Few of the Dunedin Blue Jays’ best bullpen pitchers started the season in Dunedin but they made a big impact, helping the club to a co-championship in the Florida State League.
It’s hard to believe that Adonys Cardona, now 23, has been with the Blue Jays for seven years. Cardona took home a signing bonus of $2.8 million in 2010 and has never really made good on his promise thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness. Cardona spent his second year in the FSL, throwing a career-high 48 1/3 innings with a 7.26 ERA and 2.19 WHIP, higher than his numbers at the same level last year. While he struck out more batters (18.6%) than he did last year, he still walked a ton of hitters (16.1%) and appears to have given up a lot of hard contact (25.5% line-drive rate) although his .417 BABIP is unsustainably high. His minor league contract is expiring after this season and it will be interesting to see if the Blue Jays retain Cardona on a new deal, especially considering the investment they put into his signing.
25-year-old righty Philip Walby was picked up by the Blue Jays in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft this offseason and the Blue Jays hoped to get more out of his arm than the Yankees and the Nationals had. Walby started his season with the Lansing Lugnuts and, after a rough debut, giving up four runs in 1 2/3 innings, he pitched very effectively for the rest of the month before being promoted to Dunedin. There, he made 34 appearances, logging 50 innings with a 5.76 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. While walks had been his Achilles Heel, Walby’s high, but tolerable 10.4% walk rate was paired with lackluster strikeout rate (16.5%) while he generated a lot of ground balls (54.2%). In Lansing, He had a better strikeout rate (21.4%) but a higher walk rate (11.9%) in 9 2/3 innings. Because Walby had been released by the Yankees (and signed on a minor league deal by Washington before he was selected in the Rule 5 draft, he may be eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season.
Versatile righty Ryan Cook is one of the more underrated relief arms in the Jays’ system but he quietly had a great season until injuries derailed his second half. Assigned to Dunedin out of spring training, Cook tossed 50 2/3 innings with the Jays, posting a strong 2.31 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, striking out 20.8% and walking a rather-high 12.1%. Still, Cook was able to come in and throw multiple innings, tossing three frames in relief on five occasions. Cook only pitched twice after going on the DL the first time in late July. Look for him to start back in Dunedin, mostly because I think that there’s going to be a big roster crunch among relievers in New Hampshire next year.
6-foot-5 righty Jackson McClelland emerged as a hard-throwing bullpen candidate for the Blue Jays in 2017, reportedly losing some weight and getting fit, showing some increased arm strength in the process. The 23-year-old Californian was a 15th-round pick in 2015 and started his third season in the Jays’ system with Lansing, lighting a fire behind him. He went 8/9 in save opportunities for the Lugnuts, posting a stellar 1.80 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, striking out 21.3% of batters but leaving something desired in a 12.5% walk rate in 20 innings. Once he moved up to Dunedin, however, he kept improving, striking out 18.4% but walking only 5.9% and getting a 52.0% ground ball rate while posting a 1.07 ERA and 1.04 WHIP and saving all seven games he was given the opportunity to. McClelland’s emergence has been one of the good-news stories for the 2017 Blue Jays minor league system and we’re looking for him to either start 2018 back in Dunedin for a month or so, or he’ll start the season up in New Hampshire.
6-foot-4 Oklahoman righty Zach Jackson showed Blue Jays fans why the Jays selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft. He racked up strikeouts like few others in the Jays system and had a period when he was one of the most dominant relievers in the minor leagues. Jackson, 22, started his season with the Lansing Lugnuts, having a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP despite the fact that he face that he still walked 9.8% of batters with his 30.5% strikeout rate in 20 innings. He baffled hitters even more in Dunedin, logging 31 innings with a 2.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, allowing only 19 hits but he walked 14.0% of batters, striking out 33.3%. For Jackson, command will always be an issue, given his herky-jerky pitching motion but if he can get that down to the 9-10% range, he can be a very effective reliever. Look for him to start back in Dunedin but with a promotion in June if he can dominate hitters the same way.
Canadian Tom Robson was climbing uphill from a couple of rough seasons following his Tommy John surgery in 2014/15. Robson tossed 34 2/3 innings for Dunedin, putting up his best numbers since 2013 with a 3.05 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, striking out 20.6% and walking only 7.5%. That walk total is particularly satisfying to see since walks had been a huge problem since his return from surgery. Robson was also back to his ground-balling best, getting a whopping 65.0% of batted balls on the ground, hearkening back to his best season in 2013. In July, Robson was promoted to New Hampshire, making two appearances and throwing 3 2/3 innings, allowing a run on two hits and one walk with one strikeout before landing on the DL where he remained until the end of the year. Look for a healthy Robson, now 24, in New Hampshire next year.
22-year-old lefty (who turns 23 on October 7) Kirby Snead was a 10th-round pick by the Blue Jays in 2016 and he rose through Lansing and Dunedin, putting up some impressive numbers. The sidearmer threw 22 1/3 innings in Lansing to start the year, with a strong 2.42 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out an outstanding 32.3% of batters but also walking 14.0%. He had a 52.2% ground ball rate before moving up to Dunedin in mid-June where he was even better, with a 1.36 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 20.2% strikeout rate and 9.3% walk rate, getting a whopping 66.3% of his balls in play on the ground. Snead also picked up eight saves for the D-Jays. He will probably start the season either in Dunedin or New Hampshire in 2018.
Jon Wandling pitched just 2 2/3 innings this year, allowing four runs on three hits and a walk with two strikeouts before he was released at the end of May, shortly after being activated off the DL.
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