We’re going to start our more in-depth look at the Lansing Lugnuts by looking at starting pitchers. Three pitchers topped the 100-inning mark and the starters who found the most success in Lansing were quickly moved up to Dunedin, leaving the team with finding a new wave of starting pitchers by mid-season.
We begin with the pitchers who made the most starts and work our way downwards from there. 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.
Sean Wymer, 22, was the Blue Jays’ 4th-round pick in the 2018 draft and he spent the entire season with the Lugnuts, leading the club with 26 starts (in 28 appearances) and 137 2/3 innings. While Wymer’s season stats are not all that impressive overall, with a 5.43 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and a 15.2% strikeout rate, his 5.9% walk rate was excellent and he did get 43.7% of balls in play on the ground. Wymer went out with a bang, beating the Fort Wayne TinCaps with a complete-game, nine-inning victory, allowing a run on four hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Aside from his strong finale, he had his best month in July, after a solid June but an atrocious May. Wymer has likely earned himself a look for Dunedin after a solid season in 2019.
6-foot-4 righty Troy Miller was a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Michigan in 2018 who had moments of brilliance but other, less brilliant, moments in his 2019 season, starting 22 of his 23 games and throwing 103 innings. Miller had a 4.81 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, striking out 16.2% of batters and he walked 10.8%. Miller’s ups and downs were well documented in this blog as he failed to go five innings in 10 starts and allowed more than four runs in eight of them. Still, he had some gems, tossing seven innings of two-run ball, striking out seven on July 21 and striking out eight ( a season high), allowing one run on four hits in seven innings on July 10. He would also equal his seven-strikeout total on August 21, allowing an unearned run on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts against the South Bend Cubs. There are positives to take from Miller’s first full season and he could be a guy to watch to see if he can find some consistency in 2020, probably in Dunedin.
An interesting name is third on our list. Not just because of his first name being “Cobi,” but Cobi Johnson made the third-most starts for the Lugnuts despite being used fairly heavily as a reliever as well. The 6-foot-4, 23-year-old righty, who is the son of the Jays’ former rehab pitching guru, Dane Johnson, struggled with a heavier workload in Lansing after being dominating as a closer in Vancouver last year. Johnson tossed 99 2/3 innings over 25 outings (16 starts) with a 5.24 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, striking out 21.6% of hitters faced but also walking 12.8% and giving more fly balls (43.8%) than ground balls (37.1%). For Johnson, a Dunedin assignment is likely but he’ll need to work on his control to be more effective going forward.
22-year-old giant Fitz Stadler stands 6-foot-9 and was the Blue Jays’ 18th-round pick of the 2018 draft. Stadler is another pitcher who worked out of the bullpen in short-season in his draft year but spent much of his 2019 as a starter with Lansing. Like Johnson, Stadler made 16 starts (in 27 appearances) but Stadler was able to crack the 100-inning barrier, tossing 106 frames with a 4.92 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. Stadler was also able to strike out over 20% of batters (20.3%) and his walk rate of 8.6% was pretty solid. He also leveraged his long levers and high downward plane to get 53.0% of balls in play on the ground. Stadler was much more consistent than Miller was, especially in the second half of the year as he only had one outing in which he allowed more than three earned runs after July. Look for him in Dunedin in 2019.
Troy Watson got a late start to his season, joining the Lansing Lugnuts in late May and piggybacked a bit before settling into the rotation full time. The 2018 15th-round pick wound up with 15 starts and 19 appearances in Lansing, finishing with 91 2/3 innings and a 3.14 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. His low strikeout rate of 12.1% is somewhat concerning but he was able to keep his walk rate reasonable at 9.7%. He had a very solid cluster of outings from mid-June to mid-July, having just one appearance in that group in which he allowed more than two runs (including on scoreless outing and three of four or more innings with just one run against). He was rewarded by getting moved up to Dunedin for a start on July 18 in which he allowed four runs on 10 hits in six innings, without strikeout anyone out. He was sent back to Lansing and continued his solid work, tying his season-high of five strikeouts in a game in his final two starts including 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball against Great Lakes on August 25 and five innings of one-run ball against West Michigan on August 30. I think Watson will get another crack at Dunedin next year.
Asserting himself as a pitcher to be watched carefully, Josh Winckowski followed up a stellar 2018 campaign, winning the Pitcher of the Year Award in the Northwest League with another strong season that had him advance to Dunedin. A 15th-round pick out of high school in 2016, the 21-year-old Winckowski tossed 73 2/3 innings in 13 starts with the Lugnuts, logging 73 2/3 innings and posting a stellar 2.32 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He struck out a very strong 23.7% of batters while walking 8.7% with a superb 55.8% ground ball rate. Moving up to Dunedin after being a Mid-Season All-Star in the Midwest League, Winckowski made 11 more appearances, getting 53 2/3 more innings of work. While the numbers did drop off a little, they were still very strong with a 3.19 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, striking out 16.3% of batters and walking 7.5% and having his ground ball rate fall somewhat to 48.8%. Still, for Winckowski, who was almost two years younger than the average player in the Florida State League, it was an excellent season overall and gives us more reasons to keep an eye on him. I think he’ll start 2020 back in Dunedin but could move to New Hampshire mid-season if he can get his strikeout rate back up to where it was in Lansing last year.
The key minor league player in the deal that sent fan favourite Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants was pitcher Juan De Paula. The 6-foot-3, 22-year-old Dominican righty struggled at times with the Lansing Lugnuts, particularly with his control as he threw eight times with a 7.76 ERA over 29 innings, walking 19 and striking out 20 before he went on the injured list. He made two rehab outings with the GCL over a month later, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings and had a strong outing for Bluefield (4 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 3 K) before returning to Lansing on July 13. There, he allowed seven runs in his return and 11 runs in 3 1/3 innings three starts later but also had 5 2/3 innings of one unearned run on July 24 and five innings with one run allowed on August 3. He would only make one more start before getting shut down, surrendering six runs in 3 1/3 innings on August 8 to finish his year. He would conclude his time in Lansing with a 9.17 ERA and 2.13 WHIP, striking out only 12.3% and walking 13.0%. Obviously, De Paula needs to be healthy and needs to work on his control and command before he can move up to Dunedin so I think he’ll start back in Lansing in 2020.
18-year-old Brazilian phenom Eric Pardinho struggled with injury through his 2019 season, starting with the Lansing Lugnuts but only getting into seven games with the Lugnuts but posting a 2.41 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 22.1% of batters and walking 9.6% in 33 2/3 innings. He also threw four innings in a rehab start in the GCL, striking out five and walking three, allowing just one hit and no runs. It’ll be interesting to see where Pardinho will start 2020. I think he could move to Dunedin given the maturity and pitchability he shows, with advanced offspeed pitches even when he doesn’t have his best fastball command (as I witnessed in one start this year), but because he’s still just 18, he may be back in Lansing to start 2020.
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