With the Toronto Blue Jays in need of pitching, TJ Zeuch has earned some extra thought for the 2020 rotation
The Blue Jays need pitching. T.J. Zeuch, a former first round draft pick, certainly has talent. He will get a long look in 2020, as he should. He could be part of the solution.
But he isn’t a “slam dunk” either.
Zeuch was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2016 and his MiLB career started that year. He pitched in 9 games across three levels with a 4.50 era.
2017 saw Zeuch spend the bulk of his time with the Dunedin Blue Jays at advanced A ball. He posted a 3.38 era in 12 games. In 2018 he started at Dunedin, then was promoted to the AA Fisher Cats where he had a 3.08 era in helping the Cats to the Eastern League championship.
Zeuch’s 2019 started late unfortunately due to a lat injury. When his season finally began he pitched two games at A+ ball before being promoted to the AAA Buffalo Bisons. He pitched in 13 games for them with a 3.69 era.
The highlight of his MiLB career from an individual standpoint came on August 19 when he threw a no hitter. He finished the season with the Bisons and got the call up to the Jays in early September.
Zeuch had five appearances for the Jays in September, three as a starter and two following “opener” Wilmer Font. He went 1-2 with a 4.76 era and a FIP of 4.05. In each appearance, he lasted between 4-5 innings and gave up either two or three runs.
Not great but not terrible either.
Part of what has always made Zeuch an interesting prospect is his pitch command. Prior to 2019, his BB/9 innings has always been under 3.0. In 2019 it rose significantly. It was 3.5 in 15 minor league games and 4.4 in the majors.
To get an idea of what the Jays might have in Zeuch, one place to look is Fangraphs. He already has an above average (60 grade) fastball. His curveball is currently rated average (50 grade) with the potential to improve to just above average (55). Having at least two above average major league pitches will definitely help him to have success in the future.
The other above average tool is his command – 55 grade with potential to be 60. A pitcher with good command should be throwing strikes around 66% of the time. Zeuch averaged 58.7% with the Jays in 2019. In addition to too many free passes, throwing balls runs up a pitcher’s pitch count which prevents them from going too deep in to games.
It’s also worth remembering that Zeuch’s season started late due to the injury. Whether that impacted his ability to throw strikes remains to be seen. Hopefully he will be healthy in 2020.
Another thing to consider is Zeuch’s K/9 rate. Through his four year MiLB career, it was 6.4/9 which is below average. It was better with the Jays (in a small sample size) at 7.9 (7.7 is considered average, 7.0 is below). Nowadays there is a great deal of emphasis on pitchers with high strike out totals. Personally I’m not fussy about how pitchers get outs, as long as they get them and keep the opposition off the score board. Even in his no hitter, Zeuch was pitching to contact most of the night, with only three strikeouts all game. It will be interesting to see if this is a “strike against him” with Jays management.
Jays fans will be keeping a close eye on what moves the front office makes this off season. Ross Atkins & Co have stated that improving the pitching is a priority (as it should be). Depending on who, and how many starting pitchers they can acquire, Zeuch could start 2020 with the Jays or in AAA Buffalo as depth when needed. We have seen that you always need more than 5 starting pitchers to get through an MLB season so sooner or later, Zeuch will get a good look in 2020. It’s up to him to make the most of it.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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