Is the Drew Hutchison Optimism Justified?

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off some strong spring training performances Drew Hutchison is everybody's favorite rotation candidate, but is he worthy of that designation?

Traditionally, spring training is a time for optimism. Every team is a potential contender with guys on the brink of major breakouts due to their new splitter, batting stance or mental approach. No team is out of it. There is absolutely no reason to feel anything but positivity about your team of choice.

The 2014 Blue Jays have not been traditional in this sense. The lack of moves made by the franchise during the offseason has left the fan base bitter, and the current Ervin Santana limbo isn't exactly helping. That could turn around in a hurry if Santana does wind up in Toronto, but for now the moment the general mood is grim.

One of the few bright spots for the Jays so far during spring training has been starting rotation candidate Drew Hutchison. Hutchison is a personal favorite of mine and was a top prospect as recently as 2012 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Even though it seems like his injury stalled his career, this is a guy who is younger than prospect Sean Nolin and less than a year older than a guy like Marcus Stroman. Because he debuted so young, he isn't old for his level of development like a Kyle Drabek.

All of that being said, a great deal of this aforementioned optimism is the direct result of two spring training outings. On one hand that's completely and utterly insane. A player should not be able to create this kind of buzz based on a five inning sample. It just doesn't make sense. On the other hand, Hutchison is excelling in the aspect of pitching that has been shown to carry over from the spring: striking out batters. With nine strikeouts in five innings he shows up on this leaderboard which accurately describes itself as largely irresponsible. For a guy who drew some criticism as a prospect for the lack of a true "out" pitch, that is legitimately encouraging. Additionally, Hutchison has received praise for a bump in velocity this spring, something that is not altogether uncommon among those recovering from Tommy John.

Improved velocity and a couple of strikeouts isn't something that should be ignored, but at the end of the day we really can't take much useful information away from five innings from Hutchison. The hype surrounding the young pitcher is understandable, but it's not warranted based merely on what we've seen. Luckily, Hutchison has a longer track record than a couple of spring outings. He has 11 major league starts under his belt where he produced a respectable 0.5 WAR despite a 15.1% HR/FB that was probably the result of some fairly poor luck. More important than that is Hutchison's minor league career.

The reality is that Drew Hutchison has succeeded at every level he's played. That's the reason he became such a promising prospect and reached the major leagues so quickly despite being a relatively unheralded 15th round pick. The following chart shows his FIP at every level he's played in the minors. While it needs to be noted that many of these numbers included tiny samples, this isn't a specific breakdown of his career just a demonstration of his consistent success.

Year

Age (at the beginning of the year)

Level

FIP

2010

19

A-

2.60

2010

19

A

3.28

2011

20

A

1.96

2011

20

A+

2.57

2011

20

AA

1.20

2012

21

AA

3.08

2013

22

A+

2.51

2013

22

AA

1.37

2013

22

AAA

4.04

2013

22

AFL

3.38

Not only has Hutchison been consistently good, he has consistently been good for his age. To reiterate, many of these totals come from laughably small samples, especially those from 2013, but the point here is that he has yet to fail at any level.

Hutchison's ceiling has long been thought of as mid-rotation, but perhaps with increased velocity there is more to dream on. Even if there isn't, there is a fairly good chance he's a better option than Esmil Rogers or Todd Redmond, who I really don't see as an effective starter in 2014.

Spring training is the season for irrational hope. A great deal of this irrational optimism has been thrown Drew Hutchison's way on account of a minute sample. That's just the price of doing business this time of year. Luckily for both Hutchison and Blue Jays fans, there are less minute samples that indicate that Hutchison might be a pretty decent pitcher. Spring training impressions are usually based on far too little evidence to say anything definitive, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. For the Blue Jays sake, especially if they don't sign Ervin Santana, they better hope that's the case.

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