In the same way the starting staff of the 2013 Northwest League champs Vancouver Canadians was full of dominating stars and big-named prospects, the bullpen was full of fairly anonymous low draft picks and non-drafted free agent signees that the Blue Jays have accumulated over the past few years.
This doesn’t mean that there’s no talent in the bullpen for Vancouver. On the contrary but the Vancouver bullpen had more than its share of players who are old for the level and who don’t necessarily have a major-league upside.
Leading the team in appearances (28) and saves (11) was closer Chuck Ghysels. Ghysels, a 23 year old who signed as a non-drafted free agent and went to four different colleges, has pretty good stuff coming out of the pen but struggled with his control starting the season with Lansing (where I first met him). He was sent down to Vancouver where he became a very a reliable bullpen arm with a 2.15 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, 13 walks and a whopping 51 strikeouts in just 29 1/3 innings (good for 2nd on the team with just over 1/3 of the innings of the leader, Kyle Anderson). When I saw Ghysels in Lansing, he was throwing about 92 mph with a pretty good breaking ball. I can see him returning to Lansing next year or even going up to Dunedin where he spent some time in both this year and in 2012.
Matthew Johnson has been in the Jays’ system since signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2010 and spent some time in Lansing this year. He returned to Vancouver as a 25 year old and will need to move up through the system a bit quicker in order keep a job. Johnson quietly put together a very good season for the C’s throwing 31 1/3 innings with a 2.30 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and only 6 walks but also only 12 strikeouts. It’s the strikeouts that are worrisome for Johnson because without the ability to put hitters away at higher levels, Johnson could get stuck in the system. I’ve already written about the challenges that pitchers face going from Vancouver for Lansing and I think that guys like Johnson really exemplify that. If he doesn’t start the season in Lansing or Dunedin, I think Johnson is going to be looking for a new job.
23-year-old righty Justin James got a lot of work out of the pen as well as a couple of spot starts. The 2012 non-drafted free agent had a very solid season, making 20 appearances and throwing 44 1/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He walked 15 batters and struck out 29 making for some decent numbers. I’d expect to see James in Lansing next year but, since he’s not as old as some of his teammates, could end up back in Vancouver as an odd man out.
Garrett Pickens is another 23-year-old righty for the Canadians. He was drafted this year in the 29th round out of Delta State University (Mississippi) and had a solid, if unremarkable first pro season. Control was the biggest issue for Pickens who walked 15 (and struck out 15) in 27 1/3 innings with a 3.29 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Fangraphs seems to think that those good numbers were due to luck with a low .250 BABIP and a FIP at 4.44. Pickens, I’m sure, will be given a chance to start the season in Lansing but may not wind up there next season.
Joe Spano is another name that might not be familiar to Blue Jays fans. The 23 year old was a non-drafted free agent in 2012 who put up eerily similar numbers last year in Bluefield as he did this year in Vancouver. Spano threw 22 1/3 innings with a 4.84 ERA, a 1.93 WHIP, 21 walks and 30 strikeouts. This suggests that he might have the stuff to make it at higher levels but he needs to get some control first with almost a walk an inning being a huge red flag. I’m not sure where he’ll end up. He may figure things out over the off-season or in spring training.
Brandon Dorsett was another non-drafted free agent from 2012 who came up to Vancouver after a season in Bluefield. His transition wasn’t as smooth as some of the other players’, throwing 19 innings with a 7.58 ERA, a 1.86 WHIP, 16 walks and 8 strikeouts. With a 2:1 ratio of walks to strikeouts (ideally that ratio is the other way around), Dorsett is looking at an off-season of trying to figure out how to improve. I have no trouble seeing him return to Vancouver although if he was promoted next season and had a good year, it wouldn’t be the first case of a player getting promoted and playing better at a higher level.
Next is my Reliever of the Year, Matt Dermody. Dermody was drafted this season in the 28th round (after being drafted three previous times, all in the 20’s rounds) and finally signed on to play professional baseball. The 6’5″, 23-year-old lefty spent most of the season under the radar but is probably poised to make a jump and compete against better competition next year. With Vancouver, Dermody was a multi-inning reliever, throwing 40 2/3 innings in just 15 games (getting 2 spot starts along the way) and posted a 1.77 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and walked just 4 batters to go with 50 strikeouts (3rd on the team). This 12.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio is an unbelievable figure and shows a lot of poise and maturity on the mound. I can see Dermody jumping all the way to Dunedin next year as a reliever. I’m not really sure what he throws but if he has more than 2 pitches, he might end up in Lansing joining the piggy-back crew.
23-year-old Scott Silverstein is another big lefty (6’5″) that the Blue Jays drafted this year. Used mostly out of the bullpen, the 25th round pick could end up a starter next year. In 37 1/3 innings (with 4 starts on his resume), Silverstein put up a 4.58 ERA (with a 3.68 FIP), a 1.45 WHIP, 13 walks and 31 strikeouts: very respectable numbers for his first season in pro ball. Interestingly, he consistently gave up more ground balls than fly balls which probably contributed to a higher than average BABIP (.331). With a better infield behind him, he could probably post better numbers. Another issue for Silverstein this season could have been fatigue: he was the ace of his staff in Virginia and threw over 91 innings in his college season before coming to the pros. I see him in Lansing next year and could be a starter for a while in the minors.
Gargantuan (6’8″) reliever Tim Brechbuehler* (11 2/3 IP, 10.80 ERA, 2.84 WHIP, 12 BB, 12 K) spent most of this season on the disabled list but didn’t pitch well when he was active. However, the good strikeout total and teams’ tendencies to like big pitchers probably sees the 23 year old coming back next year, if not in Vancouver then somewhere else. Drew Permison (24) spent most of the season injured (5 IP, 7.20 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 1 BB, 5 K). I see Permison coming back and pitching in Lansing if he’s healthy as his numbers were the victim of small sample size (he had a 1.80 FIP to go with the 7.20 ERA).
The Blue Jays released 25-year-old Jonathan Kountis after just 9 1/3 innings (5.79 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 5 BB, 10 K) and 24-year-old Bobby Brosnahan appears to have retired (19 1/3 IP, 7.45 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, 8 BB, 13 K) while former outfielder, 23-year-old Markus Brisker was also released (4 2/3 IP, 7.71 ERA, 3.21 WHIP, 10 BB, 4 K).
* I can only spell his name without looking it up every time because I lived in Germany for a year.