2015 was a coming out party for Toronto Blue Jays RHP Sean Reid-Foley. Sent to Lansing to begin full-season play in only his second pro season, the 2014 2nd rounder fanned 90 Midwest League hitters in 63 innings, earning a promotion to Dunedin in the second half.
Last year, he was sent back to Lansing to work on commanding his fastball, and after another half season in Michigan he was on his way to Dunedin once again, having seemed to have conquered his control issues.
The knock against Reid-Foley, possessor of a mid 90s fastball and wipeout slider, was that he would lose his mechanics mid-game, driving up his pitch count because he was unable to make the necessary adjustments. Equipped with a new, simplified delivery, Reid-Foley missed a lot of bats in 2016, but more importantly was working deeper into games, and those comparisons to Jonathan Papelbon seemed to go away.
Sent to AA to begin this season, Reid-Foley has had his struggles against the more advanced hitters of the Eastern League, and has gone beyond the 3rd inning only once in his first five starts. The Blue Jays have been protective of his young arm (at 21, Reid-Foley is one the youngest players in the league), but his most recent start on April 29th against Binghamton was a microcosm of his season to date. Some mechanical issues, command problems, bad luck, and some plain old bad pitches have been behind his rough initiation to AA.
Reid-Foley was a victim of some misfortune in the 1st. After fanning the leadoff hitter with a swinging K, he was ahead 1-2 on the 2nd hitter, who then slapped a ball that was slicing away from SS Richard Urena into shallow Leftfield for a hit. Three pitches later, the next hitter lined a pitch that LF Harold Ramirez took a circuitous route on, and it bounced off the warning track and over the wall for a double. A sacrifice fly to RF Jonathan Davis brought in Binghamton's first run, but Reid-Foley retired the final batter of the inning on a pop up to Urena.
In the second inning, Reid-Foley gave up some soft and medium contact and found himself facing leadoff hitter Champ Stuart for the second time with runners on 1st and 2nd and two outs. Reid-Foley threw a pair of strikes to Stuart, but then threw four consecutive balls to load the bases. He regained his composure to induce what might have been an inning-ending groundball to the next batter, but 2B Tim Lopes booted the ball, allowing a run to score. After retiring the side on a grounder to Urena, Reid-Foley was already at 42 pitches on the night through only two innings.
In the third, he fell behind the leadoff hitter 3-1, and then gave up a longer Home Run to LF on a pitch that caught altogether too much of the strike zone. Reid-Foley walked the next hitter on 4 pitches, and had considerable trouble repeating his delivery through much of the inning - sometimes, he would appear to briefly pause mid-delivery, others he had obvious difficulty coming up with the right arm angle. He gave up three more hits in the inning, as three runs crossed the plate. A swinging K on his 29th pitch of the inning brought an end to both the frame and Reid-Foley's evening after only three innings and 71 pitches.
Cause for concern? Not really. Reid-Foley's numbers on the season would likely look a little better (5.65 ERA, .311 BAA, 2.04 WHIP) if he was given a bit of a longer leash, which will probably start to happen this month. At A ball, Reid-Foley could always rely on his four seamer up in the zone to put hitters away; AA hitters, if this start was any indication, are less inclined of offer at it. If there is a positive on the night, it's that his slider appeared to be working quite well, but its effectiveness was diminished by his inability to command both sides of the plate with his fastball. Some better quality pitches, more consistent mechanics, and some better defence behind him will help Reid-Foley iron out his issues as the season progresses. It certainly isn't time to dust off those Papelbon comps and consider a move to the bullpen; Reid-Foley still profiles as a #2 or #3 starter, but as this spring has shown, he's still young and has a lot to learn.