Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Pitching Depth and Taylor Guerrieri Potentially as a Reliever

A sneaky-good move that the Blue Jays made early in the offsesason was claiming right-hander Taylor Guerrieri on waivers from the Rays. A former very highly regarded prospect — Baseball prospectus had him as baseball’s 48th best prospect heading into 2013 (MLB.com had him at 44, Keith Law had him at 47, and Baseball America had him at 62), and he appeared on their top 101 as recently as 2016, where he was 84th — he was squeezed off Tampa’s roster in November.

Here’s what I wrote about him at the time:

Taylor Guerrieri has yet to reach the big leagues, despite being taken 24th overall by the Rays in 2011. He pitched just 9.1 innings last season, missing most of the year after suffering an elbow injury in mid April. There’s good news in that, though: first, that he was quite good in two Triple-A starts he made, striking out 12 and walking just two, and second, that an April MRI revealed that he’d suffered no structural damage to the elbow, meaning that he didn’t go under the knife, he simply needed rest and rehab. Guerrieri has had Tommy John surgery though, back in 2013. He’s also once been suspended 50 games for a positive test for a drug of abuse. He’s certainly at times looked like a fairly unimpressive minor leaguer. In 2016, for example, he struck out just 89 batters in 146 innings in Double-A. But his 2015, split between High-A and Double-A, was pretty good. And maybe the lack of strikeouts matters less given the fact that he’s an extreme groundball pitcher.

. . .

Presumably the Jays think Guerrieri’s floor is decent enough for him to be able to help them in the big leagues if he’s called upon, and perhaps even that there’s a chance more might still be there, if he can stay healthy and rediscover some of the stuff he had before it backed up on him in 2016. Even if not, there are reports that maybe his stuff could play up in short, maximum effort bursts out of the bullpen, should all else fail. There’s potentially something here, in other words — though there’s certainly something to think about in the fact that the Rays, who know more about him and his arm than anybody, don’t seem to think so.

As you can read, at the time it sounded like moving him to the bullpen was a worst case kind of scenario. All winter I’ve mostly expected that he’ll be part of the rotation at Buffalo. However, an excellent profile on Tuesday from Arden Zwelling of Sportnet, makes it seem like the bullpen might not be quite that much of an afterthought.

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“Guerrieri’s been a starter since he first picked up a baseball,” Arden writes, “but when he met with the Blue Jays this winter the club asked him how he felt about the bullpen.”

It’s an interesting thought. And one that makes me wonder about just how the rotation at Buffalo is going to shape up — and what that in turn means for the Jays.

We know two names who will be at Buffalo already: Ryan Borucki and Thomas Pannone. And we know this — if we didn’t already by virtue of the fact that they’re both on the 40-man and were masterful in Double-A in 2017 — because Ross Atkins admitted as much during a recent chat with fans at a Pitch Talks event in Toronto (which you can see here via Periscope), saying rather unequivocally that they’re “both going to be in our Triple-A rotation, competing to be the next guy to come up.” (More on Atkins’ comments later! Though you can hear about some of them via a piece this week from John Lott of the Athletic, which was then also mentioned at MLBTR.)

Looking at the non-roster starters the Jays have invited to camp this spring, I think it’s pretty clear that Deck McGuire (back in the organization after a nice 2017 in the Reds org., including making his big league debut) will certainly be in Buffalo, as will Chris Rowley (who didn’t look great over three big league starts but was much better in the minors in 2017).

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The other non-roster starters heading to camp — Jon Harris, Sean Reid-Foley, Jordan Romano — seem much more clearly headed for (or back to) Double-A.

That leaves one spot in Buffalo. Guerrieri’s? Biagini’s? Clearly the Jays have some flexibility there.

And a whole hell of a lot of other options, too Albeit, not ones in the organization.

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In an excellent piece today at BP Toronto, Joshua Howsam goes deep under Biagini’s hood (heh) and finds that, despite a rough 2017 season, “there is still some hope for Biagini as a viable major league starter. His velocity rebounded with proper preparation and the problems that led to a dip in his offspeed stuff seem to be fixable.”

Josh doesn’t go as far as endorsing Biagini as the Jays’ fifth starter, but suggests that the results of his digging (which is fascinating — you should go read it) “tell us what level of pitcher actually is an upgrade by suggesting that Joe Biagini should be better than he was last year. If the best free agent the Jays can sign is a guy likely to post a high 4.00s ERA (rudimentary stat, but it helps here), they should probably use their resources elsewhere. If they can do better than that, they should. Thankfully, there are enough decent starters out there (Cobb, Lynn, Cahill, Tillman, J. Garcia, B. Anderson, even Jason Vargas) that this shouldn’t be a problem.”

During the same Pitch Talks event mentioned earlier, Ross Atkins admitted that “in the last two weeks we’ve talked at very steady levels with ten plus pitching options for our team. We feel that there’s more people to sit in the chairs that exist at this point, so we feel we’re in a decent position.”

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Some of those options might be relievers, but as Josh says, there are still plenty of options available to bump Biagini out of the fifth spot in the Jays rotation. If that happens, Guerrieri might end up on the outside of Buffalo’s rotation looking in. Could he be looking there from the Blue Jays’ bullpen, though? It’s possible. Or maybe Biagini will return to the role that he handled so well in 2016 — and with Dominic Leone now in St. Louis, maybe that makes a whole lot of sense. Maybe, in fact, it’s part of the reason why Leone was deemed expendable.

Could be a story to watch this spring, at the very, very least. Especially if Guerrieri shows something. Pitching depth, in fact, could genuinely be a real strong point for this team, just a year after it was such a big part of its undoing. “Our Triple-A roster is one of the better rosters in baseball,” said Atkins.

It will look quite a bit better, even, with a couple more legitimate pieces on the big league roster. I don’t even need a Darvish or an Arrieta — unbelievably nice as that would be. Cobb? Lynn? That’ll do. Let’s fuckin’ do this already!

  • Steve-O

    Sign Cobb or Lynn. (I prefer Cobb but whatever.) Also go get one more proven* reliever.

    *Yeah, I know, fungible, but still! I’d like Biagini and Guerrieri to get as much of an opportunity to become starters as possible.

    I’d be very fine #itsfine with Borucki, Pannone, McGuire, Rowley, Biagini and Guerrieri all pushed to AAA to start the season. Pitchers get hurt, or struggle. This will (probably) sort itself out by the time the season actually starts. The more arms the better, and I really don’t see any downside to having the Bisons roll with a 6-man rotation for a bit – or have one of those guys act as a swingman in AAA to start the season.

    Just… sign a SP, at least. Please?