With Joe Biagini in the rotation, the Toronto Blue Jays need to upgrade the back end of their bullpen. John Stilson can help.
In the offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays front office went about improving their bullpen by signing free agent relievers J.P. Howell and Joe Smith. Dominic Leone and Leonel Campos were added off waivers, as ‘what do we have to lose’ moves.
Howell has dealt with injuries, Smith has looked good, Leone has been working his way into manager John Gibbons good books, and Campos has shuffled between Buffalo and Toronto. All in all, these additions to the bullpen have worked out fairly well and on the plus side, none of these guys cost the club too much coin.
Unfortunately, none of the four relief pitchers will strike fear into the opposition with their fastballs. Howell throws a sinker that screams through the strike zone at 85 mph. Smith, while being deceptive, only throws an 89.1 mph fastball. Dominic Leone throws his fastball in the low 90’s and a change in the low 80’s, while Campos also has a low 90’s fastball which he compliments with a mid-80’s slider.
The power arms in the Blue Jays bullpen are closer Roberto Osuna (95 mph) and Ryan Tepera (94.9 mph). Tepera was considered a fringe arm but because of Howell’s slow start, the struggles Jason Grilli has had so far, and Joe Biagini being moved to the rotation, Tepera has gotten into more high leverage appearances this year.
While Tepera does throw hard, his fastball isn’t overpowering in today’s game.
I’ll admit that the Rays power arms don’t hold a candle to the Boston Red Sox trio of Joe Kelly (98.2 mph), Craig Kimbrel (98.0 mph) and Matt Barnes (95.2 mph) or even the New York Yankees Aroldis Chapman (99.3 mph), Dellenin Betances (97.8 mph) and Bryan Mitchell (96.3 mph).
It’s not as though relief pitchers that routinely throw in the high 90’s grow on trees, hence, why Tommy Hunter is pitching in Tampa.
So where are the Blue Jays going to find such a pitcher?
On April 5th, John Stilson was assigned to Triple-A Buffalo from Double-A New Hampshire. In Stilson, the Bisons got a hard-throwing reliever whose been in the organization since 2012.
A 2011 draftee, Stilson started his professional career as a starter in 2012. As a member of the Dunedin Blue Jays, the righty dominated the Florida State League amassing a record of 3-0 and 2.82 ERA while striking out 47 in 54.1IP. Stilson struggled upon a promotion to Double-A and was first moved to the bullpen.
He’s been a reliever ever since.
2017 isn’t the first time in Triple-A for Stilson. Actually, it isn’t even the second time. Stilson first made his Buffalo Bisons debut in 2013 and looked really good posting a 6-2 record and 2.09 ERA in 33 appearances. Stilson struck out a batter an inning while walking just 2.85 per 9 innings.
He was able to duplicate those numbers with Buffalo the following season and appeared ready to take the next step. Unfortunately, John Stilson struggled with shoulder issues the next spring, an issue that has plagued him since before draft day. He eventually went under the knife and has slowly regained his form.
The 6-foot-3 Texan spent 2016 with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, seeing just an inning in Triple-A. While in Double-A, he struggled with walks (4.25/9) and his strikeouts (7.58/9) were down. Not what you want from a power reliever but it is what you expect from pitchers a year removed from surgery.
John Stilson, as a member of the 2017 Buffalo Bisons bullpen, has 17 innings under his belt and is striking out batters at a rate of 10.13 per 9 innings. He is holding opponents to a .180 batting average, and he has a tidy 1.18 WHIP. He hasn’t been perfect, walking too many (5.06/9) and has allowed a run in each of his last two outing outings.
Recent struggles aside, the time is now for the Blue Jays to add John Stilson to the 40-man roster, promote him to Toronto, and add him to the back end of the bullpen.
After all, how else can we add a reliever that throws a 98 mph fastball and 90 mph slider/change mix?
*Featured Image Credit: slgckgc- UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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