Last week, on the eve of Robert Ray's first (largely successful) start as a Toronto Blue Jay, we took a look at Ray. Today's we'll do the same for Brett Cecil, who makes his first major-league start tonight against the Cleveland Indians. Although there aren't as many questions about Cecil, given his higher-profile status in the Jays' system, it's still worth a look.
Brett Cecil was taken in the sandwich round of the 2007 draft, using a supplemental pick created by the departure of Justin Speier. Cecil was the closer at the University of Maryland at the time. The left-hander and native of Dunkirk, Maryland is now 22 and has enjoyed a quick rise through the Jays' system, even though the Jays drafted a closer with the intent to turn him into a starter.
He was lights out at Auburn in his draft season (13 starts, 49 2/3 innings, 56/11 K/BB ratio) and continued to stretch out his arm. Last season, after a short stint in Dunedin, Cecil dominated both New Hampshire (18 starts, 77 2/3 innings, 87/23 K/BB ratio) and was called up to Syracuse, where he also pitched effectively, overcoming a bad start to end with a solid 4.11 ERA and 31 K/16 K/BB ratio in 30 2/3 innings. Overall, Cecil's numbers in the minors compare favourably to fellow lefty phenom David Price, although Price has gotten far more hype.
Cecil's MO is simple - he strikes out a lot of batters (more than 1 per inning in his minor-league career) and gets a ton of ground balls. He gets the grounders mostly with his low-90s fastball with very good sinking action, and gets the Ks with his killer slider, which was reportedly major-league ready from the day he was drafted. And Cecil also has a solid changeup and curveball - neither is extraordinary, but both are good enough to set up his other pitches. Cecil has also shown very good control in the minors, though that hasn't translated to AAA yet. So what's not to like?
Well, about the only thing I can think of is his performance in the minors thusfar this season. After the Jays insisted Cecil had a good chance at making the Jays' rotation out of spring training, they quickly sent him down, saying he wasn't ready. In fact, J.P. Ricciardi mentioned that Cecil tipped his pitches during his delivery. Cecil has struggled in the minors thusfar this season, though he has only made four starts, with an 8.31 ERA and, worse, a terrible 9/8 K/BB ratio over 17 1/3 innings. That said, Cecil's last start was effective - he went 6 innings and struck out 5, walking only one, and yielding 4 hits, so it's not as if he was promoted after getting bombed. It's also worth mentioning that the Pacific Coast League is a tough league to pitch in and the Jays AAA defense is, shall we say, less than stellar. Also, Cecil has stranded a ridiculously low number of batters this season, so that's a big reason for his problems and not one that should continue. One other thing to keep an eye on with Cecil is that the Jays are still gradually building up his arm strength - he hasn't thrown more than 120 innings so 150 or so, at all levels, should be about his limit this season.
On the mound, look for Cecil to show a bulldog personality - he hates to give up walks and likes to challenge hitters. Although he hasn't dominated so far this season, I am excited to see Cecil, the Bluebird Banter Jays number 2 prospect (and really, number 1 now that Snider is up with the big club as a regular) and what he can do. Welcome to the big leagues, Brett!