Vancouver Canadians 2019 Report, part 3: Relief Pitchers

Josh Almonte

We continue our more in-depth look at the Vancouver Canadians by looking at relief pitchers. We begin with the pitchers who made the most appearances and work our way downwards from there. If a player played for more than one team over the course of the season, he’ll be grouped according to the club he played the most with.


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Leading the club in appearances was Grayson Huffman. The 24-year-old lefty has had a rough go in his professional career so far. He’s only logged 147 innings (including 2019) since being drafted in 2014 and pitched in Vancouver for the third time in 2019 after missing the entire 2018 season. Huffman logged 32 2/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, striking out a stellar 27.7% of batters while his walk rate stayed high at 13.5%. It’s getting to the point where Huffman will need to jump to full season ball next year so I think he’s in Lansing to start April.



Luke Gillingham was our Reliever of the Year for the Vancouver Canadians, logging 24 appearances and 34 innings. Gillingham, 25, was pitching in Vancouver at an “advanced” age for a completely different reason than Huffman, as he lost close to three years after being drafted serving in the US Navy. Gillingham wasn’t throwing particularly hard from most reports but he was very successful coming at Northwest League hitters from the left side. He had a 2.65 ERA with 1.06 WHIP with a stellar 33.3% strikeout rate and a solid 10.1% walk rate. He wasn’t particularly a ground ball pitcher (38.0% GB% and 46.5% FB%) but he seemed to be able to miss bats well. I think Gillingham could be moved faster than some pitchers and will start 2020 in either Lansing or Dunedin.


Another lefty, 19-year-old Venezuelan Nicolas Medina, was in the number three spot on the list of appearances for the Vancouver Canadians. Medina has been pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League for several years now and the jump to the Northwest League at the age of 19 was an interesting decision. He struggled to some degree, posting a 6.03 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. He did strike out 20.8% but also walked 10.7% of batters and had almost the same percentage (37.8%) of ground balls as fly balls (36.0%). I think, given his age and results in 2019, Medina could return to Vancouver in 2020.


The second time was a charm for 23-year-old Parker Caracci. The University of Mississippi draftee was selected in the 37th round by the Jays in 2018 but he went back to school, getting drafted again by the Blue Jays in the 21st round in 2019. Pitching in Vancouver, Caracci was very good, filing a 3.03 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 29 2/3 professional innings, striking out an excellent 26.7% of batters but he also walked 14.1%. I think Caracci has earned himself some time in Lansing in 2020.


Another slightly older pitcher, 25-year-old Josh Almonte, made his first trip to Vancouver after skipping over the level on his initial climb through the Jays’ system as an outfielder. Almonte made his second stop as a pitcher, and used his 95+ mph fastball in 23 2/3 innings to show some improvement over his first season last year with Bluefield. Almonte had a 5.32 ERA and 1.86 WHIP and he struck out 27.8% of batters but really struggled to find control, walking 25.2%, contributing significantly to his struggles overall. Almonte could move up to Lansing next year and needs to get innings. If he finds his control and a consistent slider (which wasn’t bad when I saw it in spring training), he could move up levels quickly in 2020 given his age and velocity.


At 24, Gage Burland was one of the older pitchers for Vancouver and the 6-foot-2 righty from Washington State actually got his season going for Dunedin where he got into three games in late May, pitching a scoreless inning in his first outing, striking out one but struggled a bit in his next two outings, giving up a combined five runs on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts in 1 2/3 more innings. Moving to Vancouver when their season opened, Burland logged 19 2/3 innings with a 7.32 ERA and 2.19 WHIP, striking out 23.3% and walking 14.6%. I think Burland, who also had an excellent ground ball rate of 56.7%, should see Lansing in 2020.


6-foot righty Andy McGuire played both ways in 2018, his draft year, but must have decided to focus strictly on pitching in 2019 as he pitched both for Vancouver and Lansing. McGuire started with Vancouver, throwing 23 innings with a 3.91 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, striking out 12.1% of batters while walking only 7.1% and getting 61.6% of balls in play on the ground. Moving to Lansing, he threw 20 1/3 innings while putting up a 3.98 ERA but a much higher WHIP at 1.62. Additionally, McGuire struggled to miss bats, striking out only 8.8% of batters and walking 12.1% but still had a high ground ball rate at 58.8%. I think McGuire, 24, will probably return to Lansing to start 2020.


Luis Quinones, 22, was our runner up for the Reliever of the Year in Vancouver, making 10 appearances (including four starts) with 30 1/3 innings. The 2019 34th-round draftee started the year with two appearances in Bluefield, throwing 6 1/3 innings with just two runs against him on one hit and two walks with 10 strikeouts before moving up to Vancouver where he threw 30 1/3 innings with a 1.09 WHIP and 2.97 ERA, 38.2% strikeout rate and 13.8% walk rate. Unfortunately, Quinones was suspended for 80 games for testing positive for an anabolic steroid and will likely miss more than half of 2020 if he’s moved up to Lansing, where he’ll probably next see action.


Jared DiCesare, 21, made two stops in the Blue Jays’ system after being drafted in the 17th round out of George Mason University this year. Starting in Bluefield, DiCesare had a 3.60 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 15 innings, striking out 12 batters without walking anyone before he moved up to Vancouver. In Vancouver, he was used in a long relief role mostly (or as a piggyback starter, if you want to look at it that way), throwing 27 innings in seven appearances including two starts. He had a 3.67 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, striking out 20.9% of batters and walking only 4.6%. He’s looking like a guy who’ll probably get a look in Lansing in 2020.


Randy Pondler

Randy Pondler, 22, is another pitcher who logged a fair number of innings in a relief role for Vancouver. The Nicaraguan lefty was likely injured in spring training keeping him from starting the year with Lansing after a strong year in Vancouver last year. He returned this year to throw 23 innings in seven outings, but was hit fairly hard, putting up a 7.83 ERA and 1.87 WHIP, striking out 15.0% of batters and walking 12.2%. He was promoted to Lansing, however, and did better there in a shorter relief role, coming into six games and throwing 12 innings with a 5.25 ERA and 2.00 WHIP, striking out 20.3% of batters and walking 8.5%. I can see Pondler starting the season in Lansing in 2020.


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