Looking at the Blue Jays pitching prospects who are eligible for the 2022 Rule 5 Draft
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3 months ago
The Toronto Blue Jays will have some decisions in the next few months, regarding which prospects they want to protect from the Rule 5 draft.
I counted 16 players, seven pitches and nine position players, who may be of interest to other teams that will have to be protected to avoid exposure. There is no possibility that all of these prospects will be protected, so I’ll give my opinion on whether or not they should be, and if it’s likely they’ll be selected in the Rule 5 draft.
In this article, we’ll focus on the pitchers, before looking at the position players in an article tomorrow.
Coming into the 2022 season, I ranked Adrian Hernandez as my 14th best Blue Jays prospect because of a breakout in 2021. It looked like he was set to build off last season, before a shoulder injury sidelined him for a large portion of the season.
Prior to the injury, he had a 1.88 ERA, and a 3.66 FIP in 24 innings pitched. Moreover he had a fantastic 36.6 K% and a solid 10.8 BB%. Most importantly however, he had given up only three home runs in those 21 outings. The 22-year-old righty was also used as the Bisons’ defacto starter.
It’s been a different story since returning to Triple A on August 17th. In his first game, he only pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing four earned runs and walking two. Overall, he has an 11.45 ERA and a 6.69 FIP in 11 innings pitched. He has also allowed three homers, while his K% dropped to 25% and his BB% rose to 14.3%.
Before the injury, he seemed like someone that could make it to the Blue Jays roster at some point in the 2022 season, now I don’t even think another team would pick him up.
His changeup/screwball is a fantastic pitch with a ton of movement that generates whiffs, but he gets hit hard, struggles with walks, and doesn’t have the velocity (sits in the low 90s) to make up for the other two issues.
While he still may be something, as that witchcraft pitch is legit, it seems unlikely to me that he’ll be added to the 40-man, because I don’t think teams will be looking to pick him up. Hernandez ranks as Blue Jays Nation’s 20.5th best prospect (I forgot about him past the halfway mark, it happens, don’t judge me).
One of the most underrated relievers in the Blue Jays farm system, Eisert was selected in the 18th round of the 2019 draft.
Pitching in the highest level of the minors, he has posted a 3.41 ERA and 3.58 FIP in 60.2 innings pitched. He has a pretty impressive 31 K%, while limiting the BB% to 6%, or a K-BB% of 25% (very good).
It’s quite odd as well, considering he only sits in the low 90s, like Hernandez. While he doesn’t have an 80-grade pitch like Adrian, Eisert has a ton of deception pitching from the left side of the mound.
Pair that with a plus slider and plus changeup, and you have a pitcher who is absolute hell to left-handed batters. This season, lefties are only slashing .222/.282/.287 in 118 plate appearances against him, while striking out 33.9% of the time.
I find it unlikely that the Jays will protect the 24-year-old lefty, but he’s a guy who definitely could impact the big league team next season. Eisert ranks as Blue Jays Nation’s 34th best Jays prospect.
Remember when most scouting sites considered the Blue Jays farm as one of the best in the league, as they had both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette? Take a guess who was their fourth-ranked prospect in 2019.
Obviously, it’s Eric Pardinho. Since then, he’s had bad luck with injuries. No season in 2020 due to COVID, then stuff with his arm last season.
Thankfully, the 21-year-old righty had a healthy 2022 once he started pitching in mid-June. He posted a 0.75 ERA and 2.94 FIP in 12 innings with the Dunedin Blue Jays, all as a reliever. Pardinho also had a 31 K% and 4.8 BB% with the team, solid numbers having not pitched in over two years.
Still healthy, he was promoted to Vancouver, where the results weren’t quite so good. He posted a 10.20 ERA and 6.13 FIP in 15 innings pitched. He still showed an ability to get batters out with a 30.1 K% but struggled with command (19.3 BB%) and hard contact (three home runs, numerous extra-base hits.)
Although his velocity isn’t off the chart, Pardinho has a ton of life on his pitches that play up the velocity. The next step for him is command and continuing to miss barrels. If he can do that, the 21-year-old still has the ceiling of an impact major leaguer.
With that being said, a rough 2022 in High A and injury concerns in the past mean that teams may not be willing to draft him in the Rule 5 draft. Pardinho ranks as Blue Jays Nations’ 26th best Jays prospect.
Have you ever heard of Lazaro Estrada? I wouldn’t fault you if you haven’t. I didn’t know much about the 23-year-old righty until someone mentioned he had the best curveball in the organization. Here’s an article inside an article.
This season with the Dunedin Blue Jays, he posted a 2.93 ERA and 2.15 FIP in 15.1 innings pitched. He also had a 37.5 K% and a 7.8 BB% with the Dunedin Jays. While he dominated, you may be asking why he gets a spot on this list as a 23-year-old who’s never pitched above Low A.
I did some research to back up that individual’s claim of the best curveball in the organization, but what I got truly baffled me. Estrada threw 280 pitches in Dunedin this season, only 41 of which were curveballs. His spin rate on his curve averaged 3263 RPM. Do you want to know who averaged higher in the MLB since 2016, minimum of 2016 plate appearances?
Garett Richards in 2019 (3431), Lucas Sims in 2020 (3349), Seth Lugo in 2016 (3318), Ryan Pressly in 2019 (3305), Garrett Richards in 2020 (3299), Seth Lugo in 2018 (3285), Ryan Pressly in 2022 (3271), and Dustin May in 2022 (3267). Only two of these pitchers have years that are in the post-stick tack ban era as well.
In that time frame, there have been at least 5252 pitchers before Baseball Savant decided to crash. Sadly, it didn’t have a max option, but the max RPM he had on that curveball this season sat at 3427 RPM. Just absurd. It’s really hard to contextualize how insane it is.
It’s not like he’s a one-trick pony either. He averaged 92.8 mph on his fastball (as a starter), touching 95.6. As you could guess, he had a pretty high average spin rate on it as well, sitting at 2488 RPM (touching 2687).
Estrada also features a rarely used slider, which he threw only 10 times in 2022. The velocity on that sits in the low 80’s and has an average RPM of 2535.
So yeah, he probably won’t be protected, but this is a public service announcement to hop on the Lazaro Estrada hype train because he’ll be moving up the minors quickly once converted to a reliever.
If you want to learn more about Estrada, click this link to a google sheet I created. It features a scouting report (by me), unreleased swing data, as well as data for every pitch he threw in the Florida State League in 2022. Honestly, I may just end up writing an article on him though.
Speaking of curveballs, Bowden Francis also throws a pretty nice curveball, along with a sharp slider and a mid-90s fastball.
Last season, Francis was actually added to the 40-man roster to avoid being exposed to the Rule 5 draft last season.
Acquired last season in the Rowdy Tellez deal, the 26-year-old righty has had on paper, a tough season with the Buffalo Bisons. Converted to a bulk reliever after an awful start, he was outrighted to be taken off the 40-man.
Overall, he has a 6.59 ERA and a 5.02 FIP in 98.1 innings pitched. His 24.3 K% is average, while his BB% of 9.5% is solid, but let’s dig deeper into the numbers.
Since July 6th, you can see what type of pitcher Francis really is. He has a 4.47 ERA, which has actually jumped quite a lot since this article I wrote on him. Realistically, he has been singled to death, as he has a 3.43 FIP, which shows off an impressive 29.8 K% and 8.3 BB%.
While he’s cooled off since I wrote an article on him and hasn’t shown the promise he had in 2021, Francis definitely deserves mention as he’s doing some things right since being moved to the pen. Not just that, but it’d give the Jays more options for bulk starters, as they only really have Yusei Kikuchi and Trent Thornton on the 40-man.
In this case, Kloffenstein’s ceiling earns him a spot on this list. The 22-year-old hasn’t quite panned out the Jays would’ve hoped, but there’s still a possibility for an impact pitcher.
He started his season with the Vancouver Canadians, which was his third straight minor league season in Vancouver. There, he posted a 3.81 ERA and 4.74 FIP in 26 innings pitched. He also had a 25.9 K% and 8.6 BB% with the only Canadian minor league team.
In 2021 with the C’s, he posted a 6.22 ERA and 5.16 FIP in 101.1 innings pitched. His 23 K% and his 13.1 BB% were on the rather rough side, so it was nice to see an improvement.
The righty was promoted to New Hampshire, where he had a tough season, but showed some upside. He had a 6.07 ERA and a 5.07 FIP in 86 innings pitched. His K% of 22.2% was comparable to 2021, while his BB% climbed to 11.3%.
However, he was only a 21-year-old (mostly), in Double A. Not just that, but he had some good outings where he looked like the former top 10 prospect he once was.
The biggest issue for Kloffenstein the past two seasons has been the big inning. It wasn’t rare to see him give up three or four runs in the first inning, before settling down and getting into a rhythm. If he can eliminate that, he will be a lot more successful.
It’s my assumption that he’ll repeat the Double A level as a starter. Depending on the results and what the development staff sees, he has a chance for a promotion. There’s also the option of moving the 22-year-old to the bullpen, where I think he could have more success.
Time will tell what Kloffentein pans into, but he’s still relatively young, has good stuff when he’s on, and has shown bright spots in Double A the past season. It’s improbable that he’ll be added to the 40-man, and it’s just unlikely that he’ll be picked.
The 24-year-old is probably the only prospect on the pitcher’s edition of this list that will likely be added to the 40-man.
It’s been a whirlwind of a season for the hard-throwing righty, but he’s shown a ton of progress to warrant a possible call-up as soon as next season. I’ve given the rundown on his numbers before (quite frankly, many times, read this article), but the 24-year-old has posted a combined 3.67 ERA in 54 minor league innings pitched this season. He also has a 34.17 K% and a 12.5 BB% at all four A levels of the minors.
Although he throws 100 mph, with a plus changeup and plus slider, the next step is for Zulueta to command those pitches better, especially against batters his age. This can also be explained because he missed two seasons with Tommy John, as well as a torn ACL.
I believe Zulueta will be added to the 40-man, not just because he throws 100 mph, but also because his secondary stuff could potentially make him a pretty darn good starter as well.
If he makes it out of camp next season, I believe it’ll be out of the pen. If he’s sent back down to Buffalo, there is a chance that they plan to stretch him out as a starter. I do truly believe that the only reason he was moved to the bullpen was due to his innings limit, and not because of his ability to pitch as a starter.
Either way, he’s an exciting prospect to keep an eye on. Zulueta ranks as Blue Jays Nation’s 10th best prospect.
The Rule 5 crunch isn’t done. Here I gave you seven pitching prospects who are eligible for the 2022 Rule 5 draft and could conceivably be added (due to potential or results). However, there are still the position players to cover, which will be covered tomorrow.
I think I got like nine players or something in that article.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D. Can you believe I was originally going to do all 16 players in one article? This article is sitting around 2000 words, so I think it’d take the record of the most words in an article by me on Blue Jays Nation.
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