gunter could return to Lansing but might also see time in Dunedin in 2019.
Graham Spraker, our Pitcher of the Year for the Lugnuts, tossed 91 innings in 18 appearances (15 starts) while also making a couple of rehab outing with the GCL Blue Jays after recovering from an injury that cost him about a month and a half from mid-May to late June. Spraker had an excellent April and July but struggled more in May and August, putting together a 3.26 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, striking out 17.2% of batters and walking just 6.8%. Spraker could also see time in Dunedin next year.
Maverik Buffo spent a good chunk of his season in Dunedin after a strong opening half in Lansing where he threw 82 1/3 innings in 14 starts (and 16 appearances.). Buffo had a 4.26 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, keeping his walks down to 4.6% and strikeouts at 17.9% with the Lugnuts while he had a 6.12 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 57 1/3 innings with Dunedin, raising his strikeout rate to 18.5% while his walk rate rose to 6.2%. Buffo’s FIP (4.11) and xFIP (3.86) in Dunedin are a little more comforting than his ERA as he BABIP was quite high (.362) and he wasn’t able to strand a high number of runners (59.8%). Look for him to start back in Dunedin in 2019.
Donnie Sellers, 23, settled into a piggyback role with the Lugnuts, starting 13 of his 22 games and throwing 92 2/3 innings with a 3.98 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Sellers struck out 18.1% of batters while walking 6.9%, for some solid numbers. He had a fairly high line-drive rate of 26.8% but got 40.8% of balls in play on the ground. Sellers might be up against some competition to move up to Dunedin but his strong 2018 indicates that he’ll be in the mix.
Turner Larkins only pitched in 16 games and started 12 of them, totalling 62 2/3 innings for the Lugnuts, missing a lot of time from mid-June to early July, making one start and then not coming back until the end of August. In his time with Lansing, he had a 3.68 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, posting a solid 21.0% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate, both of which were right in line with his work in Bluefield last year. I can see Larkins staying in Lansing for a bit before he moves up to Dunedin if things are going well for him and he’s healthy.
Drafted in the 18th round in 2017, Jordan Barrett made appearances with three teams this year, making the most appearances (and starts) with the Lansing Lugnuts. The 6-foot-4 righty got out of extended spring training by starting a game with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on May 26, starting the second half of a double header and throwing 3 1/3 innings, giving up a run on two hits and two walks with two strikeouts. When the short season got under way, he made four starts with the Vancouver Canadians, throwing 20 2/3 innings with a stellar 32.9% strikeout rate, a 3.48 ERA, a 14.1% walk rate and a 1.21 WHIP. Barrett finished off his season by making 10 starts with the Lansing Lugnuts in July and August, posting a 3.18 ERA over 51 innings, posting a 1.45 WHIP with a 14.5% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rate. Barrett wasn’t exactly a ground ball machine but he was hard to hit a home run off of in Lansing, giving up just one round-tripper while he allowed two in his 20 2/3 innings in Vancouver. With college pitchers like the 23-year-old Barrett, it’s hard to speculate where he’ll start, although with his strong season, he’s likely earned a spot on an Opening Day roster.
At 6-foot-7, Colton Laws, the Blue Jays’ seventh-round pick in 2017, was one of the tallest Lugnuts on the mound but injuries got in the way of him pitching a full season. He started late, joining the Lugnuts at the end of April and took the ball regularly until the end of June, getting 10 starts in 12 appearances before he went down until the end of the year. Laws had a 6.19 ERA with a 1.48 WHIP, striking out 18.4% of batters while walking only 3.3% in 48 innings. Look for a healthy Laws, 22, back in Lansing or Dunedin in 2019.
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