We’ll start our in-depth look at the pitching staff of the Vancouver Canadians by looking at starting pitchers. While the Canadians didn’t have too many standouts in the rotation, a couple of pitchers took some big steps forward while another tantalized with potential after being selected in the first round in 2017.
Coming back from a season-long knee injury in 2016, I had high hopes for Juan Nunez. It seemed like he had trouble finding the consistency that he’s going to need along with his 97 mph fastball. Nunez, after pitching in the DSL and GCL in 2015, tossed 62 1/3 innings in Vancouver, putting up a 5.05 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, striking out 18.6% of batters and walking 10.5%. Compounding issues were his four home runs allowed (not the worst number for the high number of innings) and his 0.77 Ground-Out-to-Air-Out (GO/AO) ratio, which shows us that he’s not keeping the ball on the ground as well as he might need to. Still, i think we’re going to see Nunez in Lansing in 2018 as he took a big step in coming back from injury.
Jose Espada, 20, started 10 games for the Canadians, tossing 49 innings and finished with a 5.14 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 13 appearances. He struck out 24.4% of batters (way up from last year’s 14.1% strikeout rate in Bluefield) and walked 7.2% (up from 5.3% last year), giving him a solid year of work. That said, he did give up a lot of fly balls, finishing with a 0.59 GO/AO ratio with five balls leaving the park. I can see Espada in Vancouver next year to see if he can get more balls on the ground but don’t rule out a trip to Lansing.
Dalton Rodriguez, signed by the Blue Jays as an international free agent all the way back in 2012 finally posted some numbers in the US that lead us to believe that there’s some promise there. In his second go-round with Vancouver, Rodriguez, 21, made 9 starts in 11 appearances, throwing 56 1/3 innings with a 4.15 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, generally leading the starters in effectiveness. He only struck out 15.0% of batters but that was up from 13.8% in Vancouver last year while he walked 6.9%, way down from 11.5% last year. While he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, he got a ton of ground balls, in 57.9% of balls in play, meaning that he could actually improve his numbers as he moves up due to better infield defense around him. Rodriguez moved up to Lansing for three starts at the end of the year, throwing 15 2/3 innings but he was hit hard, giving up 20 hits and 6 walks with 10 strikeouts and an 8.04 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. I think Rodriguez, in his sixth professional season in 2018, starts off in Lansing.
The Blue Jays, and Blue Jays fans, have definitely started to dream on Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays’ second first-round pick of 2017. The 21-year-old (who turned 21 in late August) righty absolutely dominated the Northwest League despite the Blue Jays treating him with kid gloves and severely limiting his innings. After making one start in the GCL where he tossed one scoreless inning, striking out two and giving up a hit, he moved up to Vancouver where he started seven games and racked up just 19 innings of work. In those 19 innings, however, Pearson allowed only two runs on just six hits, walking five and posting an incredible 0.58 WHIP with a 0.95 ERA. Pearson also struck out 24 batters (35.8%) before making two strong starts in the playoffs, tossing eight innings and giving up one run on four hits with six walks and 14 strikeouts. I theorized that Pearson, who stands 6-foot-6 and can run the ball up to 100 mph, might skip Lansing next year and go right to Dunedin. He still could start in Lansing but I think the Jays might want to ratchet up the competition level he faces a little more.
The Blue Jays drafted 6-foot-1 righty Donnie Sellers out of Wake Forest University in the 11th round of this year’s draft. He went to work in the Northwest League right away, starting seven of his 12 games and tossing 30 innings, posing some solid numbers in his pro debut. He had a 3.90 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, striking out 19.1% and walking 9.6% of batters, giving up a very good 55.6% ground ball rate. We might expect to see his ERA and WHIP fall a bit next year if his BABIP of .366 regresses toward the average (around .300). Overall a very encouraging debut for Sellers who will probably be in Lansing for his Age-22 season in 2018.
While he only started six of his 13 games, Wilfri Aleton racked up 55 innings for the Canadians. He struggled more in Vancouver than he did last year in the GCL and, while he dominated last year, I think the jump in competition made things a bit more challenging for the big 21-year-old lefty. We expected some big things from Aleton in his fifth professional year after his breakout last year but he ended up regressing acrossing the board. He had a 5.07 ERA, 1.58 WHIP to go along with a 16.8% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate. His ground-out-to-air-out ratio also feel significantly, from 1.37 in the GCL last year to 0.70 this year. Aleton had one start in the postseason, tossing five innings and giving up two runs on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts in a loss. We’ll have to see more to find out what kind of a pitcher Aleton really is and I’m sure we’ll see him in Lansing next year.
21-year-old lefty Brody Rodning joined the Vancouver Canadians after one outing with the GCL Blue Jays following his selection in the 13th round of the 2017 draft. Rodning, who went to college in Minnesota, allowed a run in his only inning in the GCL and followed that with a 4.64 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in 33 innings with Vancouver. He had some control problems, walking 11.8% of batters while striking out 19.7%. Sellers will likely move up to Lansing next year.
23-year-old Dany Jimenez started his fourth professional season with the Vancouver Canadians, putting together two very strong outings in his first two games, with five innings of one-run ball, striking out five in his first and six innings of two-hit, one-run ball in the second, striking out nine with just one walk. On July 1, he was charged with three runs in four innings before coming out of the game in the fifth and he promptly missed a month and a half. He allowed an earned run in his inning of work in the GCL on his road back from injury and rejoined the Canadians, working out of the bullpen down the stretch, starting August 25. He was roughed up for five runs in 2/3 of an inning in his first game and five runs (one earned) in one frame in his second game. He struck out four in two scoreless and hitless innings in his final game of the regular season. It was a bit of a lost season for Jimenez whose overall numbers are a bit deceptive. His 5.49 ERA is quite high but his 0.91 WHIP is excellent over 18 2/3 innings in Vancouver, as is his outstanding 29.9% strikeout rate and 5.2% walk rate. He made one outing in the playoffs, giving up a hit and striking out one in 2/3 of an inning. Jimenez will probably move up to Lansing next year, his Age 24 season. He’s shown lots of potential this year and hopefully he’s left injury far behind him.
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