Aspiring Jays: Matt Smoral and control problems

USA TODAY Sports

This week in Aspiring Jays, we look at a recent trend in Blue Jays' drafting and how it compares to other farm systems.

A few of the Blue Jays' 2013 draft picks are already playing in the minor leagues. For second round pick Clinton Hollon, the first few innings have been positive: five innings, five strikeouts, one walk, one hit and no runs given up. However, for some others the early going has been a lot tougher. Evan Smith (4th rounder): 5 walks in 6 2/3 innings. Conner Greene: 11 walks in 14 2/3 innings. And the worst introduction to professional baseball goes to Jake Brentz (11th rounder, overslot bonus) with 3 walks and a hit given up in his debut, and no outs recorded. These guys are only just starting, so hopefully they'll get better. Tyler Gonzales didn't though: he has given up 11 runs in 9 1/3 innings, with 10 walks. Matthew Smoral? An even more stunning 17 walks in 11 1/3 innings. And then from 2011 there's Daniel Norris, who, with 37 walks in 61 2/3 innings, can't stop walking hitters either.

This strikes me as odd, considering that the ability to throw strikes at high velocity with the fastball was supposed to be something the Blue Jays were looking for in pitchers. Let's compare their high school pitching draft picks from the past three years (2010-2012) with those of some other teams who had a lot of extra picks, like the Rays, Cardinals and Padres.

Team # of HS pitchers Control problems Percentage
Blue Jays 21 7 33%
Rays 8 2 25%
Cardinals 8 4 50%
Padres 14 8 57%
Red Sox 10 6 60%
Twins 5 3 60%
Rangers 8 5 45%
Overall 74 35 47%

Note: "control problems" defined as more than 0.5 walks per innings (so more than 4.5 BB/9).

Although I fully expected the Jays to be horrible at finding pitchers who can throw strikes, this little bit of research here indicates that they've actually been quite good at it, despite drafting a lot more high school pitchers than other teams. Now, a pitcher does need to do more than just throw strikes to be successful, but the Jays may (small sample, obviously) genuinely have a scouting staff that is better able to tell whether a pitcher will have trouble throwing strikes. Perhaps it's just the high-profile cases of Daniel Norris, Matt Smoral and Tyler Gonzales (all picks in the first two rounds) that gave some of us (or just me?) the impression that command problems were an organizational thing. Certainly the fact that Aaron Sanchez walked 4 and gave up 5 runs in less than an inning his last time out, which raised his ERA to 3.93, did not help.

So where do Matt Smoral and Tyler Gonzales go from here? Well, it's a long way from not getting Gulf Coast league rookies out to getting big league hitters out. I do get that Blue Jays staff, fans and writers/bloggers will try to stay positive and say things like "it's early" and so on. But the fact is that the odds are stacked against these guys. The odds were already stacked against these guys, as high school pitchers rarely succeed. Now their odds have gotten even worse. If Smoral does in fact start throwing strikes I'll be happy, but you certainly can't count on it at this point. Similar story for Daniel Norris, although he is at least improving somewhat.

In other discouraging news: D.J. Davis this week went 0-for-3 with 3 Ks (the hattrick), then got a golden sombrero the next day (4 Ks), and yesterday he upgraded to the platinum sombrero of five Ks. At least Mitch Nay (4 doubles, homer) had a good week, and Canadians Tom Robson and Shane Dawson had good debuts with the (Vancouver) Canadians.

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