The Blue Jays’ pitching coaches must be doing something right to develop the large pool of excellent relief pitchers who have begun to make their mark on the Blue Jays’ major league squad. New Hampshire was an excellent example of a team whose bullpen did much better than the starters over the course of the season.
Since being signed as a non-drafted free agent, Wil Browning, now 28, has done nothing but pitch well. He’s now reached Triple-A but the side-arming right-handed slinger spent most of 2016 in New Hampshire, leading the pitching staff in games. In his 46 appearances, Browning was 3-2 with 10 saves over 51 innings, posting a 1.94 ERA, 1.08 WHIP with a stellar 29.3% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. He made just one appearance with Buffalo and gave up a run on a walk and no hits but struck out three batters in 1 1/3 innings. Browning is likely to pitch with Buffalo at some point next year but whether he can start there is a question that will be resolved in spring training and by the number of free agents the Blue Jays bring in for 2017.
Brady Dragmire, a 23-year-old righty, finished off his first season on the 40-man roster by getting designated for assignment and subsequently traded to Pittsburgh. Dragmire didn’t have the best of seasons, despite throwing a ton of innings for the Fisher Cats. In 72 innings, Dragmire had a 4.38 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, both better than his 2015 numbers in Dunedin, but his strikeout rate dropped to 13.1% and his walk rate rose to 9.0%. While his 5.26 ERA was very deceptive in 2015, in 2016, his FIP skyrocketed to 5.36 and it’s clear that Double-A competition was giving Dragmire trouble as he allowed 10 home runs on the season.
While he got a late call up to the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris Smith, now 28, didn’t get a chance to make his major league debut in 2016. Still, Smith was absolutely dominant in New Hampshire, throwing 57 innings and striking out 31.8% of the batters he faced while walking 8.8%, posting a 1.89 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. In 3 2/3 innings with Buffalo, he allowed a solo home run, one other hit, one walk and struck out five before the big league call came. Look for Smith to start in Buffalo in 2017 and, now that he’s on the 40-man roster, could be a mid-season call up at some point if the Jays need bullpen help.
Our 2016 Fisher Cats Pitcher of the Year, Murphy Smith just turned 29 but has been very effective ever since he joined the Blue Jays’ organization in 2015. Smith logged 72 innings for New Hampshire with a 1.50 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, striking out 23.9% and walking 8.8%. In just one inning in Buffalo, Smith walked one and gave up a hit but didn’t allow a run and struck out one. Smith could start 2017 either in New Hampshire or Buffalo but he’s the type of pitcher that can make a spot start for you, throw multiple innings, or finish games.
After just throwing 1 1/3 innings in 2015, John Stilson returned to pitch most of 2016 in New Hampshire where he was quite solid, posting a 3.88 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 19.4% strikeout rate and 10.9% walk rate. While the walk rate was right around his career average, his strikeout rate was the lowest of his career (except for his stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2013. Like many of his bullpen mates in New Hampshire, Stilson pitched one inning in Buffalo, giving up a hit and striking out one. The lowered strikeout rate is a cause for concern for the 26-year-old Stilson. While he once threw in the mid-to-high 90s out of the bullpen, his injuries could have robbed him of velocity which could dim his chances at the majors. Stilson could very well spend most of 2017 in Buffalo.
Unlike some of his Fisher Cats teammates, our 2016 Reliever of the Year, Danny Barnes, spent a much larger portion of time with the Buffalo Bisons and also made his major league debut with 13 2/3 solid innings in the big leagues. In 35 2/3 innings with New Hampshire, Barnes had an outstanding 1.01 ERA, 0.59 WHIP and a 31.8% strikeout rate and 3.2% walk rate. Incredibly, those numbers only got better when he moved up to Buffalo, striking out a whopping 42.1% of the batters he faced while walking only 2.3%, posting a 0.35 ERA and a miniscule 0.31 WHIP. Obviously, things regressed a bit in Toronto where he still struck out 24.1% and walked 8.6% with a 3.95 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. While Barnes isn’t likely to start 2017 in Toronto, you can be sure he’ll be in the Buffalo bullpen waiting his turn.
While he’s not being talked about much right now, Matt Dermody had a huge rise to Toronto starting his season all the way down in Dunedin. The 6-foot-5, 26-year-old lefty started his season with a 1.96 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 18 1/3 innings in Dunedin, walking just one batter and striking out 20 before getting moved up to New Hampshire where he gave the club more of the same. In 19 2/3 innings, Dermody walked just two batters and struck out 21 with a 1.96 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. Moving up again to Buffalo, he threw 16 1/3 innings but only struck out six batters and walked five, getting stung for nine runs (but only five were earned), leaving him with a 2.76 ERA but a 1.65 WHIP. Dermody threw three ineffective innings in the majors over five games as the club searched for left-handed answers in the bullpen. He allowed four runs in three innings on six hits but didn’t walk anyone and struck out five. Dermody is another player who, being on the 40-man roster, will have a chance to return to Toronto in 2017 but will start in Buffalo first.
Lefty Daniel Schlereth was signed by the Jays as pitching depth but his Blue Jays’ stint didn’t last long. He pitched 16 2/3 innings and had a 4.32 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, a 13.8% strikeout rate and 16.3% walk rate for the Fisher Cats. He was released at the end of June.
Lefty Colt Hynes had a bumpy ride for the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates in 2016. The 31 year old started off the season in New Hampshire, pitched four games there before making one appearance with Buffalo and two more with New Hampshire before going up to Buffalo for almost three weeks. He went back to New Hampshire for another three weeks or so before moving back to Buffalo until the beginning of August when he was released. He pitched for almost a month for the Double-A Akron RubberDucks after being signed by the Cleveland Indians and then was traded to Oakland and made his final appearance of the year with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. Hynes had a 1.37 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with the Fisher Cats in 19 2/3 innings but a 5.71 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 17 1/3 innings with Buffalo despite striking out 28.2% and walking 1.3% of batters.
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