|Kyle Castle/Lansing Lugnuts/MiLB photo|
Last month, the Blue Jays had some 40-man roster decisions to make in advance of this month's Rule 5 draft.
Specifically, they had to decide which of three pitchers who have not competed above A ball, but might make attractive bullpen options at the MLB level, to protect.
This could not have been an easy decision. The trio included:
-Francisco Rios, a 2012 free agent signing from Mexico, began 2016 with Lansing, but after a month of dominating Midwest League hitters, was promoted to Dunedin;
-LHP Angel Perdomo, a 6"6" 2011 late IFA signing from the Dominican, who led the MWL in strikeouts this year, averaging just over 11K/9;
-Southpaw Ryan Borucki, a 2012 15th round pick who has had trouble staying healthy, and just finished his first full season with the organization.
This could not have been an easy decision. Rios and Borucki rely on command and secondary pitches, while Perdomo's main weapon is his 95 mph fastball - Fangraphs' Chris Mitchell suggests that some MLB team may try to stash him in their bullpen as a 3rd lefty/longman. Ultimately, they chose Borucki, whose grit, advanced feel for pitching, and command of his whole repertoire of pitches led the Blue Jays to believe both that he was a better long-term prospect, and that he might be too tempting an arm to pass through the draft.
Borucki was considered one of the top prep lefties in Illinois in his draft year, until a torn UCL caused his stock to fall. The Blue Jays were not put off by his medicals, and took him in the 15th round, signing him for 3rd round money (Borucki had committed to Iowa). Borucki tried to continue to rehabilitate his elbow, but was shut down that year after only four outings with Rookie-Level Bluefield. He ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery the following spring, wiping out his 2013 season.
Borucki came back with a vengeance in 2014, pitching at both Bluefield (where he was named the Appalachian League's 12th best prospect, despite only pitching a month there) and Vancouver. Baseball America was high on him:
He projects for at least average control with a chance to be plus. His delivery has improved significantly, and he throws with significantly less effort from his loose, quick arm, while working over the ball more and not leaking with his hips. Borucki's fastball was 90-94 early in the season and sat 88-92, touching 94 later in the season. He relies on his two-seamer that has at least average sink and arm-side run. Borucki demonstrates advanced feel for a changeup with plus potential. His curveball is a below-average to fringe-average offering, and Borucki could begin throwing a slider this offseason. He has a starter's build at a lanky 6-foot-4 with a high waist and significant projection remaining.The brakes were applied to his development again in 2015, however, when shoulder, elbow, and back issues limited his season to 6 innings. Borucki was ticketed for Lansing this season, but was held back in Dunedin for April while the weather in the Midwest warmed up, and to be close to the Blue Jays medical facilities. Pitching against the more advanced FSL hitters, Borucki was still shaking off the rust from a year's inactivity off, giving up 40 hits in 20 innings. His career seemed to be in jeopardy when he finally reached Lansing in mid-May.
His turnaround could not have been more sudden or dramatic.
In his MWL debut, Borucki gave up only one earned run in 5 innings. Two starts later, he threw 6 scoreless frames, and in June, threw a pair of back-to-back games that were easily the best of his career: an 8 inning, 5-hit/1ER, 0BB, 8K effort, followed by 7 innings of 4-hit, shutout ball, with 6 strikeouts and (again) no walks. Here's his 6th K from that 2nd start:
Borucki finished 2nd in the league in ERA, 4th in WHIP, and fanned almost a batter an inning while tossing a career-high 115 frames. His August 8th start gave some insight into why the Blue Jays ultimately decided to protect him on the 40-man.
Borucki struggled slightly with his fastball command in the 1st inning of this start against West Michigan, but received a nice 5-4-3 double play after issuing a one out walk to finish his 11-pitch inning. In the 2nd, he began to use his change up, which has excellent depth to it. That pitch may prove one day to be the most effective in his arsenal, and may already be the best in the organization outside of Marco Estrada. After falling behind 2-0 to the leadoff hitter, he fanned that man on a full-count change, then got ahead of the next two hitters, allowing him to use his secondaries to get a 6-3 groundout and a called 3rd strike to end an inning in which he threw 15 pitches.
Borucki gave up his only solid contact on the day, a 1-out single, in the 3rd, and began to spot his fastball and slider more effectively after giving up a walk following that base hit. His concentration wavered a bit with runners on 1st and 2nd, giving up a double steal after failing to look back at the runner on 2nd who had taken a big walking lead the previous pitch. He needed 18 pitches to retire the side in the 3rd. He did not show a great move to first in this outing, and may have to work more at holding runners closer.
The 4th inning saw Borcuki really settle into a groove, retiring the side in order on 9 pitches with a pair of Ks, and 4 whiffs. His fastball sat at 92, and he had improved command of his slider to LHH, and his change to RHH. He was able to locate the ball seemingly at will, setting up hitters by locating to either side of the plate.
The only blemish on Borcuki's 5th inning of work was a two-out, four-pitch walk, with CF Lane Thomas making a sliding catch on a sinking liner to finish the inning. At 67 pitches, Borucki, whose pitch count had been reduced as he blew by his previous career innings high, was finished for the night. He threw 44 strikes, gave up only one hit, while walking three and fanning five. He recorded five outs via groundballs, and two by flyouts. He threw 12 first-pitch strikes to 18 of the hitters he faced, and recorded 9 swings-and-misses on the night. Working from the first base side of the rubber, Borucki's arm angle makes him extremely tough on left-handed hitters, while his change keeps the righties off balance.
Borucki is a student of the game, and watches his teammates' bullpen sessions between starts. His delivery has undergone considerable change over the past year. When he arrived at Lansing, he worked with Lugnuts' pitching coach Jeff Ware and minor league instructor Sal Fasano at adding more deception to his delivery - the thinking was that hitters in the Florida State League were getting too good a look at his pitches. Borucki learned his change from his father, who pitched in the Phillies organization. Dad wouldn't allow him to throw a curve until his senior year of high school, so Borucki learned to change speeds and master one of the more difficult pitches to throw. When his fastball or slider location is off, he always seems to have command of that change.
At 22, there is little projection remaining for Borucki, but we've seen so little of him that it's hard to get a true handle on his ceiling just yet. Of the trio, he probably projects the highest in terms on long-term potential as a starter. He has a solid pitcher's frame, is athletic, and gets a good downward plane on his pitches. He has a four-pitch mix that can turn a lineup over. If he can stay healthy, he can begin to move quickly through the system, now that his option clock will start ticking next year.