Lansing Lugnuts 2019 Report, part 3: Relief Pitchers

Marcus Reyes

We continue our more in-depth look at the Lansing Lugnuts by looking at relief pitchers. We begin with the pitchers who made the most appearances 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.


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Leading the club in appearances was our Pitcher of the Year, Marcus Reyes. Reyes was a bullpen staple for the Lugnuts, making 39 appearances with an outstanding 2.56 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over a pretty incredible 77 1/3 innings. The 77 1/3 innings are incredible mostly because Reyes didn’t make a start all year, meaning that he averaged almost two innings per outing, a rarity among relievers. Reyes, a 24-year-old lefty who was a 38th-round pick out of San Diego State University in 2017, kept the ball on the ground, posting a 50.4% ground ball rate while striking out 17.7% of batters and walking only 5.7%. Reyes’s poor numbers in August are likely due to some fatigue as he was worked hard all season and had never pitched in a five-month season before. He allowed eight runs (six earned) in his last four outings and, had he been shut down before then, he would have finished with a 2.04 ERA and a 5.81 OPS against. In addition, he had an 18-inning streak without giving up a run from June 28 to July 26 and then tacked on another 11 1/3 innings without surrendering a run from July 31 to August 19 after one outing in which he allowed four earned runs (a season high) on July 28. There’s no reason why Reyes won’t move up to Dunedin next year after a stellar full-season debut.



Cre Finfrock

Cre Finfrock, a 29th-round pick of the 2018 draft out of the University of Central Florida, didn’t join the Lugnuts until May 9 but still was second on the Lugnuts in appearances. Taking over the closer role, Finfrock led the Midwest League with 17 saves and posted a 3.99 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, striking out a whopping 31.1% of batters while walking 9.9% over 38 1/3 innings. He got an end-of-season promotion to Dunedin where he made one appearance, striking out two batters and allowing a hit. Finfrock will also likely join the bullpen in Dunedin in 2020 after being a post-season All-Star in the Midwest League.


Will McAffer

Canadian righty Will McAffer was a 25th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2018 and, after a season in Vancouver, joined the Lansing Lugnuts for 2019. McAffer tossed 56 innings in 31 outings, posting a 4.34 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, striking out a very solid 27.6% of batters but also walked 15.4%. He’ll need to get those walks under control while also getting a few more balls on the ground more as he had a 52.2% fly ball rate. Still, the 22 year old could spend part of a season in Lansing or he may jump to Dunedin if he shows well in Spring Training.


Sean Rackoski

Sean Rackoski, 24, was a non-drafted free agent in 2018 and jumped to Lansing, showing that he belonged at whatever level he was at in 2019. With Lansing, he was used at the end of games, finishing 16 of his 28 games and earning five saves with a 2.87 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 47 innings. The 6-foot-7 righty throws reasonably hard but has some deception and a solid slider on his side as he he struck out 25.3% of batters while walking 9.3% and got 50.0% percent of balls in play on the ground. Promoted to Dunedin at the end of July, Rackoski added 15 2/3 innings in Florida, with a 2.30 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, striking out 29.3% of batters and walking only 3.3%. Can Rackoski replicate those Dunedin numbers in 2020? They are consistent enough with the rest of his performance in 2019 that it’s highly conceivable that he starts in Dunedin and is able to keep making batters look bad.


Josh Hiatt

Josh Hiatt, drafted in the 16th-round of the 2018 draft, didn’t pitch as a professional in his draft year but joined the Lansing Lugnuts to start 2019. The 22-year-old righty was used as a piggyback starter for the first part of the year but after coming back from the IL after missing over a month, he was only used out of the bullpen, generally in shorter stints. Overall, Hiatt had a solid 3.64 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, striking 18.1% of batters and walking 11.0% with a 50.0% ground ball rate on balls in play. He fared better out of the bullpen, posting a .652 OPS against as a reliever while he had a .756 OPS against as a starter, translating to a 2.74 ERA and 1.37 WHIP coming out of the ‘pen against a 4.99 ERA and 1.50 WHIP when starting games. Hiatt should be in Dunedin at some point next year but the pitching staff could be crowded at the start of the year, so he might begin in Lansing.


24-year-old Joey Pulido (who turned 24 in late September) was a 32nd round pick in 2018 and made four stops in the Blue Jays’ organization in 2019. Pulido started with Lansing, pitching 10 times (with a 6.57 ERA and .833 OPS against) before jumping all the way up to Buffalo for one outing on June 1, taking the loss and giving up four runs on three hits (including a home run) with a walk and two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. He went back to Lansing and pitched another 14 times with some slightly improved numbers (a 5.86 ERA and .809 OPS against) before going to Vancouver for two scoreless outings (just two hits and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings) before finishing the season in New Hampshire where he tossed 5 2/3 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on four hits (including a home run) with four walks and a whopping eight strikeouts. But the bulk of the year was spent in Lansing and he had a 6.08 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 40 innings, striking out 20.9% of batters and walking 11.3%. It’s hard to see where he’ll start in 2020 but he wasn’t overmatched in New Hampshire at the end of the year, so a Dunedin start might not be out of the question.



Mike Pascoe

Mike Pascoe, 21, came out of San Jacinto College in Houston to join the Blue Jays organization as a 24th-round draft pick in 2018. He joined Lansing out of spring training but gave up runs in his first five outings and 12 of his first 16. He posted a 5.34 ERA and 1.66 WHIP over 32 innings, striking out 19.2% of batters and walking 15.2%. He was sent down to Vancouver in early July and finished out the season with the Canadians, logging another 17 2/3 innings with some even worse numbers that included an 8.66 ERA and 2.43 WHIP, striking out 22.6% of batters but walking 19.6%. Pascoe was particularly victimized by the home run in Lansing, allowing six long balls in just 32 innings and lack of control really figured in to his struggles in Vancouver as he walked 17, hit seven batters and threw five wild pitches in just 17 2/3 innings. Look for Pascoe to get another crack at Lansing in 2020, although they might keep him in extended spring training if the Jays are looking to work on his mechanics at some point.


Juan Nunez

Juan Nunez made it to full-season ball in 2019 for the first time since he joined the Blue Jays’ organization back in 2014. After two seasons in the DSL and GCL, the missing all of 2016 with knee surgery and then two more seasons in 2017 and 2018 in Vancouver, Nunez didn’t get out of extended spring training in 2019, going to Vancouver to start the season. He had two scoreless outings, allowing just four hits in four innings with a walk and three strikeouts before he was promoted to Lansing, finishing the season with the Lugnuts. Nunez did not really post better numbers than he had since 2017, tossing 21 2/3 innings with the Lugnuts and having a 5.40 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, but he struck out 27.8% of batters and kept his walk rate to 8.3%, one of the best numbers he’s had as a pro. He could return to Lansing or jump to Dunedin in 2020, his Age-24 season.


Justin Watts

Justin Watts, 25, joined the Blue Jays’ system as a 37th-round pick out of the University of Southern Indiana but spent much of 2019 injured. Watts pitched for the Lugnuts in 2019 through a six-week span than ran from June 26 to August 11. He pitched quite effectively, tossing 14 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, striking out 30.0% of batters and walking only 10.0%. In this small sample size, he did give up fly balls on 68.6% of balls in play. Watts was released on August 15.


Brody Rodning

Another victim of injuries, Brody Rodning, got into one game with the Lugnuts in May before getting put on the shelf for three months. He tossed three times with the GCL Blue Jays, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits in 3 1/3 innings, striking out five without walking anyone. He returned to Lansing for the last two weeks of the season and threw six more times, giving him a 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 8 2/3 innings, walking just one and striking out nine. We’ll look forward to Rodning joining the Dunedin Blue Jays at some point in 2020.


Jose Espada

Jose Espada, 22, is another player whose time on the mound was limited in 2019 because of injuries. Espada got his season underway with a rehab outing in late June but then didn’t emerge again for over a month, coming back with three more appearances with the GCL Blue Jays in the first half of August. He went up to Lansing and, starting August 15, made six appearances for the Lugnuts before the season ended. Espada didn’t give up a run in four innings with the GCL Blue Jays, allowing just one hit with two walks and four strikeouts while he had a 4.70 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 7 2/3 innings with Lansing, striking out nine and walking one. He’ll probably pitch his Age-23 season in Lansing to start next year.


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