Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Spotlight: the Potential Bullpen

Happy Opening Day for Spring Training Exhibition Games!
The Jays played an intrasquad game yesterday, and Aaron Sanchez didn't fare too well.  (Nice to see Andy Burns crush a triple and Drew Hutchison return comfortably to the mound.)
I'll definitely be tuned in to today's 1:00 p.m. ST opener against the Phillies.  Baseball's unofficially back, and it's wonderful.
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Let's get down to business.  Examine last season's Opening Day Lugnuts bullpen:
RHP Wil Browning - moved briskly from GCL to Bluefield to Vancouver
RHP Tucker Donahue - 2012 Vancouver reliever
RHP Chuck Ghysels - pitched 25 games in GCL, 2 games in Dunedin
RHP Matt Johnson - 2012 Vancouver reliever
RHP Ian Kadish - 2012 Lugnuts reliever following late promotion
LHP Griffin Murphy - pitched two games in Vancouver, 17 games in Bluefield
RHP Arik Sikula - 2012 Vancouver closer
RHP Ben White - 2012 Vancouver starter
What do we learn from this list?  Find 1) candidates who pitched integral roles in the Vancouver bullpen, 2) candidates who excelled at the lower levels, plus 3) one starter -- who might start the season in the pen but will be used in the rotation if any starter goes down with an injury.
Here's something else to keep in the back of our mind.
From all accounts, the 2014 version of the Lugnuts will look an awful lot like the 2012 squad, complete with remarkable young talent in the starting rotation.  In that season, the Blue Jays made certain to stock the Lugs with capable veterans in the pen (like Ajay Meyer and Brandon Berl), thereby ensuring that the kids' best efforts would not be lost.
Now then:  let's take our best guesses at a relief octet.
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Returnees from 2013
I highly doubt we'll see the return of a Kramer Champlin, Justin Jackson, Ian Kadish, Arik Sikula, or Efrain Nieves, all of whom should be beyond the Midwest League.  This leaves us with Tucker Donahue, Chad Girodo, Chuck Ghysels, and Griffin Murphy.  Let's select Tucker Donahue,  who could dominate in a return trip to the MWL, and Chuck Ghysels, who began the season as the Lugs' closer before joining Vancouver and rocking the fireman role for the Canadians (51 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings).
C's on the Rise
The top lefty in the Vancouver bullpen was Matt Dermody (5-1, 1.77, 50 strikeouts, 4 walks in 40 2/3 innings).  Promote that man.  If you'd like a starting candidate, a la Ben White from a year ago, left-handers Kyle Anderson and Colton Turner (each of whom was mentioned in the starting rotation preview) could serve White's swingman/surprise starter role.  For now, let's put Anderson in the rotation and add Colton Turner to the pen.
Boosted from Bluefield
The 2013 Appy League Blue Jays featured several light-out candidates, foremost among them Alvido Jimenez (3-0, 1.29, .149 average against), who earned a callup to Vancouver and dominated there, too.  Others who pitched well in Bluefield:  Phil Kish, Brady Dragmire, Francisco Gracesqui, and Yeyfry Del Rosario.  Phil Kish is already 24, about to turn 25, so let's add him to the proposed pen.
Gulf Coast League Sleeper
Last season, we saw Chuck Ghysels reach Lansing all the way from the GCL.  Before that, it was Danny Barnes vaulting up to the Midwest League after a strong GCL performance.  Well, in 2013, the top GCL Jays pitcher besides Phil Kish was Chris Rowley (4-0, 1.10, 9 G, 5 GS, 39 strikeouts and only 3 walks in 32 2/3 innings).  At the start of the season, Rowley was striking out pretty much everyone he faced out of the bullpen.  By the end of the season, he was starting.  If the Jays feel like keeping him as a starter, we might not see him yet.  Still, the 23-year-old Army product makes the perfect GCL sleeper.  (He and Kish were both undrafted free agents, and we've seen NDFA's achieve great success in Lansing.)
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LHP Matt Dermody
RHP Tucker Donahue
RHP Chuck Ghysels
RHP Alvido Jimenez
RHP Phil Kish
RHP Chris Rowley
LHP Colton Turner
That leaves us with one open spot, and I'm looking at lefties Alonzo Gonzalez and Scott Silverstein, each of whom came out of the Vancouver bullpen during the Canadians' championship run.  With apologies to Alonzo, let's add Scott Silverstein, my fellow Marylander, bringing our bullpen to a full eight.
Note that there's every chance, if the Blue Jays return to tandem starting pitching, that the Lugnuts' pen will feature only six or seven pitchers instead.
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Coming tomorrow... a spotlight of the potential Lugnuts starting lineup.
Monday:  Could the 2014 Lugnuts be as good as 2012?
Tuesday:  starting rotation preview
Today:  bullpen preview
Thursday:   starting lineup preview
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So help me, I love this sequence from young Giannis Antetokounmpo:

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