Thursday, August 17, 2017

Maverik Aims to be Blue Jays Top Gun

Provo Daily Herald photo
“Time to get to work and prove some people wrong,” Buffo said. “The biggest thing I’ve been looking for more than the money is to be with a team that makes an investment in me and will give me the chance to prove myself.”    

   One of the first things we should get out of the way in regards to Toronto Blue Jays prospect Maverik Buffo is that yes, he was named after Tom Cruise's character from the movie Top Gun.  The 34th round pick from Brigham Young, who is currently dominating the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, says he has been heckled many times over the course of his baseball life with plenty of lines from the movie. "People ask me all the time, 'Hey Maverik, where's Goose?'"
  Buffo adds that he will be getting a dog this offseason, and (you guessed it) will name it after Cruise's sidekick.
  Utah native Buffo had become BYU's 2nd starter in his sophomore year, and seemed primed to go in the top 10 rounds of the draft following his junior year until he suffered a torn UCL.  Rest and rehab is the usual route for UCL tears, often followed by Tommy John surgery if the regimen was not successful.  Buffo opted to try a relatively new therapy:
 For my rehab, I got a stem cell injection as well as a PRP injection and then I began rehabbing with my trainer at BYU throughout the rest of that season and then all through off season and then I was cleared 100% before fall had started. That's when I started throwing in scrimmages and in fall games and then I have felt great ever since. 
  The PRP (Platelet-Rich Therapy) treatment was the course of action the Blue Jays went with Roberto Osuna when he tore his UCL in 2014, but it was ultimately unsuccessful, and its results across baseball have been mixed at best.  Stem cell treatment is used in more severe tears.
   Buffo returned to BYU's rotation this year, but his numbers were less than spectacular.  Still, his velocity had returned to the 92-93 range, hitting 95 on occasion.  But those stats, along with some concerns about his elbow, caused his draft stock to tumble.  According to the Provo (UT) Daily Herald, Buffo thought at one point during the draft that he might be going to the Yankees in the 18th or 19th round, or to the Diamondbacks later, but by Day Three he was still waiting for his name to be called, until the Blue Jays finally selected him:
“It’s hard to sit there and watch and get calls from different teams who tell you that they want to draft you and when your name doesn’t get called ... it’s pretty stressful. But then when I heard my name called, I felt a pit in my stomach and thought, ‘You just got drafted.’”
  Buffo could have gone back to Brigham Young for his senior year in order to improve his draft stock, but he was ready to turn pro:
 Playing professional baseball has been my dream for as long as I can remember. And it is something that I have worked so hard for. To me I felt that I was ready for the next chapter in my life and that I was ready to pursue my dream. I loved everything about BYU they played a major role in getting me where I am today but I just felt the time was right for me to continue to chase that dream. I felt I got everything i could possibly learn and wanted to continue to get better at the next level. 
   After the post-draft orientation in Florida, Buffo remained at the minor league complex to pitch for the GCL Jays, likely because the team wanted to keep an eye on him for medical reasons, and possibly because the team has a good stockpile of Pitchers at Bluefield and Vancouver, the other two short season clubs in the system.  He has dominated GCL hitters through 24 innings, including 4 starts.  He's a few innings short of qualifying for the league's lead with his microscopic 0.37  ERA, but his 43.1% swinging strike rate is second only to teammate Justin Watts'.
  Buffo's arsenal has been described as a five-pitch mix, but like so many successful Pitchers, everything is dictated by the Fastball:
I go after hitters very aggressively. I want to attack them with my fastball. I want to challenge them, my best vs their best. That's what is so fun about this game. I look at the way these hitters react to the previous pitch whether it may be how their body reacted or how their swing was to determine what I am gonna throw next. But for the most part I love to challenge them with my fastball and make them get themselves out. With my breaking ball, it depends on the count but I try to think fastball with it. I try to think fastball with all my off speed pitches because I want everything to look the same. 
  Florida-based Pro and Amateur Scout (and good friend of this blog) Chris King has seen Buffo in action several times in the GCL and has come away impressed:
He's been 92-95 with good movement. Throws strikes and likes to work down in the zone. Has a sharp breaking ball that has tight shape and horizontal break. Very durable frame as well. Mechanics are simple and repeatable.
  A 34th round pick could largely be seen as a roster filler.  Many MLB teams, however, are taking chances on Pitchers on Day 3.  Sometimes there is something in their profile that stands out (like spin rates) that makes a team take a gamble on them - get them in the system, and put them on a weighted ball or some other program to increase velocity, and see what happens. At $50 000, Buffo's signing bonus was higher than that of most players in his draft neighbourhood, but in the larger scheme of things is pretty minimal to an MLB team.  In Buffo's case, Blue Jays Area Scout Pete Holmes went on his past performance and his make up to convince the club to take him.

   With Vancouver and Bluefield both gearing up for playoff runs (the former has already clinched a post-season berth; the latter is tied for their division lead), there might be a promotion in the offing for Buffo.  Or they might opt to limit his innings (he threw 88 in college, in addition to the two dozen he's thrown as a pro) as the season winds down.  Either way, there's an excellent chance he skips a couple of levels and lands in Lansing next year.

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