As I wrote the other day, the Blue Jays are going to need some help to turn around their fortunes in 2020. And it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays will spend lavishly on high end free agents, which means no Gerrit Cole, or big-money reliever. So who is positioned to make an impact on the Toronto Blue Jays as a reliever in the next couple of years coming up from the minor league system?
The thing about relief pitchers is that they are the most volatile element on a major league baseball team. A pitcher who was great one year can lose it just as quickly and so it’s difficult to project any relief pitcher. Indeed, there are often minor leaguers who become relievers and take off (like Ryan Tepera did). That said, relievers can be acquired cheaply and the Blue Jays have a track record of picking up “buy-low” pitchers to eventually flip at the deadline when they prove their value, as they did with Seung-hwan Oh, Daniel Hudson and several others over the past few years.
I’m going to confine confine my examination to pitchers who are currently relievers in the minor leagues. The fact is that the next great reliever could currently be a starter (I’m looking at you, Sean Reid-Foley) and since I’ve already looked at the potential sleeper starters, we’ll just look at the relievers. I’m also limiting this post to pitchers who haven’t yet pitched in the major leagues. That means Travis Bergen, Jordan Romano, Justin Shafer, Brock Stewart and Matt Dermody are not on my radar for this post.
We’ll start with pitchers who spent much of 2019 in Buffalo and there are several who could easily contribute to the Blue Jays in 2020. The first of whom is Zach Jackson. Jackson has had trouble with his control in years past but has gotten a handle on that, while still striking out a batter per inning. Jackson’s known for his curveball and his funky delivery that helps his fastball play up (while causing issues with his ability to repeat said delivery, causing command and control issues). Still, he had a solid year in Triple-A and is poised to be among the first to be given the call.
Also pitching mostly in Triple-A with a strong season was Kirby Snead. Snead threw 52 innings in Buffalo with 54 strikeouts and just 19 walks. He’s not a hard thrower, but the fact that he throws from the left side is a plus and he offers some funky angles. His righty-lefty splits are telling thorugh as he allowed just a .486 OPS against against lefties but an .813 OPS against versus righties.
Also contributing to the 2019 Bisons was Ty Tice. The 23-year-old righty is short of stature but big on heart and athleticism. He throws around 95 mph with a solid slider and had 41 strikeouts in 33 innings in Buffalo but his 21 walks were a bit of a problem. Tice may need a bit more seasoning that either Snead or Jackson.
A pair of hard-throwing righties finished the season in Buffalo and could be on the radar for 2020. Bryan Baker, 24, and Jackson McClelland, 25, have both hit triple digits on the radar gun and have been moving up the system in lock step. I’ve seen more of McClelland who needs a little better command with 11 walks in 15 innings in Triple-A while striking out 14. He needs to work on polishing his slider as well. With Baker, who had 22 innings in Buffalo, command is also an issue but his stuff may be a little sharper as evidenced by his 31 strikeouts and 16 walks. Both had significantly better command in Double-A so it just might be a matter of getting used to a higher level of competition.
Spending 2020 in New Hampshire was lefty Jake Fishman who led the club in appearances with 42, throwing 62 2/3 innings. Like Snead, Fishman doesn’t throw particularly hard (topping out at 90-91 mph) but he comes at you with a sidearm angle and mystified Double-A hitters, striking out 74 with just 18 walks. Fishman also had severe splits with lefties hitting for a .540 OPS against him and righties hitting for an .818 OPS against.
Dany Jimenez is a guy I’ve been watching for a couple of years now. I noticed him a couple of years ago in spring training, throwing 95 mph as a starter with a decent slider and okay changeup. After improving over the last half of 2018, he turned it on in 2019, posting a 1.87 ERA in 33 2/3 innings with 46 strikeouts and 12 walks in Double-A New Hampshire (after striking out 47 in 25 1/3 innings in Dunedin). Jimenez will be 26 before the year is out and will likely be under some pressure to move up at his age.
William Ouellette is another pitcher who impressed me in 2019. A non-drafted free agent in 2016, Ouellette has reached Buffalo but spent the year mostly in New Hampshire, posting a 3.71 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 43 2/3 innings. While his 10 walks in that time is excellent, he only struck out 24 batters leading me to believe that he may need to sharpen his offspeed pitches a bit. That said, he did strike out nine in 11 1/3 innings in Buffalo and 20 batters (with just one walk) in 15 2/3 innings in Dunedin.
Who do you think is a sleeper relief pitcher for 2020, 2021 and beyond?
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