The Vancouver Canadians tend to see a lot of former college pitchers join the relief corps and 2015 was not unusual in this sense. The Canadians relief corps had several pitchers pitch very well despite a sub-.500 season.
Canadian righty Andrew Case led the Canadians in appearances, and while the 22 year old was very strong in Vancouver, he struggled in Lansing before his demotion. To start the season, Case threw 21 2/3 innings with the Lugnuts, but despite the 3.32 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, he had a 5.66 FIP to go with a 16.0% strikeout rate and 6.4% walk rate. When he arrived in Vancouver, he did better, throwing 30 2/3 innings and collecting 10 saves while leading the team in strikeout rate at 22.3% while walking 9.2%. His 2.93 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 1.21 WHIP were all improvements over his Lansing numbers. Case should be back in Lansing in 2016 and could even see Dunedin and has nothing left to prove in Vancouver.
Coming into his Age-23 season, righty Michael Kraft got into action in May, rather than waiting for the short-season leagues to start. Kraft pitched one game with the Dunedin Blue Jays before heading north to Lansing where he made six appearances, throwing 6 2/3 innings and giving up seven runs (although six of them were in his final outing on June 12). Kraft finally headed to Vancouver, where he was likely slated to go in spring training, and threw 36 2/3 innings, posting a 3.68 ERA, 5.46 FIP and 2.05 WHIP. Much of his issues came from a 17.4% walk rate that was actually higher than his strikeout rate of 16.3%. Already 24, Kraft should be headed to Lansing to start next season despite his struggles with control. He’ll be expected to improve on those numbers in 2016.
Lefty Turner Lee went to Vancouver last year after a rough season in the GCL despite being a college pitcher signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2014. Lee turned things around in a big way in 2015, providing the Canadians with 34 2/3 solid innings, notching a 3.38 ERA, 3.52 FIP and 1.04 WHIP. Despite those numbers, his 14.4% strikeout rate was rather low but his 5.0% walk rate is stellar. Lee will also be considered for the Lansing bullpen in 2016 at the age of 24.
Like Lee, Bob Wheatley made the jump from the GCL to Vancouver after a less than stellar pro debut. Drafted in the 26th round in 2014, Wheatley threw 30 2/3 innings in Vancouver and while his numbers weren’t terrific, they still marked an improvement over 2014. Wheatley had a 4.99 ERA, 5.72 FIP and 1.73 WHIP with an 18.9% strikeout rate and an 11.9% walk rate. Obviously the walk rate is going to have to come down if Wheatley is to compete for a spot on a full-season roster.
Drafted out of high school in Pickering, Ontario, 2015 marked Sean Ratcliffe‘s third year with the Blue Jays. Ratcliffe had been both a catcher and a pitcher but the 6-foot-4 righty has been eased into his work as a pitcher with just 22 1/3 innings over his first two professional seasons (with limited signs of improvement). Ratcliffe took a big jump in 2015, throwing 40 innings for the Vancouver Canadians as one of the youngest pitchers on the staff at the age of 20, and had a 3.60 ERA, 3.85 FIP and 1.30 WHIP with a 17.4% strikeout rate and a 9.4% walk rate. While I don’t really have a handle of his stuff just yet, I’m looking forward to seeing with this young GTA righty can do at a higher level in 2016.
Lefty Brandon Hinkle was one of our co-Relievers of the Year and the product of the University of Delaware certainly proved to be very effective with a 1.14 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. While his 21.3% strikeout rate is very good, his 14.8% walk rate is up from last year in the Gulf Coast League and that, combined with the 4.34 FIP leave some cause for concern going forward. With an unsustainable .227 BABIP and left-on-base percentage (LOB%) of over 90%, some regression is almost a certainty in 2016.
Lefty Stuart Holmes was an undrafted free agent signed this year who started in Bluefield but moved up to Vancouver after just 5 2/3 innings. Holmes went 25 1/3 innings for the Canadians and had some solid numbers with a 3.91 ERA, 3.48 FIP and 1.26 WHIP while striking out 22.2% of batters. The one downside was the walk totals as Holmes walked 12.0% of the batters he faced, marring what would have otherwise been a very good season. Holmes was among the younger pitchers in the Cs ‘pen in 2015 at 22 and will likely be considered for a spot in Lansing in 2016.
University of Florida product Daniel Young made his pro debut as a 21 year old and the lefty struggled in his time in Vancouver. In 27 innings, Young posted an ERA of 6.33 and a FIP of 5.79 with an unsightly 2.04 WHIP, striking out just 6.3% of batters while walking 9.5%. An eighth round pick, there’s probably more in Young that meets the eye and I look forward to seeing what he can do in 2016.
22-year-old Josh Degraaf came to the Blue Jays in the 31st round of the draft and after a stellar, 9 1/3 inning debut with Bluefield, settled in with the Vancouver Canadians. In Bluefield, Degraaf struck out 11 batters and walked only one before moving up and struck out 15.5% and walked 8.1% in Vancouver. Still, his numbers were very good overall, as a 3.15 ERA and 4.16 FIP with a 1.34 WHIP showed. Degraaf is another pitcher who had a solid season and could be in line for a Lansing bullpen spot which, is already getting pretty crowded.
Starting the season at the age of 24, Joey Aquino had a very small window with which to make his move in professional baseball. Aquino was excellent in Bluefield last season but couldn’t duplicate those results at a higher level this year, posting a 10.57 ERA and 2.22 WHIP in 7 2/3 innings with the Vancouver Canadians before the Blue Jays released him.
22-year-old Ryan Cook was another non-drafted free agent signed by the Blue Jays this year and the righty got innings in at three different levels. Cook started in the GCL and threw 14 2/3 innings with a 1.84 ERA and 2.01 FIP, striking out 26.2% of batters while walking just 7.7%. He made two appearances in Dunedin and threw another 2 2/3 innings, giving up a run with three strikouts and one walk before moving along to Vancouver where he added another 18 1/3 innings, posting a 3.93 ERA and 2.89 FIP, striking out 23.3% of batters and walking 9.3%. It’s a good sign that Cook was able to keep his FIP in the range from 2.01 to 2.89 at three different levels while maintaining a strikeout rate above 23.1%. It looks like his stuff might be able to play at all those levels and he could end up in Lansing in 2016.
2015 seventh-round draft pick Travis Bergen probably had an injury which would explain why he only threw 5 1/3 innings this year, all with Vancouver. He didn’t allow a run and gave up just two hits with one walk and a whopping 11 strikeouts in his professional debut before being shelved. Bergen was omitted from the Florida Instructional League roster which means that his injury could be very serious and, therefore, I can’t speculate as to where he’ll be next year.
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