We continue our look at the Bluefield Blue Jays pitching staff with a look at the relievers.
Ty Tice, 21, was the lock-down closer for the Bluefield Blue Jays, going 12 for 12 in save opportunities and posting a 1.05 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP in 25 2/3 innings. The righty was drafted out of Central Arkansas by the Blue Jays with their 16th-round pick in 2017 and he settled right in for Bluefield. Tice had an excellent 32.7% strikeout rate while walking 10.3%, showing that he was able to dominate hitters in the league. Look for him to jump to Lansing in 2018.
Our Reliever of the Year for the Bluefield Blue Jays, Graham Spraker, came to the Blue Jays as a 31st-round pick in this year’s draft. The 22-year-old righty was dominant in Bluefield, tossing 33 1/3 innings with a stellar 1.62 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. A low, .238 BABIP led to just 20 hits in 33 1/3 innings but he walked only 4.7% of batters and struck out 30.2% while getting a very solid 44.3% ground ball rate. Spraker is another candidate for the Lansing Lugnuts’ bullpen next year.
Kelyn Jose is finally starting to work his way into being an effective reliever. The 22-year-old Domincan lefty is one of the hardest throwers in the Blue Jays’ system but, at 6-foot-4, is finally starting to figure out his mechanics. In his fourth season with the Blue Jays and his second in Bluefield, Jose had a 3.12 ERA and 1.54 WHIP but also posted his best strikeout rate (30.8%) while still walking a ton of batters (21.4%). Jose might need another year in short-season ball but I have a feeling that it’s time for him to emerge into Lansing to see if he can make it higher levels.
Mitch McKown, 21, had possibly the worst professional debut one could have in 2016 after he was drafted in the 21st round out of Seminole State College. In 2017, McKown moved up to Bluefield and a larger sample size showed us that there’s not all doom and gloom with this 6-foot-4 righty. In 25 1/3 innings, McKown had a 3.55 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. While he still walked a lot of batters in 2017 (13.3%), that rate was WAY down from his 2016 walk rate of 36.7%. Additionally, he struck out 21.2%, up from 12.2% in 2016, giving him a strikeout-to-walk ratio above 1.00 this year (1.60 to be exact). Look for McKown in Vancouver next year.
Joining McKown with 16 appearances for the Bluefield Blue Jays was 22-year-old lefty Joe DiBenedetto. DiBenedetto was selected by the Jays in the 29th round in 2017 and, despite standing at just 5-foot-9, he came up with some solid number in his pro debut. In 23 1/3 innings with Bluefield, DiBenedetto had a 4.24 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, striking out 17.1% and walking 8.6%. He got promoted to Vancouver where he threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits and six walks with four strikeouts. The biggest worry I have for DiBenedetto, like many pitchers of shorter stature, is his home run rate. He allowed five home runs in 23 1/3 innings in Bluefield (but none in Vancouver), giving him a HR/9 rate of 1.93. A pitcher with a tendency to give up home runs needs to keep runners off the bases and he’ll have to work at walking fewer runners in 2018, likely back in Vancouver.
In his fourth season with the Blue Jays after signing as a free agent from the Dominican Republic, lefty Jose Nova spent the full season with the Bluefield Blue Jays (and made a brief appearance with the Dunedin Blue Jays before the short season got under way), getting hit hard and posting some ugly numbers. Nova’s season had a great start as he threw two scoreless innings for Dunedin, giving up two hits and striking out two. Then he got to work for the Bluefield club and promptly gave up five earned runs in one inning in his first outing. He followed with four runs allowed in his third outing and gave up three runs or more five times in the season, only exceeding a two-inning appearance once. Nova finished the season with a 9.97 ERA for Bluefield, posting a 1.80 WHIP with a 14.8% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate in 21 2/3 innings. Nova doesn’t appear to be either a strikeout or a ground ball pitcher (although he only gave up one home run this year), but having such a struggle as a lefty in Advanced-Rookie ball at the age of 22 is troublesome. How many more chances will he get? Where will he end up next year? That’s tough to prognosticate.
Tyler Olander, a 6-foot-9 lefty out of Connecticut also had a rough season but that’s to be expected. Just two years into his return to baseball after playing college and pro basketball, Olander had an 8.14 ERA and 2.05 WHIP in his Bluefield debut and the 25-year-old lefty made some progress, striking out 15.7% of batters and walked 11.1%. The important thing was that he got through the season healthy and had a strong groundball rate of 51.4%. I can see Olander continue working on his pitches and command to move up to Vancouver next year.
The Blue Jays’ 38th-round pick this year of San Diego State, Marcus Reyes is another lefty but this one had an excellent season at three levels. Reyes made his pro debut in the GCL, striking out four in two innings of work and giving up just one hit before moving up to Bluefield. There, he pushed his scoreless outing streak to 11 games (overall, 10 games in Bluefield), posting a 1.77 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, striking out 29.4% of batters and walking just 2.4%. Earning his promotion to Vancouver, Reyes worked five innings, giving up a run on seven hits with one walk and two strikeouts and added a scoreless appearance in the playoffs, working 2/3 of an inning and allowing a hit. Reyes, 22, could easily return to Vancouver next year; as a late-round pick, there’s not a lot of incentive to move him up over some pitchers who spent all year in Vancouver, but he could join the Lugnuts at some point in the season.
22-year-old Jordan Barrett made his share of starts (5) but since fewer than half of his appearances came at the start of the game, we’ll talk about him in relief. Drafted in the 18th-round by the Blue Jays in 2017, Barrett had a strong pro debut, tossing 35 1/3 innings with a 2.80 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. The 6-foot-3 lefty struck out an outstanding 30.7% of batters while walking 8.7% while being one of the only lefthanded pitchers to dominate lefties, limiting them to a .362 OPS while righties had a .598 OPS against him. Those peripheral numbers could easily put him in the conversation for a job in Lansing next year.
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