Notes from Bluefield: Part 5 – Starting Pitchers

 

This, final, edition of my scouting notes from the Bluefield Blue Jays will feature the six “starting” pitchers who appeared in my time down there. As mentioned, I didn’t see two of the more highly touted prospects, Alberto Tirado and Jairo Labourt. Here they are, in the order that I saw them.

 

Tom Robson

Tom Robson

The first starting pitcher I saw was one of the more impressive ones: B.C. native Tom Robson. Robson has just been promoted to the Vancouver Canadians where he’s had a very good first start. The first thing to catch my attention was Robson’s velocity. I didn’t really know what to expect but the 20 year old was sitting at 89-90 mph consistently throughout his start in Bluefield and touching 92 on occasion (which produced at least one swinging strike three). He throws a changeup at around 83, which might be a little firm and has an curveball in the 76 mph range that’s a little bit inconsistent right now. In the start I saw, he tended to really rely on the fastball (sinker) for the most part.

 

The upside is that Robson is a ground ball machine and has taken the pitching coaches urging to keep the ball down to heart and uses his heavy sinker to help him post a 4-1 ground-out to air-out ratio (at least in Bluefield). He’s always around the strike zone and doesn’t walk many and shows the ability to be consistent with his location for the most part. I say “for the most part” because in the game I saw, he did lose control for a short while in the fourth inning but managed to find his zone again before finishing his five-inning start.  Robson does a good job in keeping walk totals down (only 6 in 31 2/3 innings so far this year) and his strikeout rate has the potential to come up a bit too as his secondary stuff sharpens up.

 

Robson is having a great year this year and you can see the potential in a tall, lanky kid (6’4″, 200 lbs) who could add some more zip to his fastball. He’s been doing the Velocity program that has been made popular by Steve Delabar (and other Blue Jay pitchers) and definitely could fill in that frame a bit, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him touching 94 next year. With good sink on his fastball and close to major league average velocity right now, I’d say that he could survive in Lansing with what he’s got now, but when he improves his consistency with his offspeed pitches, he could be very dangerous and could rise quickly over the next two years.

 

Adonys Cardona

Adonys Cardona

The starter for game number two is quickly becoming an enigma in the Blue Jays organization. I had similar observations about Adonys Cardona that our friend Jared MacDonald had in his more recent (this weekend) scouting of Cardona. Cardona has been reported to have thrown some fastballs at 99 mph this season but I haven’t seen that at all in person. What I saw was a fastball that sat 93-95 with no control in the first couple of innings but faded to 90-92 by the fourth. He also threw an 84 mph changeup and an 81 mph curve.

 


I noticed that the fastball got hit. Hard. But mostly in the first inning. He was leaving the ball up at the increased velocity and gave up three runs in his first inning, but none in the second, third and fourth. Cardona got helped out by his defense in the second after giving up two hits and gave up another two hits in the fourth. My biggest observation was that Cardona was more effective in the 90-92 range and whether that’s due to fatigue or to dialing back on the effort is something that I don’t know.

 

If the velocity fade is due to fatigue, then Cardona’s future would most likely be as a reliever in the best case scenario. If it’s a result of him dialing his effort back, then there can be some hope of seeing him as a starter. He has not had a good year so far, but he’s only 19 years old, which means that there’s a lot of time for him to mature into his body and his velocity before anyone can write him off.

 

Mark Biggs

Mark Biggs

Mark Biggs started the third game I saw and is a 20 year old in his second year of professional ball after being drafted in the eighth round of the 2011 draft. Biggs didn’t post great numbers last year in the GCL and his only real area of improvement this year has been his ability to keep the ball in the park. Biggs wasn’t exactly impressive in his start. His fastball sat around 87-89 and he didn’t seem to have great control of it. He seemed to be yanking downwards and missing away to righties. His secondary pitches seem to be a changeup that sat 80-82 and a slider that sat 79-81. He has had some better outings this year but doesn’t show the ability to strike guys out at a very high rate or to limit hard hit balls.

 

Brady Dragmire

Brady Dragmire

Brady Dragmire is a 20-year-old 17th round pick of the Blue Jays from the 2011 draft who stands about 6’1″ and doesn’t throw particularly hard and employs kind of a “drop-and-drive” mechanic. I had his fastball sitting between 84-86 mph (touching 88). He also throws a changeup in the 77-79 mph range and a slurvey type pitch that was around 73-75. I noticed that he wasn’t throwing a lot of strikes but was still able to get outs. He’s been fairly solid for the Bluefield club this year with a 2.08 ERA and a WHIP under 1.000 and good control (1.7 BB/9) with a respectable 7.6 K/9 ratio as well.

 

It seems to me that Dragmire, a righty, probably won’t have this kind of success at higher levels. From what I can tell, hitters in the Appalachian League are fairly vulnerable to pitchers with fairly well developed off-speed stuff and Dragmire could just be a little bit ahead of the curve. The fact that his fastball is well below a major league average pitch indicates that he could survive in the minors on his guile and his secondary pitches but won’t really have much of a chance at the majors.

 

Shane Dawson

Shane Dawson

Alberta-born lefty Shane Dawson started the fifth game I saw and word has it that he’s already been sent to Vancouver despite not being added to their roster just yet. Dawson’s still 19, drafted out of a community college program in Lethbridge in the 17th round in 2012. He had a very strong 2012 season in the GCL and has taken to pitching very well in the Appy League. He has impressed in Bluefield posting an almost 6/1 K/BB ratio but was able to work around some control issues in his last two starts in Bluefield (including one that I saw). He’s had a couple of impressive strikeout games, getting 9 in four innings against the Pulaski Mariners and 7 in another four innings against the Johnson City Cardinals.

 

Dawson throws a fastball that sits around 86-88 mph but I did see it touch 89 a couple of times and 90 once. He has  changeup that comes in around 77-78 and a curve that comes in around 71-74 mph. He threw a couple of pitches around 83 mph which could have been a cutter or a slider but I wasn’t able to find out what.

 

I wasn’t really able to get a good handle on the quality of Dawson’s secondary pitches but his fastball velocity could increase which would be necessary for him to succeed at the higher levels of the minors. I could see Dawson being a solid lefty reliever in the minors as an org guy but any more than that is still too far off to see.

 

Chase Dejong

Chase DeJong

The final “starter” I saw was one of the more impressive. Chase DeJong (pronounced “De-Yong”) relieved Dawson (they’ve been piggy-backing together this season) and completely shut down the Bristol White Sox in his four innings. DeJong was a second round pick out of high school last season and is a tall, thin righty who stands 6’4″ and weighs in at 185 lbs. Still only 19 years old (he doesn’t turn 20 until the end of December), DeJong shows a lot of maturity, solid command, and some consistency (very important at his level).

 

His fastball isn’t overpowering yet, sitting at 89-90 and occasionally hitting 91, but it was really consistent showing that he is repeating his mechanics well. He showed good control with it although it was elevating a little bit. His curve ball was his most dangerous weapon. It’s a hard, 12-6 breaking curve that sat around 78 mph and really made a lot of batters look silly. He seemed to be able to throw it for strikes at will. I spoke to a scout from Tampa Bay (who was also talking to Chase’s mom who was at the game and sitting in front of me) who really loved the pitch. I asked the scout about the pitch that DeJong was throwing around 84-86 in his first couple of innings. The scout told me that it was his changeup and that he throws it too firmly and did the same thing the previous time that he scouted DeJong. I did notice that Chase started throwing the changeup around 82 mph range later in the outing and the pitch improved. DeJong was getting a lot of grounders that game as well as a lot of weak contact.

 

While DeJong had 4 strikeouts (in 4 innings) in the game I saw, he could have had more. I talked to catcher Jorge Saez after the game about the umpire’s strike zone and there was at least one curve thrown for what should have been a called strike three that was called a ball. He also said that they were throwing the changeup more to work on it because the curve is a much more developed pitch.

 

DeJong is definitely a guy that Blue Jays fans can dream on. He’s still very thin and young and can certainly fill out and add velocity on his fastball. If anyone was made for the velocity program (reports are that he’s not on it this year), it’s DeJong. I could see that with some growth, muscular maturity and getting on the velocity program, he could get his fastball into the 92-94 mph range (as a conservative estimate). Combine that with plus control potential, a curve that already makes batters look silly and a changeup that, when thrown a little less firmly, has plus potential and I could see DeJong being a major league arm very easily.

 

Of the starters I saw in Bluefield, I can easily see Tom Robson making the high minors and Chase DeJong making the majors. I’ve also heard great things about Alberto Tirado and Jairo Labourt, which gives Blue Jays fans some great young arms to look forward to following. Robson’s already been bumped back home to Vancouver and word is that Shane Dawson has been too. I’m looking forward to following these young men’s careers as they develop through the Jays’ organization.

 

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That concludes the scouting reports of the Bluefield Blue Jays that I saw. Don’t forget to check out Podcast Episode 12 if you haven’t already. It contains interviews with Shane Dawson, Tom Robson, D.J. Davis, Jorge Saez and Mitch Nay. There’s still more stuff from Bluefield to come! Tomorrow, I’ll have the interview that I and Brian Woodson did with former Blue Jay pitcher Paul Quantrill and hopefully I’ll have our interview with Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tim Raines on Thursday (it’s longer and will take more effort to transcribe)!

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