Bulls for the ‘Pen: Toronto Blue Jays
In the latest in a thirty-part series (yeesh!) that will henceforth be published twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday, We will be looking around baseball at potential bullpen vacancies and the internal candidates that each organization has in the upper levels of their systems to fill those vacancies. We’re hoping to expose some fresh faces that should see plenty of action in 2014 barring injuries or roster screwery and in doing so provide a bit of a relief summary for each organization’s upper minors. Without further ado, we’ll get moving onto the Toronto Blue Jays and John Stilson.
The Jays move into 2014 with most of their 2013 bullpen intact. The ‘pen was a strength for the Jays last year even though basically everything else fell apart, so the return (barring Winter Meetings shenanigans) of unconventional closer Casey Janssen is good news. With robotic Steve Delabar and the unknowable Sergio Santos bridging the gap to Janssen and with the pitchers coming off strong seasons behind them in Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Neil Wagner, and Dustin McGowan, the ‘Pen seems relatively set barring the obvious caveats. I won’t touch the sensitive nerve of fellow Jays’ fans by suggesting that top prospect Marcus Stroman could compete for a spot in the ‘pen, should he fail to crack the rotation, because the kid is a damn starter and that’s that. Many of the players who will compete for playing time if any of the above go down to the DL or Triple-A are outside of the purview of this blog in Luis Perez, Juan Perez, Jeremy Jeffress and a host of others, but there is one Jays’ prospect who may impress his way into a chance to show off his stuff at the Show.
John Stilson was taken by the Jays in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft as a starter out of Texas A&M and has only been pitching at all for about 4 years. He discovered a talent for pitching after he had already been drafted by the Twins as a shortstop in 2009. Stilson is the right size for a pitcher at 6’3″ and 200lbs and his shocklingly quick development as a pitcher speaks well to his makeup. In 2013 the right hander reached AAA and ended the year as the Bisons’ closer. He pitched to a 2.16 ERA over 50 innings and a tidy 1.080 WHIP. His 53K/15BB came while allowing only 7 of his 39 hits to go for extra-bases. Currently a change-up artist (more on that later) Stilson is showing a reverse-platoon split that comes with that territory, allowing a .240/.302/.346 line to same-handed batters and holding southpaws to an excellently stingy .184/.244/.211 line. He was also young for his competition, having only 11 plate appearances against batters younger than himself versus 188 against those older than him.
(Video Courtesy of MLB Prospect Portal on Youtube)
Stilson has a decent delivery that shows why the team drafted him as a possible starter. He has a nice big stride and a whip-fast arm and there’s not much left to project physically, nor is there any real reason to; Stilson’s fastball currently sits around 94-95 in relief and along with his changeup are already being called plus pitches. His continuing development likely owes a lot to his incredibly short time spent pitching thus far in his life, and we could reasonably expect to see mechanical and control improvements.The 23 year old also has a supposedly devastating breaking ball that he cannot command regularly, which is the reason for his shift to the ‘pen. If he can master the supposedly tantalizing breaking pitch and add it into his repertoire he could end up an elite closer or even transition back into starting, but as-is, Stilson still projects to be a useful piece of a future Toronto Bullpen as a changeup specialist that can blow it by both sides of the plate.