The Jays are still out there searching for their next Dominic Leone, and maybe it will come in the form of Al Alburquerque or Rhiner Cruz — both of whom have now officially signed minor league deals with invites to camp next month in Dunedin. To wit:
— Blue Jays PR (@BlueJaysPR) January 25, 2018
I, uh… I don’t think it’s a particularly good bet that either of these guys turn into anything like Leone, who was recently moved to St. Louis in the Randal Grichuk trade, but it wasn’t a great bet that Leone did either, so… y’know… who knows, right?
To remind: Leone was a waiver pickup last winter who’d pitched to a 6.33 ERA and 6.26 FIP over 25 appearances with the Diamondbacks in 2016. He struck out 23 over 27 innings, walking 12, producing a -0.4 WAR per Fangraphs. He had been a negative WAR pitcher the year before — with an 8.40 ERA over 15 innings, propelled by nine walks and just nine strikeouts. After a very tidy 2014 in he’d hit the skids and lost velocity, but the Jays took a chance, the velo bounced back, and it worked out extremely well for them.
Now, obviously that’s a hell of a best case scenario and we shouldn’t at all expect similar things from these guys, but the more important point is that, with them being signed to minor league deals, it’s all upside here.
I wrote about Alburquerque last week, noting that he saw a nice uptick in velocity of his own in 2017, his ability to keep the ball in the park, and this tweet from Keegan that maybe suggests good things for the former Tiger’s ability against right-handers in particular:
Alburquerque, if healthy and within a foot of the strike zone, is a legitimate weapon vs. RHH.
Between MLB / AAA in 2017:
138 PA – 3 XBH, 11 BB, 34 K
.185 / .250 / .218 (.468 OPS)
Similarly strong splits vs. RHH throughout his career. #BlueJays
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) January 18, 2018
And as for Rhiner Cruz — a name I assure you I hadn’t ever heard until today — a quick scan of his Fangraphs page turned up this:
Cruz, 31, had 63 Ks in 50.2 IP for AAA Gwinett last year. Didn’t pitch in 2015, handful of innings in Mexico in 2016. Was a regular in the 2012 Astros’ ‘pen but that’s his only full MLB year. Taking a flier on a guy for Buffalo. https://t.co/looJ61qB9L
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) January 25, 2018
Those are some pretty nice Triple-A numbers last year, and he was regarded highly enough to be taken first overall in the Rule Five draft in 2011, which led to that full big league year in Houston. Back then the right-hander was averaging 95-96 on his fastball, working with a slider and occasionally a changeup. Whether he looks remotely like that now, or how much has changed… well… that probably requires more research into Rhiner Cruz than I think is justified at this point. But maybe there’s something there.
The mantra you hear so often is that relievers are volatile, which obviously means good can quickly turn to bad, but there’s another side to that coin. Bad can sometimes just as easily — or at least almost as easily — turn to good. I don’t think it works quite as often that way, but adding pieces that at least look like there’s a chance that they might on contracts that don’t matter at all? Sure.