Pitching was one of the Dunedin Blue Jays’ strongest assets, so there’s a lot of good to write about here.
Despite having a strong crop of starters, the Dunedin Blue Jays’ pitching staff was also the oldest in the Florida State League with an average age of 24.7 years old, almost a full year older than the next oldest team’s pitchers.
Scott Copeland, 25, was exactly one of these veteran starters. Leading the club in starts (23), innings pitched (146 2/3) and strikeouts (99), Copeland was one of the veteran arms that led the D-Jays to a playoff berth. Drafted by Baltimore in the 21st round of the 2010 draft, he was released last season and signed on with the Blue Jays and finished up in Dunedin. In his third go-round at the High-A level, he posted a 3.74 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP as well as the 99 strikeouts and 52 walks. Copeland is a solid organizational pitcher and will probably go wherever he’s needed in 2014.
Number two on the list of games started is Jesse Hernandez, a 25-year-old non-drafted free agent (from 2010) who has been steadily working his way up the ladder. Hernandez is a Michigan boy who went to Central Michigan University and has had two consecutive pretty good years in the Blue Jays’ system. In his first full year at Dunedin, Hernandez logged 134 innings with a 3.49 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP, 89 strikeouts and 38 walks. His walk numbers are very solid (6.7%) but his strikeout rates haven’t crossed the 20% threshold since he pitched in Vancouver in 2010. Depending on where guys ahead of him end up, Hernandez could be in New Hampshire next year or he could return to Dunedin.
Also starting 20 games in 2013 was the Blue Jays’ number one prospect, Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez, 21, was the youngest member of the Dunedin pitching staff and was definitely the one with the most upside. With three outstanding pitches, most think that it’s only a matter of time before the 2010 34th-overall pick brings his high-90s heater to Toronto. Unfortunately, injuries and pitch-limits kept him from logging more innings (just 86 1/3 this year) although Sanchez showed tremendous promise when he was on the mound. He finished the season with a 3.34 ERA and 1.19 WHIP that was boosted by his 40 walks. Sanchez also racked up 75 strikeouts, a figure that some might consider low but it appears that he was working on pitching to contact in order to get deeper into games on his pitch counts. Sanchez was successful in bringing his walk rate down about 2.4% from last season. Sanchez pitches in the Arizona Fall League before heading (most likely) to New Hampshire next season. Let’s hold our breaths on him because he seems to be a little bit injury-prone at this stage.
25-year-old righty Casey Lawrence was certainly well traveled this season, getting playing time with the Buffalo Bisons, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and the Dunedin Blue Jays. He was with Dunedin for most of the season, however and was (like many of the other 25 year olds on the staff) very effective in the Florida State League. Lawrence, another non-drafted free agent that the Jays signed out of college in 2010, made 15 starts (and one relief appearance) with 89 1/3 innings pitched, a 4.43 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP, 58 strikeouts and just 15 walks. Lawrence showed some solid in two starts with the Fisher Cats and is likely to end up there to start 2014.
I guess some people are calling veteran minor leaguer Austin Bibens-Dirkx “The X-Man” (and if they’re not, they should) because of the weird spelling of his name. Bibens-Dirkx, 28, has been kicking around the minor leagues since being drafted by Seattle in 2006 (16th round) and has plenty of experience in Double-A and Triple-A. In fact, his time in Dunedin for the Blue Jays represents the first time since 2009 that Bibens-Dirkx has pitched below the Double-A level. In total, our Dunedin Blue Jays Pitcher of the Year, threw 166 2/3 innings for both Dunedin and New Hampshire with 101 of those innings coming for Dunedin. If those numbers sound high to you, they should. This is a huge testament to not only Bibens-Dirkx’s durability but also his ability to consistently pitch deep into games. Overall, Bibens-Dirkx had outstanding numbers, posting a 2.48 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 155 strikeouts and 43 walks at both levels. Interestingly, his numbers didn’t fluctuate when he was promoted and sustained a high level of success wherever he was. If he’s back in the organization in 2014, I can see Bibens-Dirkx filling out a rotation in New Hampshire.
Note: All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013) and may not be used without permission. These photos were taken during Spring Training before I got my hands on the much better camera (and lens) that I used to take the other, niftier photos that you’ve seen throughout this site.