GCL Blue Jays 2017 Report, Part 3: Relief Pitchers

Juan Meza

We continue our look at the GCL Blue Jays pitching staff with a look at the relievers.

 

 

We begin with righthander Justin Watts. Watts, who just turned 24 joined the GCL Blue Jays after being drafted in the 37th round this year out of Southern Indiana. The 6-foot-3 righty had a solid professional debut, tossing 32 1/3 innings in 17 appearances (including three starts), with a 3.62 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Watts’s rate stats were quite impressive as he struck out 25.2% of batters and walked 5.9%, showing a seamless transition to professional baseball. He did appear to give up a high rate of fly balls (46.3%) but also had a very low HR/FB rate (2.6%, average in them majors has been about 10%, but it may be higher this year) and a high infield fly bal rate (21.1%). Watts appears to be a fly ball pitcher but that trait may not bode well for him, particularly when he pitches in a league against older, stronger and better hitters who will be able to hit more balls out of the park. Look for him in Vancouver in 2018 as a 24 year old.

 

 

Adams Cuevas, a 21-year-old Dominican righty, came next on the list of appearances with 16, all out of the bullpen for the GCL Jays. Cuevas followed his strong DSL debut last year with a very solid GCL season with a 2.08 ERA, and 1.08 WHIP to go with a 22.3% strikeout rate and 8.7% walk rate. Cuevas was rewarded for his good season with an appearance in the Midwest League (giving up a run on two hits and a walk with two hit batters in two innings) before he pitched in the Crosstown Showdown against Michigan State University. Without having seen him in person, Cuevas’s biggest claim to fame so far is his lofty ground ball rates that have hovered at 61% in his two professional seasons, getting far more ground balls than fly balls, inducing a lot of weak contact. I could see Cuevas moving to Vancouver or even Lansing next year, depending on how the brass feels after the Fall Instructional League and spring training.

 

After getting $1.6 million as an international free agent in 2014, Juan Meza has struggled to make his presence felt on the mound. Finally, in his Age-19 year, Meza put up some promising numbers. The 6-foot-2 Venezuelan was used primarily in a relief role (and usually a mop-up role) this season but posted a 2.33 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 19 1/3 innings, bringing his strikeout rate up to 16.9% (from 8.6% last year) and lowering his walk rate to 7.2% (from 11.1% last year in the GCL). Meza’s future could be working out the bullpen or he could return to a starting role if the club feels that he’s finding a way to get batters out. I can see him in Bluefield next year.

 

The Blue Jays signed 6-foot-4 righty Connor Law as a non-drafted free agent and sent him, like many NDFAs, to the Gulf Coast League. The 23 year old went on to be very effective in the GCL, tossing 23 1/3 innings in 14 appearances (all out of the bullpen) with a 1.54 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, striking out 16.0% of batters while walking 5.3%. He moved up to the Appalachian League at the end of the season, making three appearances with Bluefield in the regular season, throwing five innings and not giving up a run, walking just one batter and giving up three hits with seven strikeouts (38.9% of batters). Law also made one appearance in the playoffs, giving up two runs on three hits (including only the second home run he gave up all season), striking out four in three innings. Law posted a very strong ground ball rate in the GCL (60.9%) while that number dropped a lot in his small sample size in Bluefield. Look for Law to either be in Bluefield or Vancouver next year.

 

6-foot-3 righty Danilo Manzueta had an interesting first year in America after a solid season in the DSL last year. The 20 year old made his season debut with the GCL Blue Jays, making six appearances and, aside from a blip on July 20 when he gave up six runs (all unearned), he was pitching pretty well. He got called up to Dunedin for an outing on July 27, tossing 2/3 of an inning without allowing a hit or walk and striking out one before returning to the GCL for another eight appearances before moving up to the Lansing Lugnuts where he threw 1 2/3 innings against the Dayton Dragons, allowing three runs on five hits with two strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings. Overall in the GCL, Manzueta had a 2.55 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 17 2/3 innings with an 8.6% walk rate and 16.1% strikeout rate. He was more of a fly ball pitcher, getting 0.85 ground balls per fly ball. Manzueta had a decent year but there wasn’t anything popping out as exceptional. He’s likely to move up to Bluefield or Vancouver next year but a Lansing assignment wouldn’t surprise me.

 

At 19, Anderson Nunez pitched in the GCL with a decent first US season. Nunez had a few blips along the way and finished with a 4.03 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 12.1% walk rate and 12.9% strikeout rate. Clearly the high walk rate and low strikeout rate are going to be the focus of improvement and it also appeared that he gave up some pretty solid contact with a 24.4% line-drive rate. I can see Nunez returning to the GCL Jays next year.

 

Emmanuel Reyes, 19, moved up to the GCL in 2017 but wasn’t able to duplicate the success he had in 2016 with the DSL Blue Jays. Reyes had a 5.48 ERA and 1.83 WHIP, striking out only 11.4% of batters and walking 12.4% in 21 1/3 innings. It’s fairly clear that he’ll need some more seasoning in the GCL.

 

Righty Jonathan Cheshire was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 36th round in 2017 and became the GCL Blue Jays’ closer out of the gate. Cheshire dominated GCL opponents, throwing 19 1/3 innings with a 1.40 ERA and 0.52 WHIP, striking out 36.2% while walking just one batter, and it was an intentional walk. After racking up six saves, Cheshire was promoted to the Bluefield Blue Jays where he continued to blow hitters away, striking out 37.5% of batters without walking anyone in five innings and giving up just one hit (a solo home run). In the playoffs, Cheshire made one appearance, throwing 1 1/3 innings with a strikeout and one hit against. Cheshire, who will be 23 in November, is likely to move up to Vancouver next year.

 

Gaudy Ramirez started his Age-19 season in the Dominican Summer League and finished it in Lansing but made the bulk of his appearances with the GCL Blue Jays. Ramirez tossed thrice for the DSL Blue Jays, giving up two runs on two hits, walking seven and striking out nine in 6 1/3 innings before coming to Florida. There, he proceeded to turn things around, throwing 22 1/3 innings with a 1.21 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, striking out 29.7% of batters while walking only 7.7%. He got a nice reward at the end of the year, making an appearance with Lansing, giving up a run on two hits and a walk in one inning. Ramirez could end up anywhere between Bluefield and Lansing next year although I’d probably expect to see him in Bluefield.

 

The Blue Jays took a flyer on our Reliever of the Year, Emerson Jimenez, a 22-year-old Dominican who had reached Double-A as a shortstop in the Rockies’ organization. Jimenez seems to have taken to pitching instantly, dominating in nine appearances and 15 innings for the GCL Blue Jays. How dominant was he? He gave up just six hits and five walks (although he hit four batters) while striking out 23, without giving up a run. That’s a 40.4% strikeout rate, which is practically unheard of, especially for a pitcher making his professional debut on the mound. Jimenez got a chance to visit Lansing for the Crosstown Showdown, striking out two Michigan State Spartans in two innings and could very well be headed to Lansing after spring training next year.

 

The Blue Jays signed 6-foot-9 righty Brennan Price at the end of July as a non-drafted free agent. At his height, he’s probably a work-in-progress when it comes to his mechanics and he struggled in three outings, one on August 1, then next on August 30 and September 2. Price had a 10.80 ERA in 3 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on four hits (including a home run) with three walks and three strikeouts. But the story behind the story is that all four runs were allowed in his first outing in just 1/3 of an inning. Coming back almost a month later, he didn’t walk anyone in those last two outings and finished on a high note, going two innings against the tough GCL Phillies with two strikeouts and just one hit allowed. I’d expect to see Price either back with the GCL Blue Jays or possibly in Bluefield.

 

Our final reliever for the GCL Blue Jays is Mike Estevez who was released after two outings in late-July/early-August. Technically released on September 11, he didn’t pitch after August 2, finishing the year with two runs against in 1 1/3 innings, allowing three hits (including a home run) with one walk and one strikeout.

 

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