Handing out end of season award to Blue Jays’ minor league pitchers
3 months ago
At the end of September, Blue Jays Nation covered awards for the Blue Jays minor league position players. In this article, we’ll be looking at the awards for pitchers!
Like in the last article, we’ll be focusing on individual pitch types (Fastball, Curveball, Slider and Changeup), as well as looking at command, as well the pitcher with the highest K%.
Like in the last award article (which you can read here), I’ll also be giving awards for the most improved pitcher and the best overall pitcher.
Best Fastball Awards: Yosver Zulueta
Anytime you throw 100 mph, there’s a good chance you’re in contention for this award. When looking at pitchers in the Blue Jays organization, there aren’t a lot of guys sitting in the upper 90s or even touching 100 mph regularly.
However, the 24-year-old Cuban did it on the regular as a starter. Not just that, but the fastball has life, which screws with the batter even more.
In his first real professional season Stateside, the righty had a 3.72 ERA across four levels, with a 12.9 BB% and a 33.87 K% in 55.2 innings pitched. As he rose up the developmental ladder, walks became more of an issue and his ERA and FIP climbed, but this is to be expected as he hasn’t really pitched since 2019.
Zulueta will be Rule 5 eligible at the end of the season, and it’s a good bet that he’ll be added to the 40-man. If we see him make the big league team at the start of next season, it’ll likely be out of the bullpen. However, I believe Zulueta has the off-speed stuff to be a pretty darn good starter in the big leagues.
Hayden Juenger: The 2021 6th rounder sits mid-90s, and touched 97-98 with a ton of movement.
Ricky Tiedemann: The 2021 3rd rounder sits mid-90s, and has touched even higher.
Best Curveball: Lazaro Estrada:
I mentioned Estrada in the pitcher edition of the Rule 5 series. The 23-year-old’s average spin rate on his curveball sat at 3263 RPM in 2022, peaking at 3427 RPM. This is an absolutely bonkers number that’s hard to put into words.
Sitting at an average velocity of 75 mph, the curveball has a wicked break to it and is Estrada’s out pitch. His fastball averages 92.8 mph and has touched 95.6 mph, and he also features a hard slider.
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The 23-year-old posted a 2.93 ERA and 2.15 FIP in 15.1 innings pitched with the Dunedin Blue Jays in Low A. He had a 37.5 K% and a 7.8 BB%, starting five of the six games he appeared in (the relief appearance was starting a delayed game).
Lazaro Estrada doesn’t rank on Blue Jays Nation’s Top 60 prospect list… but that will likely change in the off-season. With a move to the bullpen, Estrada’s velocity will presumably increase, and he’d skyrocket up the minor league ladder.
Chad Dallas: Gets a sharp break, fooling batters. Paired with his slider, his off-speed stuff is very tough to hit.
Bowden Francis: Since moving to the bullpen, Francis’ curve has developed as an out pitch.
Best Slider: Dahian Santos
Like with Estrada’s curveball, we’ll be looking at primarily RPM (spin rate) to determine the award for the best slider. Of course, it’s going to the 19-year-old righty, Dahian Santos.
Dahian’s peak RPM on his slider came in an early May game with the Dunedin Blue Jays. It hit 2983 RPM, but also had an RPM over 2900 four other times on the award-winning pitch. Although I don’t have an exact number, the slider itself averages anywhere from 2700 RPM to 2900 RPM.
Not just that, but it’s a hard slider, sitting between 82-84 mph. It’s by far his best pitch, but Santos also features a changeup and a fastball, with the latter sitting 91-93 mph.
Although he was overshadowed by Ricky Tiedemann’s rapid ascension, Santos is another young pitcher that you should keep an eye on, because the kid is legit.
With the Dunedin Blue Jays, he had a 3.44 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 73.1 innings pitched. The 19-year-old had a fantastic 39.3 K% and an elevated 11.5 BB% with the Low A team.
Upon his promotion to the Vancouver Canadians, he struggled allowing 11 runs in just 3.2 innings pitched, but dialed in for his last two starts. There he pitched nine innings with a 4 ERA and a 2.33 FIP, along with a fantastic 44.7 K% and 7.9 BB%.
By the time the 2023 season starts, the righty will be 20. Hopefully, he can build off these last two games.
Chad Dallas: More of a cutter, it has a sharp break and is by far his best pitch.
Best Changeup: Adrian Hernandez:
His changeup is so good, that it’s essentially been reclassified as a “screwball”, a pitch that really isn’t used in the MLB anymore.
In fact, Baseball Savant literally considers it a screwball. The pitch sits in the low 80s, usually around 81-83 mph, and averaged a spin rate of 2100-2300 RPM. The highest tracked spin rate in his two games in Dunedin sat at 2451 RPM.
The downward movement on the pitch just makes it so difficult to hit.
Pitching mainly with the Triple A Buffalo Bisons in 2022, Hernandez posted a 4.96 ERA and 4.76 FIP in 32.2 innings pitched. He had a 32.1 K% with the Bisons, but an elevated 11.7 BB% as well. He also struggled with the long ball, allowing six homers, and 21.4% of fly balls went out for home runs.
He had a fantastic start to his season, but a shoulder injury kept him off the Triple A team until August 17th. After returning, he posted a 9.95 ERA and 6.19 FIP, along with a 26.2 K% and 14.8 BB% in 12.2 innings pitched.
The 22-year-old righty ranked as Blue Jays Nation’s 20.5 best Blue Jays prospect (it’s a whole thing). He’ll be Rule 5 eligible come December, so the Jays will have to add him to the 40-man, or risk losing him.
Hayden Juenger: The 22-year-old righty made me appreciate the change so much more. It has a nasty arm side fade which generates a ton of whiff. Interestingly, most prospect sites rank it as his third-best pitch.
Alejandro Melean: I’ve been told that Melean has one of the best changeups, if not the best changeup in the Blue Jays organization. He now ranks as the 30th best Jays prospect per MLB Pipeline.
Trent Palmer: The changeup is Palmer’s bread and butter, as he’s able to use it all over the strike zone.
Best Splitter: Luis Quinones:
I nearly forgot about including the splitter, but it needs mention! The best splitter in the organization belongs to 25-year-old righty Luis Quinones. He may be one of the few that actually throws the splitter (Naswell Paulino also throws one).
However, just because he may be one of the few to throw it, doesn’t mean that it’s not a legit pitch (spoiler alert, it is). Quinones got a ton of whiffs on the splitter, as it has late horizontal movement.
Baseball Savant had trouble detecting what time of pitch it was, as it had a low spin rate in the only game which had data. It sat between 79-81 mph with a spin rate between 506-810 RPM (a good thing for a splitter). Not just that, but the pitch had between 31-43 inches of downward break.
With the Double A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the 25-year-old posted a 5.45 ERA and 4.50 FIP in 71 innings pitched. He had a 29 K% and 15.9 BB%. He has the stuff and solid velocity, the next step for Quinones is to avoid the big inning, which also explains the elevated BB%.
Quinones ranked as Blue Jays Nation’s 38th best Blue Jays prospect and will be Rule 5 eligible at the end of the season.
Naswell Paulino: The only other prospect with a splitter that comes to mind, the lefty picked it up midway through the season, and it only got better. Expect it to become an often used pitch in the 2023 season.
Best Command: Nick Fraze:
Anytime I do a prospect list, the 24-year-old righty is always on the bubble. This isn’t to say that he isn’t a solid prospect to keep an eye on though.
Fraze throws a four-seamer and a two-seamer, both sitting in the low 90s. His slider is his best pitch, while he also features an average changeup.
Statistically, Fraze is one of the better prospects at avoiding the walk, as he has a 3.6 BB% in 2022. Next to Casey Lawrence (who is not a prospect), that is the lowest BB% in the entire organization.
The 24-year-old posted a 4.85 ERA and a 4.09 FIP in 59.1 innings pitched before injury cut his season short. He also had a 21.3 K% with the Fisher Cats this season.
Fraze really stood out to me in the 2021 season with the Canadians, where he posted a 2.14 ERA and 4.19 FIP in 42 innings pitched. There he had a 28.4 K% and 6.2 BB%. If he can post those stats next season, he could easily find his way on prospect lists.
Brandon Eisert: Posted a 6 BB%. Doesn’t throw hard, but has plus pitches (fastball, changeup, slider). Deception helps play up his stuff from the left side.
Matt Svanson: Posted a 6.6 BB% between Low A and High A. 13th rounder in 2021, he’s an interesting righty to watch.
Thomas Hatch: A borderline prospect at this point, he had a 6.8 BB% with the Bisons this season, mainly as a starter. He too could’ve been considered as a nominee for the top changeup.
Best Strikeout Artist: Jimmy Burnette:
The Jays have a lefty reliever who throws heat, and his name is Jimmy Burnette. Selected in the 18th round of the 2021 draft, the 23-year-old lefty sits in the mid-90s and has touched 97 mph with the heater.
According to this MiLB article, Burnette threw five pitches prior to being drafted, the fastball, a curveball, a slider, a changeup, and a cutter,.
This season, Burnette finished with a combined 37.6 K% between High A and Double A, the highest by a Jays prospect not named Nick Frasso, Dahian Santos, or the best overall pitcher (who we’ll get too).
In High A, he had a 3.79 ERA and a 3.56 FIP in 19 innings pitched, all as a reliever. Burnette had a 44.7 K%, but an elevated 12.9 BB%.
In Double A, he had a 4.58 ERA and a 3.36 FIP in 37.1 innings pitched. There he had a 33.9 K% and a 15.2 BB%. However, two of his 25 walks were intentional walks, so his BB% sits closer to 13.94%.
The next step is for Burnette to eliminate the walks, but he has a real chance of becoming an important lefty reliever for the Blue Jays.
Cooper Benson: Another 2021 draftee, Benson finished with a 37 K% with mainly the Dunedin Blue Jays. Keep an eye on this guy.
Trenton Wallace: Guess what? A 2021 draftee. Wallace had an 11-strikeout game with the Vancouver Canadians, tying the C’s lead for the team with…
Breakout Pitcher of the Year award: Jimmy Robbins
Prior to 2022, the 24-year-old lefty hadn’t pitched in a game since 2019 due to the COVID season and Tommy John surgery. Furthermore, he only pitched 19 innings in ‘19, where he was drafted in the 20th round.
Robbins started his season with the Dunedin Blue Jays, posting a 1.56 ERA and 2.77 FIP in 17.1 innings. He had a 35.6 K%, but an elevated 12.3 BB% with the D-Jays.
He was promoted to High A Vancouver, where he posted a 3.82 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 35.1 innings pitched. Robbins has a 29.7 K% and an 11 BB% in his time with the only minor league team in Canada.
Towards the end of the season, he was promoted to Double A New Hampshire where you guessed it, he did well. In 23.2 innings pitched with the Fisher Cats, he posted a 1.52 ERA and 3.33 FIP. Interestingly, his BB% dropped to 6.2%, while his K% stayed relatively the same at 26.8%.
The lefty has a four-pitch mix, a four-seamer, a changeup, a slider, and a cutter. His fastball averages 91-93 mph, but reached 95 mph in the spring (plus his deception helps play it up).
From Tommy John to becoming the breakout pitcher of the season for the Jays, Robbins left his mark in his first full professional season.
He ranks as Blue Jays Nation’s 36th best Blue Jays prospect. Robbins will be Rule 5 eligible at the end of the season, and somehow I forgot to include him in the pitcher edition of the Rule 5 draft articles I’ve done recently.
Lazaro Estrada: Missed a bunch of time prior to this season, but he’s definitely on my radar now. Solely for his curveball RPM and fastball velocity, he is a nominee.
Dahian Santos: Another guy who exceeded my expectations, Santos has become an intriguing pitching prospect with impressive stuff and solid results.
The next guy coming up:….
Best Overall Pitcher: Ricky Tiedemann
It was pretty obvious, wasn’t it? Realistically, he could’ve also been placed in the Breakout Pitcher of the Year award, but one award per player is the rule.
Do you know where Tiedemann originally ranked on my Preseason Top 20 list? He didn’t. Yeah, he nearly missed out if not for some trades.
I didn’t make the same mistake when re-ranking my top prospects list in the mid-season, as he ranked as Blue Jays Nation’s best Blue Jay prospect.
He pitched 30 innings with the Dunedin Blue Jays, where he posted a 1.80 ERA and 2.09 FIP. The then 19-year-old lefty had a 44.5 K% and 11.8 BB%, quickly gaining some helium in the Jays’ organization.
Tiedemann was promoted to Vancouver, posting a 2.39 ERA and 2.92 ERA in 37.2 innings pitched. He had a fantastic 36 K%, while his BB% dropped to 8%. What’s more is that Tiedemann dominated in his first five High A games, posting a 0.38 ERA and 1.72 FIP with a 38.9 K% and 5.6 BB% in 23.2 innings pitched, before three rough games to end his tenure there.
The 2021 third-rounder pitched in Double A as a 19-year-old, one of only two pitchers to do so all season. There he posted a 2.45 ERA and 2.23 FIP in 11 innings pitched. He still had an incredible 34.1 K% (considering how advanced batters are at the level) and a 9.8 BB%.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Ricky Tiedemann has a high ceiling than Alek Manoah. I had the opportunity to watch Manoah’s three starts in Triple A in 2021. He just had “it”, along with fantastic stuff.
Tiedemann also has “it”. In his second start with New Hampshire, he pitched two innings allowing three earned runs (four total). In his next start, he pitched three innings, allowing no hits while striking out five (and walking one). In fact, that August 12th start was the last time he allowed a hit in his remaining six innings.
So just like Manoah, Tiedemann has “it”. The 20-year-old lefty also has fantastic stuff, sitting in the mid-90s with a fastball (reaching somewhere in the high 90s), a nice sweeping slider, and a changeup that is beginning to look like a plus pitch.
Why I believe he has a higher ceiling than Manoah is due to the fact that he’s left-handed. You don’t often see that type of velocity from the left side, and it’s a rare commodity. It’s exactly why Kikuchi is making $36 million over three years.
Not just that, but his first pro season was as a 19-year-old with a year of junior college, whereas Manoah had three years of collegiate experience.
This isn’t to say that Manoah isn’t fantastic, but the 24-year-old is a legitimate ace (especially when he raises that K%). But I truly do believe Tiedemann has the potential to be better than Manoah, which says a lot.
Awards are over:
Thanks, everyone for reading. For next season, what would you like to see me do with awards? Should I try and get sponsorships for the awards? That would be cool. Also, let me know if I missed anyone!
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D. Hope you enjoyed this tiny series! Can’t wait for the 2023 minor league season to start. I’ll hopefully be able to clip the Arizona Fall League!
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