The Jays From the Couch 2019 Blue Jays Top Prospects List continues with #12- TJ Zeuch
It’s that time of year again! We’re counting down our Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects for 2019. We’ve selected our Top 20 and will be profiling each one. You are bound to find many of these lists in your travels, which makes for great conversation. The basis for rankings varies even more than the number of lists you’ll find. Some prefer to look at how close to “big league ready” a prospect is, while others look at “stuff” or “tools”. To construct our list, we have scoured over scouting reports, numbers and a lot more to finalize our 2019 Top Prospects list. Feel free to weigh in on each selection in the comment section! It’s part of the fun!
T.J. Zeuch was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2016, taken in the first round with the 21st pick, the first draft pick made by the current front office. A high-floor prospect drafted as a college junior from the University of Pittsburgh, picking Zeuch made a lot of sense as the team only had two pitching prospects graded at 50 or better by MLB Pipeline: Jon Harris and Sean Reid-Foley.
Among all of the prospects I have been following over the last few years, Zeuch stands out in terms of how closely his development has tracked with the baseline expectations evaluators have had of him. For one thing, his scouting grades haven’t changed all that much over the years. MLB Pipeline has had him at a 50 grade overall each of the last three seasons, with his fastball holding steady at 60, his curveball sticking at 50 and his control remaining constant at 50. His slider (up to 55 from 50) and changeup (up to 45 from 40), on the other hand, have each improved.
|A+ (||A+ (||A+ (||Minors||6||7||3.41||17||95.0||97||36||7||26||70||1.295|
|Rk (||Rk (||Rk (||Minors||0||2||3.60||4||10.0||9||4||1||2||7||1.100|
His steady development is also evident in his performances at each level he’s pitched at. After one very clean three-inning appearance in the Gulf Coast League, Zeuch made six appearances with the Vancouver Canadians at the Class A-Short Season level in 2016. There, he showed Jays fans what an effective Zeuch looks like, generating an absurdly high number of ground balls (69.8% GB rate) and effectively limiting both walks (5.5% BB rate) and the long ball (0.39 HR/9). The result was effective run limitation—he posted a 3.52 ERA and a 3.07 FIP.
The Blue Jays challenged him in 2017, starting him at High-A Dunedin after he made a two-start cameo with Class A Lansing at the end of the 2016 season. While a back injury limited him to only 12 appearances, he continued to do what he does best, killing worms (61.5% GB rate), while not conceding many dingers (0.46 HR/9) or walks (6.5% BB rate). Overall, he kept tidy ERA (3.38) and FIP (3.53) marks.
In need of more reps, the Jays sent him to the 2017 Arizona Fall League where Zeuch just kept doing his job—he gave up zero home runs, limited his walk rate to a paltry 5.6% and produced a 3.44 ERA.
Given his limited experience at High-A, the Jays opted to let Zeuch start the 2018 season with Dunedin. Once more, he generated tonnes of grounders (62.2% GB rate) and gave up few walks (6.1%). His home run rate ran a bit higher than normal (0.99 HR/9), but it didn’t concern the Blue Jays enough not to promote him to Double-A, with good reason—his 15.4% HR/FB suggested he was very unlucky. In that vein, his 3.47 ERA (and 3.62 xFIP) are probably better reflections of his performance than his FIP (4.41).
Once promoted to Double-A, Zeuch just kept on being Zeuch. He limited walks as well as ever (6.2% BB rate) and avoided the long ball (0.53 HR/9) thanks to all of the ground balls he generated (55.2% GB rate). He produced Top 10 ERA (3.08) and FIP (3.61) marks among qualified Double-A pitchers.
All told, Zeuch had produced a 3.74 FIP and 3.77 ERA across the lower-minors. In spite of the much higher level of difficulty at Double-A, Zeuch managed to best both of those marks, producing a 3.61 FIP and 3.08 ERA. As a ground ball pitcher, his ERA is a more relevant indicator of his performance than it is for most pitchers. As such, his low-3.00 mark at Double-A is a very positive sign.
It’s also very positive that he had a healthy 2018 season and pitched 156.1 innings. While he still has further development ahead of him, which will be key in determining his big league future, he has certainly shown all of the ingredients needed to be an effective innings-eating #3/4 starter.
Zeuch will almost certainly start the 2019 season with AAA Buffalo, one more promotion away from the big leagues. If he continues to be as consistent as he has been thus far in his pro career, a major league debut at some point this year seems very likely.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.