Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Prospects! Part 3: New Hampshire Fisher Cats - Pitching

Until the end of 2012, New Hampshire was where the Blue Jays were stashing several of their more advanced pitching prospects in preparation for a jump to the big leagues.  With the Jays reaching an agreement with the Buffalo Bisons for 2013 and beyond, this will no longer be the case.  However, you can bet that New Hampshire will be the place that the Jays premiere pitching spends time in 2013 and 2014 on their way to the big leagues.   On the pitching side, there were several top prospects who plied their trades in New Hampshire this season.

Disappointments: Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins
Just getting a taste: Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin
Surprise: Sam Dyson
On the fence: John Stilson
Photo: Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com

The biggest disappointment on the Fisher Cats in 2012 would have to be Deck McGuire (current MLB.com ranking* - #12).  McGuire is a college righty who doesn't throw particularly hard (peaking around 92mph).  He was thought to be one of the more advanced pitchers available when he was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft (11th overall).  While McGuire had an excellent 2011 that produced a lot of optimism (3.02 ERA between Dunedin and New Hampshire - 2.75 K/BB ratio, .232 OPP BA), he struggled mightily in 2012.  In 28 starts and 144 innings, he posted a 5.88 ERA, striking out only 15.1% of hitters, while walking 9.8%.  Working mostly out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League (a notorious hitter's league), he did a little better, striking out 20.4% but walking 13.0% (in only 13 2/3 innings).  The scariest thing about what has happened to McGuire is that his strikeouts are way down, while his walks are up.  Since he doesn't have overpowering stuff to begin with, this is obviously a concern that he won't be able to get batters out at higher levels in the minors.  He is still only 23 and I'll draw another comparison to a Blue Jays pitcher without overpowering stuff who struggled in the minors - Ricky Romero.  In AA in 2008, Romero posted worse K/9, BB/9, and WHIP than McGuire did in 2012.  I think there's still hope for him, but he'll have to figure out a few things quickly.  McGuire will, in all likelihood, return to AA in 2013, unless the Jays want to challenge him, in which case, he'll be in Buffalo.
Photo: Kevin Littlefield/NH Fisher Cats

Chad Jenkins received a callup to the majors and pitched respectably out of the pen for the Blue Jays (and made three starts) picking up 32 major league innings to go along with 114.1 minor league ones.  Jenkins will be 25 in December, so this will be a make-it-or-break-it time for him.  I won't say that he particularly earned his call-up to the majors, primarily because he didn't pitch all that well in AA.  An argument was made that because Jenkins is primarily a ground ball pitcher (getting 1.24 Ground outs to Air outs in AA in 2012), he would benefit from better major league defense behind him and actually do better in the majors.  This didn't prove to be the case, as his GO/AO ratio was 0.94 for the Jays.  Jenkins is another pitcher without overpowering stuff (supported by his very low K% numbers - 11.2% in AA, 11.8% in MLB) and, like McGuire, his strikeout numbers were way down from his pace in 2011.  Unless the Jays suffer another rash of injuries, I would expect Jenkins to pitch 2013 in Buffalo.  If there's no bounce back in his strikeout percentage, I would say he has hit his ceiling.  Unless his offspeed pitches develop (his fastball is unremakable, averaging 90.9 mph for the Jays in 2012) to become swing-and-miss material, I don't see Jenkins being able to sustain success as a starter, and if anything, he could be just another bullpen guy.
Photo: Battersbox.ca

Marcus Stroman (current MLB.com ranking - #10) was selected by the Blue Jays in the first round of the 2012 draft (22 overall) and quickly signed and began his professional career in Vancouver.  After a couple of rough outings, he dominated the Short Season A opponents and was promoted to AA.  There he continued to pitch well before testing positive for Methylhexaneamine on Aug. 28, 2012 and receiving a 50 game suspension.  The organization doesn't believe this to be a large problem due to its most likely coming from a nutritional supplement that Stroman didn't know was banned.  Stroman will probably begin 2013 (after he returns from his suspension in May) in AA, but look for him to be promoted quickly.  The organization hasn't let on whether they will have him start or relieve in 2013.  Many scouts think that his size (only 5'9") and effort-laden delivery won't support him being a starter in the long term.  Comparisons have been made to Tim Lincecum of the Giants who apparently broke down this year.  Scouts and analysts think that Stroman can be in the majors in 2013 coming out of the bullpen with a good fastball and an excellent (and highly developed) slider.  Many were predicting that he'd be wearing a Blue Jays uniform in September of 2012 until his positive drug test.
Photo: MiLB.com

Sean Nolin (current MLB.com ranking - #19) has been climbing the ladder and impressing at every level.  He hasn't drawn as much attention as the Lansing 3, but as Mark Hulet of Fangraphs says, he was one of the big surprises of 2012.  I'm not so sure why Hulet was suprised; Nolin had an outstanding 2011 in Lansing and has simply built on those successes this year mostly in Dunedin.  Nolin has better stuff than either McGuire or Jenkins and seemingly (by looking at his walk and strikeout numbers) has learned to use his pitches pretty well.  With continued good peripheral numbers in the minors, Nolin will probably at least find a major league job in the bullpen as a lefty.  His upside, could be as high as a Ricky Romero type starter, with a slightly better fastball (although his changeup is probably not as good).  Nolin will most likely start 2012 in AA and get at least two months of work there before moving up.
Photo: AP Photo

Sam Dyson was a dark horse last season who sprung up and had a great year in New Hampshire (even getting a cup of coffee in the majors).  He went to the Arizona Fall League and was named an all-star (although he didn't pitch in the game due to his innings limit being reached).  He began the season starting in Dunedin, but really came into his own as a reliever in AA.  His peripheral numbers, however indicate that more seasoning is going to be required, due to his low strikeout numbers (although walks are under control at this point).  His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was much higher than his ERA at New Hampshire (ERA - 2.38, FIP - 4.06), which indicates that he may have troubles in the future.  His scouting report says that he has a good fastball (low-mid 90s) that sinks and gets a lot of ground balls, but his breaking pitches are well behind the fastball in development. 

John Stilson (current MLB.com ranking - #16) fell in the 2011 draft due to a shoulder injury.  The Jays snapped him up in the 3rd round and he made his professional debut in 2012.  He was strong in Dunedin, and earned a promotion to AA where he showed signs of struggling despite maintaining a good strikeout rate (5.04 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 19.6% K, 10.2% BB).  Scouts love his stuff, but durability issues may lead to Stilson's future being as a reliever.  Stilson won't turn 23 until July of 2013, so he'll have plenty of time to work his way up from AA, but look for him to try to develop his breaking stuff to go with his good heat, and probably work out of the bullpen next season. 


* This is from MLB.com's current ranking of the player on their top 20 list of Blue Jays prospects, compiled by Jonathan Mayo. 

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