Saturday, 18 September 2010

2010 Positional Review: Relief Pitchers

As Jose Bautista moves within one of being the first Blue Jay ever to reach 50 home runs (I doubt even the BAS saw THAT coming) and we learn that the Blue Jays highest short season team will be playing in Vancouver next year (more on that later in the off-season) and while we wait to see if Alex Anthopoulos can somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat and get the Jays' AAA out of Las Vegas, it's time for the Weekly positional review. This list will be much shorter than last weeks, but if you start with the starting pitchers, this is what comes next.

The preliminary caveat to this list is that a LOT of guys on the last list will likely find that the bullpen is their fastest route to the majors. In fact, if Bob Elliot is to be believed, the Jays warned both Henderson Alvarez and Zach Stewart that they should be prepared for either role next year. Though frankly, it would take an unusual circumstance for either to be relieving next year. Alvarez is just too far down the chain for a player of his caliber to go to the 'pen (In fact, there's even a possibility that Elliot misplaced a comma and Alvarez wasn't in fact, given this instruction).

As for Stewart, the obvious explanation is that the talented right-hander (who's considered to be good enough to close in the majors now better than most who are doing that job) is the hole card that the Jays have in reserve as they manipulate the shape of their major league 'pen over the off-season. If the Jays decide to decline the option on Kevin Gregg and collect the compensatory draft pick, then the closer role is up for grabs with David Purcey and Josh Roenicke the presumptive front runners. But both pitchers have warts on their previous records and if the more experienced candidates fail, the Jays might open the door for Stewart - especially given the depth of options for the rotation over the next year or two.

Now, looking down the list, the following guys (not all rookies of course) could find themselves candidates for the major league 'pen in 2011 having been squeezed out of the rotation: Scott Richmond, Marc Rzepzynski, Brad Mills, Jesse Litsch, and Bobby Ray.

Looking further down the list, some obvious candidates to get a clearer path to the majors in relief pitching than as starters include: Bobby Bell, Joel Cerrano, Luis Perez and possibly(because of his health record) Sam Dyson. Of course, any starter who gets buried in the depth chart is equal parts relief candidate and trade bait.

On to the list:

1. Josh Roenicke (28) RHP - The sequence of this list is a total judgment call, and I could put any of the top four anywhere in the top four and be both right and wrong. Of the four, there has been more praise directed at Roenicke's raw ability than any of the rest and that's why he's here. It's true he's 28 which, in normal terms, is too old to still be a prospect. The thing that makes him an exception is that he came to pitching late, being 23 when the Reds converted him, and he has only about 260 IP in his career. He's said to have real closer ability if he can make progress with his control, which has been sporadic.

2. Danny Farquhar (24) RHP - Farquhar opened the AA season as a closer but was moved out of that role in may as the Jays saw him as a reliever more suited to multiple innings. He's quite good at missing bats and fairly good at missing the strike zone as well. While posting an impressively low H:9 ratio of 5.82 over his career, Farquhar still only managed a 1.21 WHIP in 2010. Farquhar is notorious for throwing from multiple arm angles which contributes to the difficulty to hit him, one would assume, as well as potentially leading to more wildness in the aggregate.
One thing to note about his 2010 season: Over almost six weeks from May 1 to June 8, Farquhar threw 16 IP and gave up 19 earned runs (and allowed 18 hits and walked 16). In all other appearances, he he threw 60.2 innings and gave up 11 earned runs (32 hits and 26 walks) - that's an ERA of 1.63 and if that represents the "real" Danny Farquhar, then that's something to be excited about.

3. Trystan Magnuson (25) RHP - the lanky (6'7") Magnuson isn't a power pitcher but he's become quite a good one. At one point during the 2010 season he went 8 weeks (17 appearances) without giving up a single run, earned or otherwise. His control is superlative, giving up only 10 walks all year (including only 3 in his last 30 IP) but he's not overpowering (hitters averaged .256 off him as compared to .189 for Farquhar). His ceiling might be a sort of Jon Rauch type reliever, though he's less likely to see that kind of leverage until he proves himself in the majors.

4. Alan Farina (24) RHP - Promoted to AA for good in July (after a brief earlier visit) Farina continued the dominance he'd begun at Dunedin. His combined ERA for both stops was 1.29 and hitters in the Eastern League had even less success than those in the FSL against him (.092 in the EL, .156 in A ball). He's a half step behind the two men in front of him, having only 19 IP in AA, but his work is so impressive he might catch up with them soon. Like Farquhar, he has an impressive ground ball ratio which can only help as he moves up to pitch in front of better defenses and on better fields. With the right chain of events, all four of these guys could pitch in Toronto in 2011.

5. Frank Gailey (25) LHP - There's a considerable gap in projectability between the top four and the rest, but there are some names to note and Gailey is one. He's a bit old for Dunedin (at 24 this year) which is why there's a caveat, but perhaps it should be a smaller one than I've implied. Gailey was a workhorse in the Dunedin pen, logging an very impressive 91.1 IP (only one start on the back-end of a double header in which he went 4 innings) and striking out 99 against a stingy 10 walks. Given his age, relative to level, he's another guy than can and should be challenged and moved as fast as his production indicates.

6. Evan Crawford (24) LHP - Crawford did well after being shifted from a sometimes starter at Lansing to a full-time reliever in Dunedin. He showed a rather extreme groudball split (2.74) and batters hit just .237 off him. He got better as he went on too, posting an ERA of 0.93 after August 1. He was a tic old for that level, and hopefully the Jays challenge him by moving him up to AA next spring.

7. Matt Wright (23) LHP - He'll turn 24 on May 7 and spent the whole year in Lansing where he was some two years old for what's considered real prospect territory for that level, but he struck out 82 in 67.2 IP and held opposition hitters to a .201 BA. Another guy who needs to be challenged as it's not uncommon for an older guy to dominate in the lower levels and, while team coaches and scouts might know what they have and what's illusion, it's hard for us to discern that from stats.

8. Drew Permison (22) RHP - Drafted in the 42nd round of the 2010 draft, Permison announced his presence with authority for the Auburn Doubledays, striking out 59 in 39 IP and holding opposing hitters to a .164 BA. Again, age is a slight caveat, as is his late-round draft status, but doing so well in his first professional season is worth noting.

Other names to watch include Kyle Ginley, who once had good raw stuff but can't stay healthy, Dustin Antolin who also was highly praised but went for TJ surgery earl in the season, as well as several others who are probably not going to amount to much but, given the task of identifying promising pitchers who are relieving in the low minors is highly problematic I'll err on the high side and list several names:
RHPs Ron Uviedo, Matt Daley, Nestor Molina, Dayton Martze, Daniel Barnes, and LHPs Rommie Lewis, and Michael Kelly.


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Thanks for the positional reviews, as always. And, for the record, the BAS is not surprised in the least that Bautista is about to hit number 50. The BAS has always believed in Jose Bautista.

Anonymous said...

Great info and much appreciated. Excellent post as always