This is the fourth part of my series that talks about the Toronto Blue Jays’ Rookie-Level (Advanced) affiliate in the Appalachian League, the Bluefield Blue Jays. I’ve previously written about the experience of going down to Bluefield to watch some ball as well as scouting reports on most of the every day position players that I saw.
Now, on to the relievers! Bluefield is piggy-backing their young starters, that is, they have two pitchers that the team considers a “starter”pitch each game. One guy takes the first three to five innings and the other guy throws another three to five. In an ideal situation, all nine innings of a game will be covered by the tandem. They switch every time out so that the pitcher who started one game will be the one out of the pen the next.
This article won’t deal with any of those guys involved in the piggy-backing. I’m talking about the guys who are actually relievers and won’t start any games unless an emergency starter is required (but with 8-10 “starting pitchers” on the staff, that’s not usually necessary). In the 7-inning double headers that I saw, one piggy-back starter started the first game and the other one started the second game. The only reliever that I didn’t see in my trip was Yeyfry Del Rosario, an intriguing pitcher that I just missed seeing (he pitched the day before I got to town and the day after I left).
Francisco Gracesqui – Gracesqui is a 22 year old from the Bronx that the Jays signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011. After pitching well in the GCL last year, he’s now in Bluefield trying to work his way up as a left-handed reliever.
He approaches hitters with three pitches — a fastball that sits 87-89 mph (and touched 90 once), a curveball that came in around 75 mph that I didn’t particularly like and a very good changeup that sat around 80-81 mph. While he gave up a HR in the appearance that I saw, I also saw two consecutive swings-and-misses on his changeup. I don’t know if it’ll ever be an out pitch at the higher levels of the minors, but I think that when he’s hitting his spots, he has a chance to be a solid, lefty org guy for the Blue Jays.
Brett Barber – I really liked what I saw out of Brett Barber, who has become the closer for Bluefield. A closer for Ohio University who was drafted this year, Barber’s a 22 year old who, should he keep pitching like he is now, will most likely be in Lansing next year. Barber has thrown 10 innings and has put up a 3.60 ERA and 1.000 WHIP showing an excellent 11/2 K/BB ratio (which work out to a 31% K percentage and 4.8% walk percentage).
Barber won’t be a starter. He’s not huge (6’1″, 180), has a max-effort, drop-and-drive delivery and he throws with kind of a short-armed mechanic. In watching him, I was reminded a little bit of Casey Janssen, although he doesn’t have Janssen’s velocity or (from what I could tell) movement. His fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range, occasionally touching 90 and he got a lot of swings and misses on his curve ball which appears to be well developed.
What I do like, as evidenced by his stats, is that Barber wastes no time and attacks the hitter. He has swing and miss stuff, especially with his off-speed pitches and he throws strikes. For me, this is the perfect attitude to have coming into a game. And as his grandmother (Peggy Barber) told me, you don’t have a lot of time find the zone when you come into a game, so you might as well go right at the hitters. Well said, Grandma Barber.
Joseph Lovecchio – Lovecchio is one of the older players on this team and was an undrafted free agent signed after the draft this year by the Blue Jays. He pitched a couple of innings with the GCL Blue Jays but was quickly sent to Bluefield where he has been mostly solid, putting up a 5.56 ERA and 1.588 WHIP with 11 strikeouts and 3 walks in 11 1/3 innings. Lovecchio, 22, is resilient, if nothing else. I saw him pitch on back-to-back days to opposite results.
The first day I saw him, nothing went right and he had his worst outing of his pro career, giving up five runs in just 2/3 of an inning on five hits and a walk. The next day, however, Lovecchio was dominant (against mostly the same lineup) throwing a clean inning and striking out two.
Lovecchio doesn’t profile as a big league pitcher and at 22, he’ll probably try to make a career as an org guy. His fastball sits at 87-88 and if he doesn’t locate well, he gets hit hard.
Adaric Kelly – Of all the pitchers that I saw come out of the bullpen, the one that I thought was the most under-the-radar was Kelly. Born in Florida (I’ve heard that he has Aruban heritage), 20-year-old Kelly was a 28th round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2010. He’s had two years in the GCL (his first was pretty bad and the second was very good) and he’s putting up numbers in Bluefield that aren’t exactly eye-popping. Through 10 1/3 innings, he’s got a 5.23 ERA and a WHIP approaching 2 to go with 6 walks and 9 strikeouts. Seeing Kelly in person, however, there is something that he has that really impresses.
His velocity is decent for this level, sitting in the 88-89 mph range but I fell in love with Kelly’s changeup which is consistently about 78-80 mph. He throws the change with excellent arm action and it fooled several hitters. Kelly also has a tendency to miss barrels. I saw hitters break two bats in a row off of him, mainly because either there’s such great movement on his pitches or his changeup is so good he’s able to really disrupt their timing.
I looked a little bit more into his stats to try to see where the 5.23 ERA comes from and a check of Fangraphs confirmed my suspicion. His BABIP is currently .406 which means he’s getting really unlucky. What I saw told me a similar story. The batters would break their bats but still get hits on little bloops off of him. And while his 6 walks in just over 10 innings is very high, five of those walks came in two appearances on June 23 and June 29 and he has only walked one batter since (and has all nine of his strikeouts since June 29 as well).
What does this tell me about Adaric Kelly? I really liked what I saw and hopefully the control issues are behind him. If he continues to pitch well this season, I could see him in the Lansing bullpen in 2014.
Justin D’Alessandro – He didn’t really make an impression on me while I was in Bluefield — maybe I was just in denial. He pitched just once and gave up four runs in an inning including a home run and a walk without any strikeouts. Maybe it’s best I don’t try harder to remember. D’Alessandro will be 24 in September and actually started the season in Vancouver where, similar to Bluefield, he didn’t particularly fare well in limited game action.
Alvido Jimenez – Jimenez was a Minor League Rule 5 draft pick this season and also started out in Vancouver before being sent down to Bluefield. Jimenez is a 22-year-old Dominican that, despite seeing twice, I didn’t really take any notes about. His second appearance was much better than his first, going two scoreless innings on July 19. My remembrances are really that he’s about a typical, unremarkable reliever without much upside at this point, but he might hang around the Jays system for another few years.
Those are the relievers for the Bluefield Blue Jays. The next couple of Bluefield posts will discuss the starters. Stay tuned for more of our interview series. Still to come are interviews with Doug Davis, Paul Quantrill and Tim Raines.