Friday, March 13, 2015

What Does Marcus Stroman's Injury Mean for Blue Jays Prospects?

   The build up of Marcus Stroman this off season has been intense.  He morphed from a power pitcher to a groundball-inducing sinker pitcher last season, and there were many who projected him as the Blue Jays Opening Day starter and Ace, all rolled into one.
   While that was a great load to be placed on a pitcher who hasn't completed a full season in the majors, Toronto was counting on him to be a significant contributor to a pennant-contending lineup this year.
  And after ripping up his ACL in fielding drills yesterday morning, he's out for the entire season, and the Blue Jays suddenly have to find a way to produce the 10-15 wins he was likely to generate.
   The obvious candidates to step up and take his turn, if not his place, in the rotation are Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and Daniel Norris, who were battling it out for the 5th and final spot in the rotation.  GM Alex Anthopoulos, who does have a trade nugget in Dioner Navarro, has stated his preference for filling the spot with one of those candidates.

   Who would make the best candidate?  And are there are any minor league starters who are available as insurance?

First things first.
Here's the pros and cons for Sanchez:
An impressive three-inning performance in his last outing
See above.
Despite his impressive work out of the bullpen with a paired-down arsenal last season, Sanchez's work as a minor league starter has never quite measured up to the performance his physical gifts would seem to prophesize.
And much of the talk about Sanchez this spring is how he would be better suited to a relief role, possibly as a closer, although he was stretched out in his last start.  He goes again today, so it would appear that he is very much in the mix.

An incredible body of work as a minor leaguer last year, and a decent major league debut in September.
Economizing his pitch counts remains a work in progress.
A likely innings pitched limit of 150.

A solid pair of years of work in 2012 and 2013, when he was an above-average starter.
A 2014 in which he surrendered 29 Home Runs in only 150 innings.
He will pitch in the Rogers Centre.

  It's hard to say at this point who has the upper hand, but it would appear to be Sanchez and Estrada.  Unless the bullpen picture remains cloudy, in which case Sanchez may make the move.  Steve Delabar may be a key figure in that scenario.  And, of course, there's Johan Sanata lurking somewhere in the wings.

   As far as minor league backup starting pitching is concerned, the picture is much less clear. The team traded two potential emergency starters in Kendall Graveman (who is making a strong bid for a spot in the A's rotation) and Sean Nolin (who is injured, again) in the Josh Donaldson deal.  The Buffalo pitching staff at this point appears to be staffed by veterans, led by Liam Hendriks, who was brilliant in AAA last year, but shaky in the majors.  Beyond that, it gets very thin.  Here are the options:

1.  Hendriks, largely by default.
2.  Scott Copeland - mostly an org guy to this point, Copeland was called up to Buffalo and pitched extremely well in four starts.  A groundball pitcher, Copeland needs a solid defence behind him.
3.  Andrew Albers - the North Battleford, SK, native pitched for the Twins in 2013, and spent last season in Korea.  Does not miss a lot of bats.
4.  Matt Boyd - A 2013 draftee, Boyd had little leverage as a college senior, and signed for $75 000, well below slot value, as the Blue Jays took advantage of newly implemented draft rules to sign middle rounders like Boyd relatively cheaply, and then used the savings to sign later picks whose stock had fallen (like Rowdy Tellez).  Boyd had an April/May/June stretch that was every bit the equal of Norris and Graveman, but a foot injury when he was promoted to AA, and bone chips late in the season kept him from reaching that stratosphere.  Boyd is a four-pitch pitcher who relies on command, and as a southpaw, is tough on left-handed hitters with his release point. Healthy now, Boyd is looking to pick up where he left off in June, and if Blue Jays fans were looking for one off-the-radar name that could leap up the ladder and pitch in the majors this year, it could be his.
5.  Roberto Osuna - the Blue Jays are making all the right noises about him being a part of the future, but at 20 months post-Tommy John surgery, Osuna still needs to have his pitches and innings closely monitored.  He has pitched well this spring, hitting 95 on the gun, and demonstrating that advanced feel for pitching that scouts have raved about since he was 17.  Osuna had some command issues when he returned to action in August of last year, but he appears to have mostly overcome them in his outings so far.  Osuna will be on the scene, but he can't be heavily counted upon as a major league starter for a bit.
6.  Miguel Castro - I've been adamant that the plan for Castro should be to send him to High A to further develop his secondary pitches while continuing to build up his innings and arm strength.  His performance in relief so far this spring is making it very difficult for management to stick with that plan.  There has been little talk of stretching him out, so the bullpen plan is looking more and more likely.  Which satisfies a short term need, but may set his eventual arrival in the rotation back.

  Should we talk about Ricky Romero?
The lefthander was not invited to major league camp after a disastrous 2014 season that was derailed by knee surgery in June.  Romero is owed $7.5 million for this season, and has an option for next year at nearly twice that, or the club can buy him out for $600 000.   To his credit, Romero has not used injuries as an excuse, but he clearly has not been healthy for the past several seasons, nor has he been able to make necessary adjustments and battle command issues that exacerbated his loss of fastball velocity. We all love a great comeback story, but it would be a Herculean feat for him to return to even a semblance of his 2011 form.
  There are some arms in the low minors, like Ryan Borucki, Matt Smoral, Jesus Tinoco, Jairo Labourt, Sean Reid-Foley, and even Alberto Tirado, who could make quantum leaps this year, but they can't be considered serious contenders for a rotation spot for at least another year.

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