The next section of the Top 40 is dominated by pitchers who occupy spots on the 40-man and thus could be in a position to contribute sooner than later if they are to make it, though the Blue Jays will have to make some decisions to potentially get them there. They were all acquired in different ways (draft, international free agency, trade).
28. Hector Perez, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 6/6/1996), grade: 35+/40, last year: 14th
Perez falls down the list from last year’s spot, not because 2019 was disastrous, but a combination of others moving upwards (as with the other pitchers on this list) and the fact that he stagnated and didn’t show any sign of progress that would suggest he can stick as a starter. Since being acquired from Houston in the Osuna deal, he’s been starting in New Hampshire and both the results and stuff have been pretty consistent.
In 146 innings, he’s posted a 4.40 ERA with 83 walks (13%) against 149 strikeouts (23%). It’s the same combination of missing bats and lack of strike throwing/wildness he displayed in the Asterisk organization, and results in a lot of short outings (average of 4.5 innings/start).
On one hand, Perez has not decisively failed as a starter, and with two more option years, it’s not pressing to make a decision on his future role immediately. The raw stuff is there to start, he’ll sit 93-94 on his fastball and hold that velocity, touching higher in the 95-97 range. His is most used secondary is his mid-80s slider, which is most often his best putaway pitch. He’ll mix in a high-70s curve, and his splitter is effective when he he has feel for it, but many outings he doesn’t use it much.
On the other hand, starting spots at the upper levels figure to be a premium, the Jays have openings in the bullpen, and in the long run it’s not sustainable to keep having so many pitchers with no big league experience on the 40-man burning options. Frankly, there haven’t been many signs of progress and with obvious potential as a reliever, it might be time to just bite the bullet before a decision is forced upon them. This ranking reflects the likelihood of a future in the bullpen.
27. Will Robertson, OF, age 22 (DOB: 12/27/1997), grade: 35+/40, last year: Creighton junior
Robertson was selected in the 4th round of the 2019 draft from the Creighton Bluejays, so while it’s his first year with the Blue Jays, he’s well acquainted with the Cyanocitta cristata. The draft write-up linked above covers more detail on his college career that can be read rather than repeated, but in short he hit 27 home runs in 420 at-bats (under 500 PA) his last two seasons, and hit in the wood bat Cape Cod league in between.
In that light, Robertson’s overall production in Vancouver (.265/.365/.404) is underwhelming-to-disappointing at first glance. But a terrible start (.127/.225/.143 in 63 PA through early July) put his overall numbers in a deep hole that he spent the rest of the summer digging out of. From that point onward, he hit .315/.410/.494 over the last two months, with six home runs. We don’t want to cherrypick and throw out bad performance, but I’m inclined to think this was more indicative of his talent. And he saved his best for last, 16/35 over the last nine games with three home runs.
Robertson showed strong plate discipline (even at the beginning), walking 12% of the time while holding the strikeouts under 20%. That’s consistent with his broader track record, and indicative of the player who doesn’t sell out for his power. He doesn’t profile to have massive “light tower” profile, but even with a decent hit tool and on-base ability, he’s going to have to unlock more power than he’s shown so far with wood bats to project as a MLB regular. That will be what I’m watching for as he moved up to Lansing in 2020. He’s fine in right field, but the bat is what’s going to carry him to the majors and determine his future.
26. Yennsy Diaz, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 11/15/1996), grade: 40, last year: 18th
Diaz was something of a surprise addition to the 40-man in 2018, considering he has only pitched in Dunedin albeit quite successfully. He had a solid year in 2019 with New Hampshire, with a 3.74 ERA in 144.1 and 116 strikeouts (19%) against 53 walks (9%). He made his MLB debut as an emergency call-up in early August, and then was back in late-September as insurance when Charlie Montoyo somehow managed to burn through enough relievers to be short available pitchers with expanded rosters.
Diaz definitely has a big arm, his fastball will typically sit in the mid-90s and he can hold that velocity throughout a start while touching up to 97-98 when he’s loose. His go to secondary is a low-80s power curveball to put batters away. The third pitch is a change-up, but it’s almost more of a two seam fastball. It has a lot of horizontal movement (as opposed to fade), and will come in very firm up in the 89-91 range, around 5-6 MPH off his fastball instead of the 8-10 considered ideal. It’s certainly doesn’t operate the way a traditional change-up does.
While the results have been decent for Diaz, the peripherals are mediocre especially compared to the electric stuff. He’s been successful enough as a starter to let him see how he does in Buffalo, but without a true third pitch, it’s difficult to see more than a twice through the order backend starter at best. As a reliever, the upside potential is tantalizing with a two potentially dynamic pitches, especially if in short bursts he maintained the higher of his velocity potential. That’s realistically where I think he ends up.
25. T.J. Zeuch, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 8/1/1995), grade: 40, last year: 8th
Zeuch tumbles down the list after an up-and-down year that saw him sidelined and shutdown in Spring Training with a lat injury, battle inconsistency upon returning at midseason before spinning a no-hitter in late August, and then get called up for September. He posted a reasonable 4.76 ERA in 22.2 innings, with 20 strikeouts against 11 walks.
While that was a solid debut, a significant warning flag is that he gave up a high proportion of hard contact. At no point in his professional career has Zeuch blown away hitters; other than his 2016 debut at the lower levels, Zeuch hasn’t achieved a 20% strikeout rate. For him it starts and ends with his bowling ball sinker from a steep downward plane inducing weak contact on the ground. That’s been his calling card in the minors, with ground ball rates close to 60%.
There’s been a broad shift in baseball over time against pitchers pitching down the zone with sinkers in favour of using four seamers up in the zone, partly to miss more bats but also because when sinkers are mislocated or flatten out in the zone, they tend to get squared up more often (think of Marcus Stroman starts where he was nickle-and-dimed to death). It’s quite concerning then that Zeuch’s ground ball rate fell under 50% and he got hit so hard — even as small sample.
That’s not definitive of course, and Zeuch was dealing with injury issues for half the year, so it’s plausible he was never fully in form. Notably, his walk rate spiked above 10% for the season when it was never an issue before, and consistently staying the strike-zone was a major struggle too often. That could be better hitters not chasing and bailing him out as in the past, or maybe an indication he was out of sorts.
If everything comes together and he can find his way back to get more ground balls and throwing strikes, he could still end up a backend, role 45 starter. But if it’s more a case of 2019 is what he is, it’s not the profile of a viable starting pitcher in today’s game. Maybe if the stuff ticked up he could be a successful reliever, but it’s not the traditional profile either with one wipeout secondary (his curve being more average or a half tick better).
The biggest mover in 2020 will be
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