Blue Jays Signing of James Dykstra shows the Evolution of Talent Discovery

The Blue Jays made a minor league signing yesterday, inking pitcher James Dykstra. Now normally minor league signings don’t generate much buzz. The Blue Jays have already signed a couple players to minor league deals already including A.J. Cole. What makes Dykstra different is this:

This is a player who got his name out there by posting videos of himself on social media. A look through his twitter feed there are multiple videos like this one above highlighting his high end velocity.

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So what do we know about Dykstra? He was drafted three times, going in the 40th round to the Red Sox in 2009, the 50th round to the Rockies in 2010 and then in the sixth round to the White Sox in 2013. He was a senior sign by the White Sox signing for just $30,000. He spent four seasons in the White Sox organization where he established himself as a groundball pitcher (58.8% in 382.2 innings, per Fangraphs) and a strike thrower (single digit walk rates in each full season). However he was never considered a top prospect, despite recording FIP’s in the high twos, as he had a poor fastball. Baseball America ranked him as the 25th prospect in the White Sox system after the 2014 season noting his low walk rate and ability to keep the ball in the ball park. He didn’t have high velocity, sitting just 88-92 and he didn’t get many strikeouts as he lacked a “true plus pitch.” BA also noted that he needed to add a cutter or get more life on his fastball to be more than a “fringe starter.”

Dykstra spent the next two seasons in the Texas organization pitching to middling results and was out of affiliated baseball. He spent the 2019 season in Indy ball pitching in the Atlantic League, which is one of the best Indy ball leagues. That is the league where Rich Hill pitched and has plenty of former MLB talent in it. This is where he added that much needed life to his fastball.

In those clips he was hitting 99 with movement. His breaking balls looked sharp, though of course we are only seeing his best stuff here. I am not a pro scout by any means but those certainly look like big league pitches, now it’s just a matter if he can command and control those pitches consistently. When I saw Dykstra’s fastball I thought it looked to similar to what Texas reliever Emmanual Clause throws.

It might not be a perfect match, but a fastball that hard with that much movement can be successful in the big leagues. Dykstra profiles as a reliever, per Baseball-Reference he threw 58.2 innings in the Atlantic League with no starts last season, though he was a starter when he was in the minors. For the Blue Jays I would imagine he is competing for a spot in the bullpen. If he can still limit walks and keep the ball on the ground, with that stuff he could be a lights out late inning reliever.

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Whether Dykstra makes the team or not his story is a successful one and shows the changes in the scouting industry.

With social media it is easier than ever to get seen and “discovered.” This past August Nathan Patterson made headlines for hitting 96 mph on a stadium radar gun in Colorado, and then signing with the Athletics. Back in the day teams would hold open tryouts to try and find talent, now all you need is your phone and some basic video editing skills and you can get yourself seen by scouts all over the world. Pitching Ninja’s FlatGroundApp is the leader in that regard. They do a great job at highlighting and promoting players so that they can be seen by anyone from college coaches to professional scouts.

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Programs like Driveline have done wonders at improving players and as their methodologies become more and more popular we are going to see many more players like James Dykstra make substantial improvements. And in today’s age of social media it is easier than ever to get seen and display those improvements to anyone.