Blue Jays Minor League Report: A reliever at each level to keep an eye on

Photo credit:© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
11 months ago
This Minor League Recap will look at a reliever from each level that has caught my eye.
Some of these guys you may be familiar with, others may not be household names, but have interesting stuff.
Let’s dig right in with Triple-A.

Triple-A, Jackson Rees:

The 28-year-old right-handed reliever has had an interesting season on paper. The 6.35 ERA isn’t great, but the 4.27 FIP is an encouraging sign. He currently has the highest K% in the Triple-A bullpen at 31.5%, but has struggled with walks as his BB% sits at 18.5%.
Like many relievers with one bad outing early in the season, those numbers take forever to come down. In his second outing on April 7th, he allowed six earned runs in just a third of an inning pitched. Over his next two outings on the 11th of April and the 14th of april, he also allowed two earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched.
However, since April 20th, he has posted a 0 ERA and a 3.34 FIP in 7.1 innings pitched, accumulating 11 strikeouts while facing 31 batters. Over those last seven games, he has a 35.5 K%, but an elevated 22.6 BB%. The good news is that batters are batting .083 against him though.
If he can drop the walk rate down, Rees may have the opportunity to pitch out of the Jays pen at some point or another.

Double-A, Hagen Danner:

The 24-year-old catcher turned reliever has been nails in his 4.2 innings pitched with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2023. Over the stretch of four games, he hasn’t allowed a run, while his FIP is a sparkling 0.76.
Moreover, he has struck out 46.7% of the batters he has faced, while only walking 6.7% of batters for a 40 K-BB%. Looking at that number alone, that would be the second highest in the organization behind the reliever we’ll look at in the High-A section.
Danner’s rehab assignment in Single-A wasn’t as great, as he pitched two innings giving up an earned run and walking two. Overall, he had a 55.6 K% and a 22.2 BB% with the Dunedin Blue Jays, but only struggled in one of those games. With that being said, his past five outings have been great, and hopefully he can build on it.
Danner throws his fastball in the high 90s, but also has a sharp, downward slider that resides in the mid-to-high 80s. Add in a looping curveball with plenty of drop, and you have a high-leverage reliever with a great pitch mix.

High-A, Connor Cooke:

Connor Cooke could be the best prospect in the farm system you may have never heard of.
So far in 2023, the 23-year-old righty has a 2.89 ERa anda 2.16 FIP in 9.1 innings pitched. What’s more impressive is his insane 48.7 K%, with a 7.7 BB%. Overall, his 41 K-BB% ranks as the best in the Blue Jays organization.
How does he do it? Well, Cooke throws a high-90s fastball that has touched 100 mph. Somehow, that isn’t his best pitch though.
Anytime you have a breaking pitch with a spin rate nearing 3000 RPM, you’re doing something right. Cooke’s slider clocks in around the mid-80s, but the spin on the pitch gives it a frisbee shape which yeah, big league hitters even have trouble hitting it. Below is Giancarlo Stanton whiffing on the slider.
That specific pitch also had 35 inches of vertical drop, but also an insane 14 inches of horizontal break. Connor Cooke has a chance to become an elite reliever.

Single-A Lazaro Estrada:

Lazaro Estrada is a 24-year-old Cuban-born pitcher with an absolutely disgusting curveball. Not only does the breaking ball have a spin rate of 3000 RPM, he actually exceeded it by quite a bit (last season).
The average spin rate is down a bit this season, but in 2022, his curveball averaged 3263 RPM, which is just mind-boggling. In fact, there was only eight times a pitcher in the big leagues since 2016 who had a higher spin rate on the curveball.
Interestingly, his curveball has dropped significantly in spin rate since last season (down to around 2750 RPM), but his velocity has increased by about five mph. 
Furthermore, the spin rate on his fastball averages 2429 RPM, which is a fantastic number for the fastball. It has reached as high as 2600 RPM, and has had a max velocity of 96 mph.
Looking through the games he’s pitched with Baseball Savant, there appears to be a clear development plan for Estrada to use his fastball more often in 2023. With that being said, his curveball is his best pitch, but owning a mid-90s fastball with a spin rate above 2400 RPM is pretty darn good.
Statistically, Estrada has a 3.52 ERA and a 2.60 ERA in the 15.1 innings pitched with the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays. Interestingly, that’s the number of innings he pitched in 2022, so we have a direct comparison.
The 24-year-old had a 2.93 ERA and a 2.15 FIP at thie same nning marker last season, meaning he has seen an increase in those stats. However, similar to Rees, one bad inning, namely his first inning where he gave up three earned runs in 1.1 innings pitched, is why the ERA is as high as it is. Since that one game, he has a 1.93 ERA and a 2.90 FIP.
Estrada has a 32.3 K% in 2023, which is down from the 37.5 K% he had in 2022. However, his BB% is 6.2% this season, which is down from 7.8% in 2022. Estrada’s 26.2 K-BB% ranks 13th in the organization.
It’s likely that the 24-year-old will get an opportunity to pitch in Vancouver at some point this season, perhaps even in New Hampshire.
With all this being said, a good fastball and an elite curveball are a great mix for a high-leverage reliever.

What to expect from these players:

Relievers never stop developing. There are plenty of relievers that figured it out when they were in their 30s. That’s why a guy like Jackson Rees can still be considered a prospect. I didn’t dive too much into what he offers, but his slider is fantastic, and could give him an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.
We also looked at two pitchers with high-90s fastball. One has a great slider that averages in the mid-to-high 80s (Danner), while Cooke’s slider has insane spin rate. Danner is already on the 40-man roster, meaning that if he continues to pitch well in Double-A, he may be fast tracked to Triple-A, and then who knows. Cooke, on the other hand, may reach as high as Double-A in 2023.
Estrada is a little bit old for the Single-A level, but it’s my assumption that he’s there to work on development. As soon as the Jays feel comfortable with whatever he’s working on, he could be fast tracked in the minor league system, as the stuff is fantastic.
With all that being said, these four relievers have great stuff, and they could impact a major league roster sooner rather than later.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D.


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