JFtC looks deep into the numbers and selects Blue Jays minor league starting pitchers worthy of some hefty praise
Recently, I wrote about the position players in the Blue Jays system who had the best minor league seasons in 2019. Today, my focus turns to the system’s most effective starting pitchers this season.
The Starting Rotation
Pearson had a busy summer, pitching for the Jays’ three highest MiLB affiliates. He started the year at High-A Dunedin, where he was downright dominant over six starts, striking out nearly half of the batters he faced (46.7% K rate) on his way to posting a 1.64 FIP.
He spent the bulk of the season pitching for Double-A New Hampshire, making 16 starts there after his promotion from High-A. Pearson pitched very well in the Eastern League, posting the fourth-best FIP (2.90) among pitchers with at least 15 starts. That mark put him just ahead of Casey Mize (2.98 FIP), one of the very best pitching prospects in the MLB—Mize has a 60 FV grade from FanGraphs, whereas Pearson’s is 55.
Pearson’s 2.90 FIP also rates well historically among Eastern League pitchers in their age-22 season (or younger) (min. 15 starts). Only eight such pitchers have produced a better mark than Pearson, including five legit major leaguers (Phil Hughes, Clay Buchholz, Brett Cecil, Zack Wheeler and Michael Fulmer) and one current 55 FV prospect (Matt Manning).
Pearson also had a three-start tenure with the AAA Bisons to finish his season. He had two good starts—3.32 FIP, 1.38 ERA—followed by one rough start—6.02 FIP, 7.20 ERA.
All in all, Pearson had a season befitting the first spot on this all-star rotation—his FIP (2.85, 26th), ERA (2.30, 19th) and xFIP (2.93, 22nd) each rank very well among the 436 starting pitchers with at least 100 IP across affiliated minor leagues in 2019.
Murray put himself on the radar of Jays prospect watchers during his excellent pro debut with the Short Season-A Vancouver Canadians last summer. The most eye-catching number was easily his 37.1% strikeout rate.
He started out the 2019 season with a standard promotion to Class A Lansing, where he maintained a 30%-plus strikeout rate (30.5%). After six starts with a 3.38 FIP (and a 2.75 xFIP that reflects his bad HR luck), he got a quick promotion to High-A Dunedin in early May.
There, he improved upon his strikeout, walk and home run rates, bringing his FIP down to 2.48, the seventh-best mark among Florida State League pitchers with at least ten starts. His xFIP held pretty steady at 2.79, still impressive given the promotion.
The continued high-quality pitching motivated the Blue Jays to promote Murray again, up to Double-A New Hampshire, where he made nine appearances to end his season. While his numbers took a step back (3.42 FIP, 3.50 ERA, 3.24 xFIP) his performance was still above-average among Eastern league starters.
Like Pearson, Murray’s 2019 FIP (2.98, 40th), ERA (2.75, 39th) and xFIP (2.92, 21st) each rank very well among the 436 starting pitchers with at least 100 IP across affiliated minor leagues in 2019.
Heading into this season, I had Castillo among a group of “lottery ticket” pitchers, after his solid (if unspectacular) performance at Class A during his age-19 season. He is certainly due for rise in my next ranking.
He spent the whole 2019 season pitching for High-A Dunedin, ranking third in the FSL in innings pitched (130.1). Castillo’s performance definitely stood out in the FSL. Among the 26 pitchers to crack 100 IP, Castillo ranked fifth in terms of FIP (3.09) and ERA (2.67). He did seem to get a bit of HR luck, posting only a 4.7% HR/FB, so his xFIP (3.37, 11th) was closer to average. Castillo did everything reasonably well, ranking in the top ten in this group in terms of K% (21.8%, 6th), BB% (5.3%, 7th) and HR/9 (0.55, 9th).
That Castillo cracked 100 innings in the FSL during his age-20 season is quite an accomplishment, as he was the only pitcher to do so this season. Going back to 2006, only three pitchers have cracked 100 IP in the FSL during their age-20 season while posting a better FIP than Castillo did: Ian Anderson (2018, 2.64 FIP), Tyler Glasnow (2014, 2.63) and Jake McGee (2007, 2.81). Anderson is a 55 FV prospect, Glasnow appears to be a legit MLB SP and McGee has had a solid career as a big league reliever.
In late August, I did a deep dive into SWR’s incredible performance this summer. As such, I’ll simply provide a brief synopsis: he did incredible things (like post a combined 2.51 FIP and 2.42 xFIP) at levels (Class A and High-A) that pitchers his age (18) generally do not even appear at.
While the first four spots of the rotation were straightforward choices, choosing who would fill the fifth spot was difficult as a number of Blue Jay pitching prospects had solid seasons with some kind of caveat (inconsistency, age/level, small sample size). Ultimately, I chose Stadler because he showed improvement towards the end of the season, is a relatively young age-22 prospect (born three months before the July 1 cutoff) and pitched a lot (106 IP).
Drafted in 2018 (18th round), Stadler started his pro career positively last summer, pitching to a 2.05 FIP with Advanced Rookie Bluefield and a 3.64 FIP with Short Season-A Vancouver.
In his first full pro season, Stadler produced solid overall numbers with Class A Lansing. Among 38 pitchers to crack 100 IP in the Midwest League this season, Stadler ranked 11th in terms of both FIP (3.47) and xFIP (3.60). His 4.92 ERA can almost certainly be chalked up to bad luck, evident in his .359 BABIP and 60.9% strand rate. Stadler’s primary standout stat is his groundball rate (53%), which ranked third among MWL pitchers.
For much of the season, Stadler’s role alternated from starter to multi-inning reliever. However, he was used exclusively as a starter to finish out the summer and was excellent over those five starts, striking out 20.2% of batters, while avoiding walks well (3.5% BB rate) and homers altogether (0 HR allowed), producing a 2.26 FIP.
Pardinho (37.2 IP), Kloffenstein (64.1), Manoah (17), Williams (16), Perdomo (53) and Martinez (51.1) each pitched quite well this summer, but didn’t make my five-man rotation due to their small sample sizes.
Nevertheless, each excelled. Pardinho produced a better-than-average FIP (3.21) in the MWL, despite being the only age-18 pitcher to make more than one start in the MWL this season. Similarly, Kloffenstein’s 3.73 FIP was a little better than the Northwest League average, despite King Kloff being one of only two NWL pitchers in their age-18 season to crack 50 IP this year. Manoah showed off his enormous potential by producing the NWL’s sixth-best K-BB% (32.4%) among pitchers with at least 10 IP. Williams’ potential shined through his 2.63 FIP, sixth-best among age-18 GCL pitchers (min. 10 IP). Martinez (2.93 FIP) and Perdomo (2.98 FIP) both ranked in the top ten among DSL pitchers in their age-17 or -18 seasons (min. 50 IP).
Statistically, Murphy probably deserves a spot in the rotation, given his strong 3.35 FIP and 3.01 xFIP. However, most of his innings pitched this season (63.1 of 84) came prior to his delivery being deemed illegal by the Major League Baseball Umpires Association on June 2nd. Through that date, Murphy’s FIP was a strong 3.09.
Subsequently, he had to rework his delivery, reflected in his not-so-strong 5.76 FIP over his next three starts. Things seemed to be clicking again, as he produced a 1.85 FIP over three starts after that, but he was subsequently shut down due to shoulder inflammation. He made one more short appearance in late August, before being shut down for good. Murphy’s development over the off-season will certainly be a key focus for Jays prospect watchers.
Diaz pitched a lot this summer, racking up the fifth-most innings pitched (144.1) in the Eastern League. While his 3.74 ERA ranks a middle-of-the-pack 16th among 33 EL pitchers with at least 100 IP, Diaz’s 3.93 FIP ranks a sub-par 24th, while his 4.12 xFIP ranks 31st.
How, then, did he make my list of honourable mentions? For one thing, at 22, he’s relatively young for an EL pitcher, where the average age is just over 24. More importantly, he finished the season very, very well. Through the end of July, Diaz owned a 4.34 FIP. Then, he had a cup of coffee in the majors, thanks to his being on the 40-man roster in order to protect him from the 2018 Rule 5 Draft. In his five starts after being sent back down to New Hampshire, Diaz pitched impeccably (2.48 FIP), striking out batters at a solid rate (22.4%), while avoiding walks (4.8% BB rate) and homers (0.28 HR/9) very effectively.
Allgeyer, drafted in the 12th round of last year’s draft, put himself on the prospect radar with a very strong start to his first full pro season. Through the end of June, he owned a 2.45 FIP while pitching for High-A Dunedin. He was very consistent through this stretch, never posting a single-game FIP above 4.47. However, his consistency waned over July and August, when he posted a FIP of 5.37. Tougher challenges in 2020 will give us a better sense of Allgeyer’s long-term potential.
Winckowski was drafted out of high school back in 2016 and has been progressed slowly by the Blue Jays, such that 2019 was his first in a full season league. He started out with Class A Lansing and pitched quite well. Among 100 starters with 50+ IP and 10+ starts in the MWL, Winckowski’s FIP (3.23) and xFIP (3.31) both ranked 19th, while his 2.32 ERA ranked seventh. Moreover, his strength at generating grounders was in full effect, with his 55.8% GB rate ranking fourth.
Unfortunately, after his promotion to High-A Dunedin in June, Winckowski struggled to keep up his performance level. Among 70 starters with 50+ IP and 10+ starts in the FSL, Winckowski’s FIP (4.20, 60th) and xFIP (3.85, 50th) were sub-par. In particular, he was giving up more homers and accumulating fewer strikeouts than he had with Vancouver and Lansing. His 3.19 ERA (27th) was strong, but likely driven by good batted ball luck, given his BABIP (.259) was well below the .300-plus marks he had produced at previous levels. All that said, given his age (21) and talent, his High-A struggles are not terribly concerning.
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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.