As I promised in my previous article, I'm going to write about who could potentially develop into a nice reliever for the Blue Jays. Obviously, guys like Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire, Justin Nicolino, Noah Syndergaard, Daniel Norris and other highly rated pitching prospects could eventually slot into the bullpen if they're perceived to have more value there, but they're currently on track for the starting rotation, and not the bullpen, so I won't list them here.
He's already made the majors, but he's not getting much love (yet). I think he can be a good to great left-handed reliever for the Jays. However, that will only happen if they maximize his appearances versus lefties. You see, Perez is a sinker/slider guy. His stuff is pretty good, but he doesn't have a weapon against right-handed batters, which is why his numbers in the minors were never exciting. Both minor league and major league splits tell the story of Perez being very good against left-handed batters, yet the Jays let Perez face 178 right-handed bats and only 116 left-handers. Once Villanueva is back in the pen, he should be the Jays' main long man, as he doesn't have significant splits, and Perez does. He might not keep it up, but Perez versus lefties in the MLB so far: 25% Ks, 4.3% BBs, 71.6% GBs. If that isn't dominant..
This one doesn't need much explaining. He struck out a dominant 27% of the hitters in Double-A as a starter, but had control problems and didn't get deep into games. Is also a sinker/slider guy, but his minor league splits paint an unclear picture: he had a big platoon split in Lansing, but a reverse split in Dunedin, then back to a significant split in New Hampshire. He's probably better against righties, but hopefully not too bad versus lefties to worry too much about his use. With his dominant stuff, he's the prime non-Janssen candidate to fill the closer role that some people seem so eager to fill. Looked good in his brief time as a reliever in the majors.
Beck's numbers from the minors do not stand out, but he's a guy who got some good reports written about him. It's easy to point out what's likeable about him: he throws hard. He faced only 8 batters in his brief time in the majors, averaging 95 mph with the fastball. He's an outsider candidate to become a good reliever, but as a reliever he won't have to worry much about his secondary stuff and he can just use his fastball to blow hitters away. Had big splits this year, but not in 2010.
I'm not an advocate of putting Drabek in the bullpen. He should be given the chance to put it together as a starter first, even if it means another year in Vegas. If his options run out and no club is willing to give up value to acquire Drabek, I could see a scenario where he flourishes in the bullpen, but I do not feel that it is the best way to 'fix' him.
Pitched just 14 2/3 innings for the Phillies/Padres this year, putting up a 7.98 ERA, even though his xFIP was 3.56. Averaged 90.4 mph with the fastball, also throws a changeup and a slider. Everything points to his fastball being the weak link, his offspeed pitches both got plenty of whiffs. He struggled to throw strikes, especially with the fastball. Back when he was a starter, his numbers were quite comparable to those of Chad Beck. However, I expect Beck to be better. Carpenter reminds me of Jesse Litsch and Carlos Villanueva, who will almost definitely be in the bullpen.
Objectively (because I say so) the most interesting prospect in baseball. Ranked #1 Jays prospect by Kevin Gray, #2 by John Sickels. Some reports are glowing, some say Molina's a finesse pitcher, some say his mechanics make him a future reliever. John Farrell has recently said they've talked about him as a possible future closer. That doesn't mean he'll be one, as his combination of Ks, almost no walks and groundballs is pretty special. The groundballs seperate him from guys like Josh Banks and Yusmeiro Petit (thumbs up to MjwW for the comps), but Molina also supposedly throws a lot harder (91-93) than those guys, who averaged 87 mph in the majors. As long as the negative reports can't pinpoint why Molina hasn't got the stuff (doesn't he throw low-90s? doesn't he have an awesome splitter?) to be a starter, I tend to think Molina will be good in a starting role. If not, there is indeed the bullpen option for him.
Crawford wouldn't be on this list if he wasn't a lefty, but since he is a lefty, let's take a look at him. He had a bit of a breakout in 2011, striking out 28.2% of the batters he faced as a reliever for the Fisher Cats. He got a decent number of groundballs and his walk rate wasn't great. There's no indication of him being better against lefties, but he could still make the Jays if they need another lefty besides Luis Perez. But don't expect too much from Crawford.
Do you know why Shawn Camp was so ineffective this year? Because he was not used properly. Shawn Camp has a 4.50 career FIP versus lefties, along with a .360 (!!) career BABIP against left-handed batters. He should've been kept away from lefties whenever possible, but sometimes he was even used as multiple inning guy, which totally destroyed his effectiveness. Chad Jenkins could very well be the new Shawn Camp. Jenkins' minor league FIPs versus righties: 3.12/3.78 (2010), 2.64 (2011). His FIPs versus lefties were 3.81/4.68 and 4.38. Jenkins also is a sinkerballer, and there's almost certainly no spot for him in the rotation. But please, please do not make him the "long man" just because he's big and "durable".
Same story as Jenkins (3.00/5.15 FIP split is even bigger), but Wojo has some time to get a functional changeup going. I'm pretty confident he'll end up in the bullpen though, even against righties his strikeout rate wasn't impressive enough to make me think "future starter" and he's older than McGuire and Hutch already.
Nolin had a great debut for Lansing this year, after being picked in the 6th round out of junior college in the 2010 draft. Nolin was on the older side for the level, though, and with Nicolino and Syndergaard having already made the jump up to Lansing, and so many great pitching prospects ahead of him, it'll be hard for him to break into the starting rotation. He was a lot better against lefties than righties, which in my eyes would make him a great lefty reliever (not a LOOGY, mind you) somewhere in the future.
I prefer former starters as bullpen aces, but Barnes' performance for Lansing was special. 37.6% Ks is drool-worthy, and he also kept the walks in check at 7.6%. Not much of a groundballer, but as a reliever you do not have to pitch to contact to go more innings. Was briefly tried out as a starter, which didn't work out, but perhaps the Jays will try again. But it's more likely Barnes makes it as a reliever.
I don't want to tag many short season pitchers as future reliever, but Ybarra strikes me as one. Due to missing the 2010 season entirely, this former high school pick was old for the Appy league at 21, and so is at a disadvantage compared to fellow lefty Mitchell Taylor and other more recent high school picks. However it is hard to ignore his 28.7 K% as a semi-starter (sharing most starts with another starter) in his first real season as a pro. He has a long way to go, of course, but I like him. Well, specifically, the Ks.
There's Daniel Farquhar (keep away from lefties), Alan Farina (injury problems), Casey Lawrence (will he be hittable at higher levels?), Matt Wright (lefty, but old for Dunedin at 24) and probably lots of others with an outside chance of ever making it as a solid reliever. In any case, there's plenty of material to work with for the Jays, and if they keep drafting so many pitchers, they shouldn't ever need to trade for relievers. Doesn't mean they won't if a good deal presents itself, of course.