Almost all of the Buffalo Bisons starters got a shot with the Blue Jays at some point this season as part of a revolving door that swung Bisons up the QEW towards Rogers Centre.
Justin Germano was the staff leader in starts (24) and innings pitched (151). The 31 year old veteran made one appearance with the Blue Jays and got hit fairly hard but was otherwise a workhorse for the Bisons pitching staff. You can see in our Blue Jays from Away Awards that Germano led the pitchers in Player of the Game points. Germano’s 4.47 ERA and 1.40 WHIP were solid and he was especially stingy with the walks, awarding only 27 free passes with 103 strikeouts. Overall, a solid season for the veteran, but with several pitchers coming up from Double-A to stay, it is doubtful that he will return.
Everyone’s favourite enigma, Ricky Romero, had the second-most starts with Buffalo (22). Romero, 28, got 7 1/3 innings in Toronto with an ugly ERA over 11 and a WHIP over 2.50. It’s best that we dwell upon Romero’s minor league stats for this year. With over $15 million still owed to him, Romero isn’t going anywhere soon, despite being sent to Buffalo outright after the season, essentially taking him off the 40-man roster. After one solid start in Dunedin in which he didn’t walk a man, Romero ended up in Triple-A Buffalo for most of the year. The bottom line is that Ricky wasn’t good in 2013. In 113 2/3 innings, he had a 5.78 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. He struck out only 15.4% of the batters he faced and walked 12%. Whether there’s still the All-Star Ricky Romero in there, we just don’t know but we’ll probably have another two years to see if he does.
33-year-old Dave Bush was another pitcher who got completely toasted in his one chance with the big club. The former Blue Jays second-round draft pick (2002) made one appearance with the major league team and was lit up for four home runs in just three innings. Bush was much better against Triple-A competition, with a 4.20 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 90 innings, striking out 69 and walking 17. I saw Bush pitch twice in person and he most likely doesn’t have good enough stuff to make a go of it in the majors anymore. While he relied on an effective curveball, his fastball only tops out at 86 mph and (as we saw in April), major league hitters will feast on such an offering. Does Bush come back in 2014? Probably not.
Thad Weber, our Pitcher of the Year, is a little bit younger than Bush or Germano (29) and has only been hanging around professional baseball for five years; he was drafted in the 16th round by the Detroit Tigers in 2008. Weber had a very strong season with the Bisons after being claimed by the Blue Jays off of waivers from San Diego on May 19th. He was immediately optioned to Buffalo and amassed 100 innings there with a 2.61 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 88 strikeouts and just 21 walks. While the Blue Jays are going to have a lot of younger pitchers take spots in Triple-A (Sean Nolin, Marcus Stroman, Deck McGuire), there is definitely room for someone like Weber who is just short of a major league audition. Already on the 40-man roster, I can see Weber holding on to his roster spot as some more Todd-Richmond-like depth for the 2014 season.
Righty Claudio Vargas, 35, signed in the off-season with the Blue Jays on a minor league contract but never reached the majors and was released in July after 83 innings with the Buffalo Bisons. Vargas didn’t impress with a 5.86 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and struggled a bit with walks (9.6%) and didn’t strike out many batters (14.6%). Vargas won’t be back but he did catch on with a Winter League team in the Dominican Republic.
I wrote about Chien-Ming Wang, 33, more extensively over at Jays Journal but here’s a capsule review of his season. Very good AAA, not so good ML. Although his major league numbers weren’t all bad (he had a couple of very good starts), Wang definitely didn’t show enough for the Blue Jays to stay on the 40-man roster. Between the Yankees Triple-A affiliate and Toronto’s Wang posted a very good 2.87 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 109 2/3 innings. While his control was outstanding (just 22 walks), he appears to have lost his premium stuff and only struck out 55 batters for a 14.3% K rate which does not translate well to the major leagues. Wang elected free agency and will look to catch on with another organization.
Seeing 42-year-old Miguel Batista throw 92-mph fastballs in Buffalo in May, I thought that he might last longer with the Bisons than did. The Dominican threw only 28 innings and posted an 8.36 ERA with a WHIP over 2.00. It appears that those numbers were inflated through luck to some degree, with a .370 BABIP and 5.56 FIP but his ratio of 16 walks to 17 strikeouts just wasn’t cutting it. Signed on April 9th, he was released on May 21st.
It’s hard to remember that Drew Hutchison is still only 23 (the same age as Sean Nolin) and has almost 60 major league innings under his belt. The Blue Jays are not rushing Hutch back from Tommy John surgery and he only threw 35 1/3 innings over three levels on his rehab in 2013. Overall, he had a 4.84 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with 42 strikeouts and 14 walks, which add up to fairly respectable numbers. In the big picture, however, we really shouldn’t be reading anything at all into his numbers last year and let him get through the Arizona Fall League and get back to Spring Training healthy to compete for a big league job in 2014. He may well end up back in Buffalo next year with a prospect-packed starting rotation.
Chad Jenkins is another pitcher who struggled through injury in 2013, racking up under 40 innings over the entire minor league season. The 2009 first-rounder doesn’t rely on the strikeout (only 19) but his good control (six walks) and heavy sinker allow him to get ground balls. Jenkins, 25, was actually a fairly strong contributor to the major league club, pitching more than I had thought he did. Making 10 appearances and three starts, Jenkins threw 33 1/3 innings with a 2.70 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. His strikeout to walk ratio was almost exactly what it was in the minors (15 K, 6 BB) but he got 1.36 ground balls for every fly ball. Jenkins could definitely be an arm out of the pen in 2014 but with a crowded bullpen, he will likely start the year in Buffalo.
Kyle Drabek, like Hutchison, should look at anything he did in 2013 as icing on the cake. Also coming back from Tommy John surgery, Drabek got 43 mostly very good innings under his belt at three minor league levels. Showing excellent control (6 walks) and good stuff (35 strikeouts), Drabek churned through minor league batters, posting 3.14 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Called up to the big league squad for September, Drabek didn’t pitch well but only had two and a third innings to try to prove himself. He’ll take a successful season back to Spring Training in 2014 to try to win a starting rotation spot for the major league club.
Todd Redmond, Ramon Ortiz and Edgar Gonzalez were both with the Bisons for a brief period this season. While Gonzalez had a couple of tries in the majors and pitched alright in almost 20 innings for Buffalo, he was granted free agency on May 12 and signed back with Houston. Redmond and Ortiz both pitched more with the Blue Jays than with the Bisons with Redmond becoming a solid fifth starter and Ortiz acquitting himself well before blowing out his elbow.
Photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013) and may not be used without permission.