With the 77th pick in the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft, the Blue Jays stayed in the state of Florida and selected RHP Trent Palmer from Jacksonville University.
A 6’1”, 230 pound pitcher, Palmer pitched out of the bullpen his freshman season and split 2019 between starting and the bullpen, moving from the former to the latter midway through the season after a run of rough starts. He recorded 70 strikeouts in 61.1 innings but struggling with inconsistency en route to a 4.55 ERA.
It was his summer league results that were more impressive: a 2.08 ERA in 30.1 innings with 34 strikeouts against 10 walks in the Northwoods League in 2018, followed 18.2 innings in the Cape Cod League last summer over seven appearances to a 1.45 ERA with 21 strikeouts against 8 walks. He further raised his profile with an electric start to 2020 as JU’s Friday night starter, striking out 41 while walking just 5 in 27.2 innings with a 1.30 ERA and finishing the season with a complete game and three straight double digit strikeouts.
That put significant helium in the draft stock of a previously more under-the-radar Palmer, and given the late rise and exceptional circumstances resulted in a wider range of rankings. Keith Law had him 76th (right around where he went), MLB Pipeline had him 114th, and FanGraphs 159th. One might thus be inclined to see him as an overdraft, but had the season not abruptly ended and he continued to dominate, his stock would have continued to rise and he probably wouldn’t have made it to the 3rd round.
In light of that, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s significant divergence in reports on the quality of his stuff. The one thing that seems universal is plus fastball velocity, able to touch the mid/upper 90s, with Pipeline noting an ability to hold velocity when starting. There’s more divergence when it comes to his offspeed, with Fangraphs noting “occasionally average offspeed pitches [and a] relief fit” whereas others as more effusive:
Palmer was a late riser, big physical kid with a fastball that works up to 98 or so with bowling-ball sink. One of the best sliders in the college class, some reliever risk https://t.co/QfHzBej9HI— Vinnie Cervino (@vcervinoPG) June 11, 2020
There’s a couple of sliders in this video of his last 2020 start (the complete game with 113 strikeouts on 111 pitches), and it definitely looks like it’s got some sharp late break:
Pipeline notes his third pitch is a splitter, with a slower curveball as at least a show-me offering. Between the history mostly in relief and the frame, there’s inclination to typecast Palmer as a reliever. Taking him in the third round, the Jays surely are investing in his potential as a starter, but with the fastball/slider combination if that doesn’t work out a power bullpen arm would appear to be a viable fallback option.