The Toronto Blue Jays have become well known for drafting and developing a certain type of pitcher since Alex Anthopoulos took over as GM in 2009, and overhauled the scouting department: tall, lean, and athletic.The Blue Jays are not married to that concept, and as Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna (although he's radically transformed his body since Tommy John surgery) have proven, they can scout outside of that box, but for every Stroman, there's an Aaron Sanchez and a Miguel Castro, and for every Osuna there's a Jeff Hoffman, Matt Smoral, and a Sean Reid-Foley.
The reasoning for scouring the hemisphere for this type of pitcher is understandable. The length allows them to develop a downward plane of their fastballs, which causes the hitter to have to change his focus during the ball's flight to home plate, creating a greater margin of error for a swing and miss, or weak contact. Tall pitchers (like Castro and Sanchez, especially) can create a bit of an optical illusion because of their extension that hitters call "late life"; hitters have a fraction of a second less to track Castro's fastball, so it appears to "jump" on them because the ball is on them sooner than they realize.
The lean body type allows the pitcher to have a lower-maintenance physique, which is less prone to injury, and more able to handle the wear and tear of a heavy workload. One of the few negative things scouts had to say about Osuna was his formerly chunky build. Medical science is still learning about the factors that precipitate torn ulnar collateral ligaments, but surely an untuned body has to be one. A heavier pitcher may not necessarily have the musculature to support that weight during the course of repeating a pitching motion thousands of times during a season.
The athleticism allows the pitcher to repeat his delivery consistently, and maintain a consistent arm slot for their deliveries, while maintaining a bit of deception for the hitters. At times, a prospect like Daniel Norris comes into the organization with mechanics that are not optimal, but their athletic ability allows them to learn a new way to throw the ball, as well as the confidence to see them through the inevitable setbacks they will encounter as a result. Athleticism also allows the pitcher to land in a good position to field any balls that come their way.
I had the opportunity, thanks to milb.tv, to watch Chase De Jong's start this week against Great Lakes. De Jong, taken in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, fits the bill for this prototypical Toronto type of pitcher, at 6'4", 205. Even though he's repeating the Midwest League, there's a great deal to be enthused about, given this start, and the one he threw the week before. Here's a scouting report from prior to his draft year:
A USC commit, DeJong sits in the high 80s, topping out in low 90s. With a lot of projection left in there, Dejong looks to throw much harder as he fills out his tall, lean frame. He already possesses a hard curve with bite and feel for a changeup and he looks to be a smart pitcher who pounds the strike zone. He works downhill well, getting over his front side, and has an easy arm, remaining very balanced throughout. While not an exceptional talent at the moment, DeJong is the kind of high school arm that could be a completely different pitcher in two years thanks to more physical development and experience in the minors. He isn't the flashiest high school prospect, but has some of the higher upside in the class and shows a good balance of present skills and projectability. He has the potential to be a solid starter, with the potential for three above average to plus pitches.The Blue Jays rolled the dice with De Jong, as they have with so many other picks in the Anthopoulos era. Because of his USC pledge, De Jong was considered a tough sign - his father is a medical doctor, and his mother is a M. Ed. holder and a middle school guidance counsellor, and some teams obviously felt that education would come first, causing him to drop from a likely sandwich round pick to the 81st overall. A $620 000 signing bonus offer helped to talk him out of his college commitment.
De Jong made his pro debut in 2012, and after a pair of promising campaigns in rookie ball, skipped Vancouver and was sent to Lansing for full season ball last year. And to put it mildly, he struggled. After a rough April, De Jong seemed to be putting things together in May, but scuffled for much of the rest of the season before being shut down in early August. Around the plate much of the time, De Jong gave up 113 hits in 97 innings, but walked only 22.
Understandably, the Blue Jays wanted De Jong to repeat Lansing this season. Since he barely tops 90 with his fastball and relies on his command, the organization has had him working on a two seamer to get some more movement on his fastball. His first start of the season showcased the new pitch, as he struck out 9 Lake County hitters before leaving after reaching his pitch count with two out in the 5th on Lansing's Opening Day.
The camera angle at Great Lakes provides an excellent view of the pitcher from center field, but isn't at a high enough angle to show movement. De Jong, as is his custom, was around the plate for much of his five inning stint. He had trouble commanding his curve at times, throwing it up in the zone. His four seamer also tended to float a bit up in the strike zone, but he owned the bottom half with his two seamer, and while he wasn't as dominant as he was in his first start, De Jong still was impressive, allowing a run on three hits, while walking one and striking out five.
De Jong has a smooth, easy delivery, and consistently repeats it. He lands in a good fielding position. Since he doesn't overpower, command and movement will be the keys to any hopes he has of advancing in the organization. While velocity and missing a lot of bats advances prospects faster, Mark Buehrle proves that there's a lot to be said for changing speeds, command, and guile.
I also got my first look at Catcher Danny Jansen, and while he's struggled with the bat like many of his young teammates have, I can understand the rave reviews he's earned for his skills behind the plate.
A big target at 6'2", 210 lbs, Jansen is an effective framer of pitches already, and that skill will only improve as he learns his Lansing pitching staff better. He is a good blocker of balls in the dirt, and is surprisingly agile for a kid his size. Jansen gets out to field choppers, bunts, and slow rollers very well. He handles pitchers well, and has been a contributor to De Jong's success, catching both of his starts so far. Jansen has yet to record his first MWL hit after 18 PA's, but he has hit everywhere he's played, so that may only be a matter of time. And four walks are included in that total, so he's showing some good strike zone judgement. Max Pentecost may reach the majors before Jansen, but there's a lot to like with this just-turned 20 year old.