Most of the relievers in the Vancouver Canadians’ 2016 bullpen were players who had been in the Jays’ system for at least one year previous to this one. They also generally had fairly defined roles.
22-year-old Jackson McClelland led the Vancouver Canadians in appearances after getting just 5 1/3 innings in 2015 in his draft year. The 6-foot-5 righty pitched his way to a 3.26 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 30 1/3 innings with a 19.7% strikeout rate and a 7.9% walk rate that should have him working in the Lansing bullpen to start 2017.
Our runner up in the Reliever of the Year race was Griffin Glaude, an under-sized (5-foot-9), 24-year-old righty from Arkansas. Glaude has worked his way up to Lansing in his second professional year but spent most of 2016 with Vancouver, with excellent results. He had a 2.36 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 34 1/3 innings with an impressive 27.2% strikeout rate and 11.6% walk rate. In two innings in Lansing, things didn’t go very well, as he allowed five runs on seven hits with just one strikeout. Still, things should go more smoothly for Glaude in 2017 when he returns to Lansing (or possibly Dunedin) to start the season.
In his Age-20 season, lefty Evan Smith has seen some struggles as he spent most of the year back in Vancouver. Smith started the year in Lansing, making four April appearances and allowing eight runs over 5 1/3 innings before heading back to extended spring training and then Vancouver. Smith couldn’t get over his struggles back in the Northwest League (where he spent most of 2015), throwing 32 innings out of the bullpen with a 7.03 ERA and 1.78 WHIP. Still, he struck out 21.9% of batters and walked 9.3% but a .402 BABIP made it difficult for him to keep runners off the bases. Despite being in the Jays’ system since 2013, Smith has just turned 21 and will certainly get another chance to start the year in Lansing in 2017.
The Blue Jays’ ninth-round pick in this year’s draft, righty Nick Hartman, got his feet wet in professional baseball with the Vancouver Canadians, tossing 24 innings with a 3.00 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Hartman showed good control, walking 6.5% of batters but only struck out 15.7%. Look for Hartman to move to Lansing in 2017.
The sixth-round pick of the Jays in the 2014 draft, Grayson Huffman has struggled in his professional baseball journey after a very strong debut in his draft year. In his Age-21 season with Vancouver, Huffman had a 6.35 ERA and 1.84 WHIP but his FIP of 3.91 indicates that he really wasn’t that far out of his depth. His high BABIP (.387) combined with a very good ground-out-to-air-out ratio of 1.55 means that a lot of balls were likely finding holes that might otherwise be fielded with better quality infield defense. Huffman struck out 18.4% of batters, a solid figure, while his walk rate was high at 11.8% but it was still down from the 13.0% he walked last year. All in all, 2016 was a development year for Huffman but he could take another step forward in Lansing in 2017.
Acquired as a minor league free agent towards the end of last season, Gabe Noyalis is an interesting player with a big fastball who will need more time to develop his pitching skills. In Vancouver, the 24 year old threw 26 2/3 innings with a 7.42 ERA and 1.76 WHIP, striking out 20.5% but, most problematically, walking 16.5%. Noyalis could very likely return to Vancouver next year, or even get a Lansing assignment out of extended spring training.
The Blue Jays are high on 21-year-old Zach Jackson, their third-round pick in this year’s draft. While he threw one inning in the GCL, Jackson spent the rest of the season in Vancouver, logging 17 2/3 innings with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. Jackson was extremely difficult to hit, keeping his opponents’ batting average to .203 despite a .317 BABIP, and he struck out 30.3% of the batters he faced. That said, it’s likely that Jackson will need to refine some of his mechanics as he walked 15.8% of the batters he faced, double the number you’d like to see. Jackson will likely start the 2017 season in Lansing but word is that, if he finds his command, he could move quickly.
Stuart Holmes, 23, split his 2016 season between the same two teams that he played for in 2015, Bluefield and Vancouver. Holmes started his year with Vancouver after a strong 2015 season but struggled with a 9.60 ERA and 2.33 WHIP over 15 innings, striking out 10 and walking nine. Sent to Bluefield at the beginning of August, Holmes improved his numbers,posting a 0.79 WHIP, a 1.93 ERA with a 23.5% strikeout rate and 9.8% walk rate. Holmes could be back in Vancouver in 2017.
Lefty Nate Abel spent time at three levels for the Blue Jays’ organization in 2016 and the 23 year old was good at each of them. His first stop was a May assignment to Dunedin where he threw 2 1/3 innings, allowing one hit and striking out four before heading back to extended spring training. Abel came out of Florida in early June, joining the Lansing Lugnuts in Dayton and pitching with them until July 9. While with the Lugnuts, Abel had a 3.31 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 16 1/3 innings, walking 11.3% of batters and striking out 16.9%. Sent down to Vancouver, he excelled, improving those rate stats to a 24.5% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rate while having a 1.44 WHIP and 3.66 ERA. Look for Abel to spend more time in Lansing next year.
Enigmatic lefty Matt Smoral had another year of struggles to add to his resume and only threw 13 innings with the Canadians at the age of 22. In those innings, he allowed 19 runs on 15 hits and 16 walks with 18 strikeouts. All in all, it was a disappointing year for a pitcher who has flashed so much potential but hasn’t been able to capitalize. There are big question marks surrounding what might happen with Smoral in 2017.
Our Reliever of the Year comes all the way down here, mainly because he only made 10 appearances in Vancouver but still logged 26 2/5 innings. 6-foot-4 Geno Encina pitched for Vancouver, Lansing and Dunedin in his Age 21 season (he’s 22 now). Encina made his season debut with the Dunedin Blue Jays on July 9 and gave up two runs (one earned) on a home run, a walk, and three hits in three innings with just one strikeout. Moving to Vancouver, Encina was far more effective. After allowing three runs in his Canadians’ debut, Encina allowed just three more runs the rest of the season, finishing with a 2.02 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with Vancouver, striking out 26.2% and walking just 3.7%. He was rewarded for his efforts with a promotion to Lansing where he threw 3 1/3 more scoreless innings, striking out four and allowing just two hits and a walk. After Encina’s excellent year, he’s likely to start 2016 in Lansing.
The Blue Jays signed 6-foot-6 lefty Taylor Durand as a non-drafted free agent out of Western Carolina University and he got into only one game on September 1, giving up two walks and a hit, with a wild pitch, leading to three unearned runs. He could be back in Vancouver for next season.
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