In mid-June of 2014, an unknown, 20-year-old Dominican right-hander took the mound for the Vancouver Canadians and threw a non-descript inning against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. He gave up a hit and hit a batter but didn’t strike anyone out or walk a man.
Who would know that Starlyn Suriel would go on to become one of the more successful young pitchers in the Blue Jays’ system in 2014 after that inauspicious beginning. Suriel put up solid numbers in Vancouver, starting seven games with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP and very solid peripherals. Promoted to Lansing, Suriel has been even better with a 2.84 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP as well as improvements in his BB/9 and K/9 ratios! So who is this baby-faced young man?
Suriel signed as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2013 but was one of the older players that the Jays picked up, being 19 at the time. As an older player, he headed directly to Vancouver at the opening of the season and was then promoted to Lansing. Why so quickly? As one person around the team said to me, he pitches beyond his age. In the game that I saw, he gave up two quick runs in the first inning, allowing a double followed by a home run and then another double but retired the next batter and went on to pitch four more innings without giving up another hit.
From what I can tell, Suriel is really able to keep hitters off balance and was pitching backwards a little bit after the first inning, mixing in his offspeed pitches that are at varying levels of development.
Watching him through five innings I can sort of see what kind of pitcher he will be if he puts everything all together. He’s not physically imposing (at 5-foot-11) like his countryman Miguel Castro (who stands 6-foot-5) but he still throws in the 89-91 mph range with a quick arm from a three-quarters arm slot. His fastball has some nice arm side run and a bit of sink and he’ll throw it at different speeds. He also has a range of speeds for his two offspeed pitches, his changeup (which I saw between 81-85 mph) and his slider (which ranged from 74-79 mph).
Suriel, at this point, has better command with his fastball than Castro and was really able to paint the corner at times, getting a strikeout in the third inning with an outside-corner fastball. He also was able to get swinging strikeouts with the slider, changeup and fastball over the course of the game.
Suriel’s offspeed pitches are works in progress and neither was very consistent on Friday night. He threw the changeup more often and when he threw it well, it has the potential to be a plus pitch with some great arm action, sink and fade. That said, he threw it up in the zone fairly often where the pitch flattened out and he probably got lucky that it wasn’t hit out of the ballpark. That’s a mistake that will definitely not go unpunished at higher levels. His slider is pretty sharp but Suriel needs to be more consistent in locating the pitch. He did get a strikeout with it but it almost looked like Suriel was a little hesitant to use it too much.
What did I see from Starlyn Suriel and where will his career take him? I can see him getting to the high minors at the very least. He’s got a good sense of what to do on the mound and had the ability to put some bad pitches (the two doubles and the home run) behind him. While his fastball velocity is fringe average, the movement that he gets on it will help it and because he looks so young physically, I wouldn’t be surprised if he added a tick or two to his velocity.
The one thing that I really liked seeing from Suriel was the fact that even when he wasn’t throwing his offspeed stuff consistently, he was able to retire batters at the Midwest League level. If he sharpens up his command and the ability to throw good offspeed pitches more often than not, Suriel could actually become one of the quiet workhorses in the Blue Jays’ organization. The changeup has the potential to be a plus pitch and his slider has average potential. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Suriel’s development over the coming years.
I’ll use this space to write about a couple of the other bullpen pitchers that I saw on Saturday who I hadn’t seen in a while: lefty Francisco Gracesqui and righty Jimmy Cordero.
I wrote about Gracesqui a little bit last year after seeing him in Bluefield and this is what I wrote: “He approaches hitters with three pitches — a fastball that sits 87-89 mph (and touched 90 once), a curveball that came in around 75 mph that I didn’t particularly like and a very good changeup that sat around 80-81 mph.”
The key thing to see about that previous quote is that he threw a curveball that I didn’t like but this year, Gracesqui is throwing a much more confident breaking ball that is more of a slider than a curveball. His fastball is up a couple of mph, sitting 89-91 mph and his changeup is still a plus pitch that comes in between 82-85 mph. It has very good sink and tail and it appears to just fall off the table. His breaking ball is thrown a little harder, coming in at 76-79 mph and he used it to great effect, striking out one left-handed batter (outfielder Justin Williams) with three straight breaking balls that Williams didn’t have a chance on.
At 22, Gracesqui is starting to get a little old but he could see Double-A at some point next year thanks to the solid showing he’s had. Splitting this season between Vancouver and Lansing, he’s got a 1.39 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 14 walks in 32 1/3 innings. While his ERA and WHIP are higher (2.50 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) in Lansing, his strikeout rate and walk rate are both better at the higher level.
Bob Elliott, in an August 20 article, included his prospect “Power Rankings” from an “American League evaluator” who placed Gracesqui as the ninth prospect in the organization. While I think that’s a high ranking for a reliever, the development of the third pitch to go along with a fringe-average fastball (from the left side) and a plus changeup could mean that we start to see Gracesqui as a starter in 2015. If it was me, I’d definitely want to try him out in that role and see if it suits him.
The other pitcher that I should mention is righty Jimmy Cordero. Another 22 year old who has been in the Jays’ system for a few years now, Cordero is lighting up the radar guns with a fastball that has been documented at 102 mph this season. I saw one 100 mph pitch on a “real” radar gun (there were three 100s that showed up on the stadium scoreboard but the Cooley Law School Stadium radar gun is notoriously inaccurate) but there were several 99s and Cordero was easily working in the high-90s.
With one of the most electric arms in the Jays’ organization, Cordero’s issues are command and the development of anything to complement that fastball. He threw a hard, downwards-breaking slider that ranged from 88-91 mph but wasn’t under control and I’m not sure that he ever threw a strike with it. The same goes for the fastball as, while it’s extremely fast, Cordero hasn’t shown me the ability to really spot it for strikes; his 17 walks in 27 1/3 innings attest to that struggle.
For me, Cordero is a wildcard who needs a lot of polish despite his already being 22 years old. If he can harness the control and develop his slider, he could be an outstanding back of the bullpen arm in a couple of years. If you compare him to Miguel Castro (who throws almost as hard, but as a starter), Castro is far more polished at a much younger age. Still, Cordero will electrify fans with his powerful arm every time he steps on the mound.
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