As spring training is upon us, we Blue Jays fans are doing our best to recognize any of the potential pitchers on the staff. One question keeps surfacing: is this seriously the best we can do?
Blue Jays current starting pitching depth chart:
Blue Jays current bullpen depth chart:
Ken Giles (closer)
John Axford (MiLB contract)
The projected starting five of Stroman, Sanchez, Borucki, Shoemaker, and Richard is not good enough to compete or even complete this 2019 season. What’s worse is that there isn’t enough MLB ready pitching in the farm system to support them adequately. An injury or setback to Stroman or Sanchez will not only derail their careers but flush the 2019 season completely down the toilet. The Jays need more MLB ready talent, and with a long list of MLB Free Agents, many of them can sign now for one season while the farm fills holes in the starting staff as needed. This will also help the young pitchers get big league experience while not being relied upon to carry too much of the load. Investing in the future of young pitching also means that they don’t start their major league careers being fed to the wolves in the powerful AL East; possibly ending their professional hopes before they even start.
With all due respect to Sean Reid-Foley and Ryan Borucki, where are the farm system elites and thoroughbreds? The Jays haven’t developed an ace pitcher since Roy Halladay was drafted in 1995. Question marks are still surrounding Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. Sanchez has battled injuries the past two seasons and the timetable has possibly closed for Aaron Sanchez as an elite pitcher while playing for the Jays. Sanchez may still become a great pitcher, but with Scott Boras as his agent, it will be with another franchise. Sanchez will go to free agency for maximum dollars if healthy, an expensive risk the ball club might not be willing to take. At the same time, while most of us want to believe in Marcus Stroman, his inconsistent pitching stats will not likely elevate him to elite or “ace” material. If only heart and determination were a statistical category, Stroman would be near the top in the majors.
Marcus Stroman Career Pitching
Year Age WAR W-L ERA GS IP
2014 23 1.9 11-6 3.65 20 130.2
2015 24 1.3 4-0 1.67 4 27.0
2016 25 1.5 9-10 4.37 32 204.0
2017 26 5.7 13-9 3.09 33 201.0
2018 27 0.2 4-9 5.54 19 102.1
The only question fans of the Blue Jays should be asking this spring training is: where is the elite pitching talent and when will it be ready? Most prospectors only see two bright spots in the farm system that are showing signs of elite material. Drafted and signed by Atkins, 22-year old Nate Pearson and 18-year old Eric Pardinho, are turning heads.
When looking at Nate Pearson’s stats, you will not get a true understanding of his potential. He has not played enough baseball in the minors due to fluke injuries, but Pearson recently played a full Fall season in the Arizona League and his fastball was touching 104mph. Pearson has a four-pitch arsenal at his disposal: fastball, slider, curveball and change-up. Nate’s slider and curveball are developing into plus pitches, but it’s his MLB ready fastball that will get him to the majors.
As for Eric Pardinho, his native Brazil is not your typical hot spot for discovering baseball talent. But as a descendant of Japanese parents, throwing fastballs in the low-90s while playing on the national team at the age of fifteen, the Blue Jays couldn’t help but take notice. Pardinho as well has a four-pitch mix (fastball, slider, curveball and change-up) and all four of these pitches are considered to be above average options. His fastball now sits in the mid-90s while his other pitches continue to mature with age. At 17, Pardinho finished an impressive season in rookie ball last year, pitching 50 innings while striking out 64, only walking 16 with a 2.88 ERA. With nothing left to prove in rookie ball, Pardinho should start the 2019 season in low A-ball Lansing.
Those two young pitchers won’t contribute until 2021. With Sanchez and Stroman hitting free agency in 2021, what will become of the roster? Atkins inherited bare cupboards of pitching depth but the cupboards weren’t always bare, quite the opposite actually. In the years under Alex Anthopoulos starting in 2009, the Blue Jays were drafting so many pitchers, they had the deepest farm system in terms of arms. So, what happened? AA’s mega-trades started stripping the system of legitimate talent and much needed resources as these trades were necessary to the cost of making the playoffs in 2015. And although few traded pitchers are having elite success on other franchises today with the change of career paths to the majors, pitching depth is the prime currency for major league success.
It is unrealistic to think that all five starting pitchers projected for 2019 will have a career season. The Jays need to fill the two year gap now with free agent pitchers and hope it’s enough to convince a healthy Stroman and Sanchez to resign in 2021, with the injection of established youth on the revamped pitching staff. Signing quality free agent pitchers like Clay Buchholz, James Shields or Gio Gonzalez to one or two year contract now should help, while the farm system continues to develop and more importantly keep the fans engaged. Ironically, some fans do feel though that the team should not sign ANY free agent players and let the rebuild take its course, giving the chance for young players to blossom. Yet the Jays earlier in the off-season went out and overpaid for a 32 year old starting pitcher in Matt Shoemaker as a reclamation project and then traded for a 35 year old starting pitcher in Clayton Richard from San Diego.
How do these starting pitcher acquisitions “help a rebuild to give youth a chance to play?” Anyone trying to defend the Blue Jays and their rebuild after moves like this by the rudderless front office should be called out. Any farm system in MLB is not good enough to develop an entire roster all at once. Looking at the Blue Jays current depth chart and existing farmhands, there simply isn’t enough young pitching ready this season OR next that should inspire anyone for a reasonably quick turnaround.
Best case scenario, the Blue Jays sign free agent pitchers that play well enough to fetch additional assets at the trade deadline. Worst case scenario, the club continues using the unproven Richards and Shoemakers of the league, exhausting the farm system before it’s ready and turning a 2-3 year rebuild into a decade-long struggle.