Jays Pitching Questions: Where Will Reyes Land?

There’s a lot going on in Jays camp when it pertains to pitching. The pen will get more detailed attention in another Jays Journal artcicle set to come out later today, but I thought that taking a look at Jo-Jo Reyes and his battle to make the rotation would be just as important.

The questions surround Reyes? Will he earn a spot as the #5 Jays starter? Will he go to the pen if he doesn’t? Will he instead be traded to another club? In short, where will Reyes land in 2011?

The Jays rotation is set to include the following front 4 pitchers:

John Farrell has stated that he feels it’s important to have pitchers in the rotation that provide opposing teams with different looks and that don’t allow hitters to get comfortable as a result. He likes having the option to go lefty-righty and to alternate between the two. However, as everyone can tell from the pitchers listed above, it comes down to either slotting in Jesse Litsch as the #5, which would give the Jays two RHP in the 4-5 spots, or placing Jo-Jo Reyes there and having a LHP as the 5th starter, and a LHP as the 1st, placing them back-to-back.

What have Reyes and Litsch done thus far in spring training?

  • Jo-Jo Reyes – LHP (27): 13 IP, 6 hits allowed, 2 HR, 3 walks, 8 Ks
  • Jesse Litsch – RHP (26): 17.1 IP, 17 hits allowed, 1 HR, 3 BB, 17 Ks

Both are outstanding performances, even if they are only spring training stats. So, both have earned the chance of being the last 2 considered for the last SP spot in the rotation. How do you pick between the 2? Well, in my opinion, you have to look at who is the better fit to begin the year in the pen, and who you may want to “show off” more in order to build up trade value. (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)

Complicating things even further is the fact that Carlos Villanueva has also been outstanding this spring (9.2 IP, 8 HA, only 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks), so he seems to have earned a spot in the pen for the start of the season.

Reyes is set to take the mound against the Yankees on Wednesday, instead of Morrow who gets the minors game instead, as what Mike Rutsey of the Toronto Sun calls a test. He’ll be facing the big guns of the Yankees and that start could seal the deal in either direction. If he’s lights out, he could earn a look in the rotation. If he gets knocked around, he could be heading for the pen. The unlikeliest scenario has him being let go or traded before he can have a shot at building his value, but both are still available options.

The one thing that should wind up playing a HUGE part in this equation, however, is the fact that Jesse Litsch only threw 83.2 IP in 2010 after dealing with injuries for almost all of 2009. For his sake, and that of the Jays, it’s best for him to minimize his work load in 2011. Case and point should be Shaun Marcum, who returned from his injuries to have an outstanding 2010 season, but is now dealing with the consequences through shoulder issues that could set him back for quite a long time. Marcum threw 195 innings after throwing a mere 15 in the minors in 2009. Talk about an innings jump! As much as I like Marcum’s stuff , personality, and his 2010 performance, I have to believe that the Brewers took a massive risk in trading for him after knowing that his innings jump could lead to serious injury.

Reyes, meanwhile, actually threw less than Litsch in 2010 with just over 64 IP. But, the difference is that he has little trade value at this time and needs the opportunity to build it up. As a LHP with lots of promise always being attached to his name, a successful start to the season could make him a prime trade candidate. Simultaneously, the Jays would be allowing Litsch to minimize his innings jump by beginning the season in the pen, knowing full well that an injury or trade could have him in the rotation as soon as required. With Marc Rzepczynski now likely to be the 2nd LHP in the pen, it’s unlikely that the Jays want to begin the season with 3 lefties in the pen, and thus makes Reyes the more likely candidate to make the rotation IF he does well against the Yankees.

I really believe that keeping Litsch fresh for the June-end of season period is more important than having him pitch 170-200 innings and risk injury in the process. Although pitchers are always faced with injury risk, it’s not something the Jays should be chasing. Litsch has a good history with the Jays and has proven that he can pitch versus the AL East opponents in the past, so the Jays may be better off ensuring that he is capable of helping the team for the long term. It’s easy to get excited about his spring performance and to want to see him pitch a full season, no doubt about it. But, sometimes a team has to make tough decisions to ensure that what’s best for the team as a whole over the long-term is the action taken, not what may be best for today.

If Reyes can build up his trade value during the spring and no “new” injuries occur in the rotation, he could become one of the most sought after assets for Alex Anthopoulos to dangle to teams like the Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, and Royals (just to point out a few candidates that may be interested). He’ll never become that asset without a chance to prove himself. So, if he does well versus the Yankees, we may be able to scratch off the question of where Reyes will land in 2011. With the vocal and public support that Alex Anthopoulos gave him, there’s no doubt that he’s likely to get an opportunity in the pen or rotation, but my bet is on the rotation since it would give him a huge boost in trade value.

With Litsch in the pen to begin the season, the Jays pen would include the following members:

  • Rauch – Purcey – Frasor – Camp – Villanueva – Rzpeczynski- Litsch

This would still leave out Casey Janssen who would likely go to AAA. If he doesn’t, then one of Villanueva or Rzepczynski would. The injured Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco could also force many future tough decisions to be made, but that only enhances the argument to have Reyes start and to prove himself quickly. The pen would have 2 lefties, and both Rzepczynski and Litsch could come on in relief and pitch multiple innings at any time, giving the Jays 2 very important and attractive options in long-relief.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Reyes does on Wednesday, as that will answer one of the biggest questions remaining in Jays camp this spring.

- MG

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Tags: Jesse Litsch Jo Jo Reyes

  • Andy

    Surely,if Reyes threw a good pitch in rotation, it could be good for Jays.
    But I don’t think Reyes can throw good pitch as a starter. Reyes result 5.93 ERA as a starter in major league career. It was awful and this stats is in NL, his production could be worse in AL. He has alredy thrown 37 games in major league, so he has little possiblity to improve his production as a starter.
    I claim only his chance which he is successful in major league is that he throw as a reliever.

    • Mat Germain

      You may be right Andy, but as the Jays gave Dana Eveland a shot in 2010, I believe they may do the same in 2011 with Reyes who has more talent than Eveland. Eveland, even after having a rough time with the Jays, was turned into Ronald Uviedo, so imagine the return in Reyes has more success than Eveland did. I’m not saying it would be a top-tier prospect, but it could be exactly the piece the Jays need at the time, which is better than letting Reyes walk.

  • Steve

    I don’t think any of Reyes, Litsch and Rzepczynski have much trade value now or available to be built up in the short-term. Unless one of them out performs expectations by a long shot, I don’t see any of them being worth more than a mid-range prospect before the trade deadline. But I do think Reyes and Litsch should be the 4 and 5 starters to start the season for 3 reasons. 1. The first reason is obviously to build up trade value, but I think they are both going to need more than 1/2 a year to be worth something. Seriously, what would you give up to have Litsch on your team? Same for everyone else, no matter how desperate their situation might appear. 2. ST stats are nice, but regular season stats are better and far more indicative of a player’s true potential. The Jays need to see both of them start some games to see if they have a qulity 5th starter in one of them going forward. 3. I’m excited about the prospect of having Klye Drabek pitch for the Jays. I just don’t see why everyone is in such a hurry for him to make the team out of ST. From the comments I’ve read form the coaching staff, he still has work to do in developing some of his pitches. Why do that at the major league level? If Drabek goes north with the team and stays with them, he is eligible for free agency following the 2016 season. If he spends just the first few weeks in Las Vegas, he is eligible for free agency following the 2017 season. So, to have a an extra month of a rookie pitcher who is still developing his pitches in an expected non-contending year, we risk losing a full year of a fully developed (possibly) ace pithcer during a season that the Jays are building for contention for. A no-brainer to me. Start Drabek in AAA and give Reyes and Litsch about 8 to 12 starts each to battle it out for the 5th spot.

    • Mat Germain

      I understand the whole “take it slow” approach with pitchers due to “the clock”, but you’re forgetting “a clock”, which is the number of innings his arm may have in it before it sustains another injury. Here’s my take on it:

      1 – Drabek has learned all he needs to learn to succeed in the majors. What he needs now more than anything is the experience in the majors.

      2 – Rogers has oodles of money. So, if his clock runs out and he’s healthy and the Jays want to keep him around, they can do so with ease.

      3 – If Drabek is going to lead the Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Asher, Henderson Alvarez, and Griffin Murphy at some point in time, the Jays need him to be an established ace, no a pitcher that’s there learning right along with them. That’s why he needs to prove himself now.

      You may very well be correct, and Drabek could begin 2011 in the minors. But, I say it’s just a waste of time. Many pitchers get up to The Show at a much younger age and the Jays need to join the teams that have had success pushing their SP instead of holding them back. The Tigers (Porcello), Braves (Minor/Beachy), and Reds (Leake) are prime examples of teams pushing their talented players because they’re better than what they have on their MLB roster, even if they do need to learn on the job. The Jays are MUCH better off with Drabek in the rotation. He would give their rotation the best curve ball in MLB, and he’d be ready to become dominant as early as 2012.

      • George Norman

        I agree with Steve, Matt. I have been saying for some time now that the pitching staff will be determined by who has options left, which means that Drabek starts in AAA for a while, until injuries or trades sort themselves out. Just because Rogers has tons of money doesn’t mean that they waste it. Having Drabek in AAA for a couple of months could mean a saving of $10-15 million down the road. Litsch and Reyes start, Scrabble and Jansen in the pen, Francisco and Dotel on the DL.
        BTW, your Gotcha is really, really stupid

      • Steve

        I couldn’t evaluate talent if my life depended on it, but somehow I doubt that Drabek has learned all that he needs to succeed in the majors. Just because Rogers has oodles of money, doesn’t mean they should start wasting it. Wells and Rios would be upgrades over the current outfield, but they were being paid more than they should, so they’re not here anymore. If the plan succeeds, the oodles of cash are going to be needed to pay the future stars as they begin to accumulate service time. It is amazing how quickly payroll can jump and so the Jays should continue to be wise about minimizing service time where necessary. I’m not talking about holding down a major league ready player indefinitely. I’m talking about a month or two here. And as for Drabek leading the way for the other young pitchers you mentioned, I don’t know how soon you expect them here, but I suspect Drabek could come up mid-season and still have a couple of years under his belt when the others start coming up. I do completely agree with you when you refer to the clock as in the number of innings before an injury and it is something I overlooked. But you can’t predict or plan for injuries and I think the payoff of controlling the player in 2017 far outweighs any possible benefit of having Drabek start with the Jays on April 1. Keep in mind as well that GMs always use the word “control”. That’s because once a player reaches free agency, the player determines where they will play and if a player wants to move on, he will no matter how much you offer, ala Halladay, Burnett and Lily.

        • George

          I dunno about the “injury clock”. I imagine he will be throwing the same number of pitches in AAA, so as far as the “injury clock” is concerned, it doesn’t really matter where he pitches this year does it?

  • Shockey12

    What about having litch and reyes as 4-5 for the first few weeks and if it doesn’t work out then call up Drabek? That way you give reyes a shot and prevent drabek from becoming a super-two

  • Nick

    Why is everyone annointing Drabek as a starter? Is he ready…yes. Will the jays do it…Not quite yet I think.

    It’s more likely that Drabek is the one sent down to Vegas until a trade or injury happens and he’ll be back up, to stay, come May…thus also keeping his arbitration clock from starting to tick…something people keep forgetting is an important thing the Jays are looking for (the ability to control a young stud pitcher for another year).

  • James

    Litsch, being a Marcum lite, is not a long term solution in the tough AL East where most lineups feature one ultra-patient professional hitter after another. If a SP dont have dominating stuff, he is not likely to have sustained success in the AL East.

    I much rather pitching Litsch a full season and see him win 13 games again, then ship him off to get another Lawrie-like hot can’t missed positional prospect (which the Jays dont have a lot of) much like what they did to Marcum.

  • KyleZ

    I’ve heard that Drabek’s ‘clock’ starts ticking whether he is with the big club or in AAA. If that is the case then pretty much any point anyone has made about sending him down is moot.

    Could someone who actually knows clarify for me if this is true?

    • Steve

      Contrary to what some people believe, the 3 weeks Drabek spent on the major league roster as a September callup count towards his service time. But that doesn’t mean everything after that counts as well. If he were to get injured prior to being optioned, his clock would continue ticking since he finished the season on the 25 man roster. However, once he is optioned back to the minors, his service time clock stops ticking. If Drabek were to spend 3 weeks in the minors and the remainder of the season with the Jays, he would finish the season with a full year of service time, so the Jays would have to keep him down for more than 3 weeks. If Drabek were truly 100% ready and the Jays needed him to make a playoff run, I would say, “forget about the service time and bring him up”. But since that is not the case, it doesn’t make sense to lose a year of control over a handful of starts. Its the way its done and the players understand and accept this. In 2017, a handful of April starts in 2011 are going to seem pretty meaningless and if it means he walks after the 2016 season, a lot of people are going to be questioning why.

  • Scott Barber


    Litsch career BB/9 2.39, ERA 4.10 , FIP 4.81. Majority of innings pitched at ages 22-23 (287/342.2).

    He has shown the ability to handle the “ultra-patient” hitters in the division. Of course a SP with dominating stuff would be ideal in the Al East, or any division in baseball. The ability to have 5 starters with overwhelming stuff unfortunately, is much easier said than done.

    It will be interesting to see what a healthy Litsch can do this season. If he pitches like he did in 07-08, he will be a valuable starter in the AL East. As always though, (assuming everything goes well this season) a trade for a prospect(s) is dependent on the specific prospects at hand.

    • James

      I don’t disagree with the stat and the early success of Litsch pitching in the ALE. It is exactly because of that that I fully support pitching Litsch a full season instead of Reyes. A crafty lefty like Petite can rely solely on location and mixing up his stuff. If Litsh is a lefty, he could last a long time in ALE. It is just a matter of time for the hitters in the AL East to figure out Litsch’s changeup.

      AA is all about up-side, potential and controllable players. Litsch does not have anymore up-side, what you see today is what he will be 5 yrs from now

      Just hope that he will have one more good season such that AA can dangle him in trade and get a special prospect back

  • Scott Barber

    Fair enough, I think we are pretty well in agreement on that. I do disagree with the notion that Litsch has reached his ceiling though. He is 26 with 342.2 career innings in the MLB. 45.2 of which have come after the age of 23. The sample size is way too small to make that kind of judgement, whether or not his “stuff” has be deemed average.

  • Keith

    Hi Mat,
    I think we can all agree that Litsch and Reyes do not play into the long term plans for this team. As AA has said his goal is to have a rotation filled with number 2 or 3 quality starters.
    As much as I want to see Drabek break camp with the Jays, I think the smart (and no lose thing) to do this season is start out with Litsch and Reyes as the 4 & 5 guys in the rotation. This way if either of them implode in April, you bring up Drabek (and Stewart if they both implode) in May. If they have a good start to the season, you can deal them.
    I disagree with those that believe that it will take until the All Star break for the Litsch & Reyes to gather value. There are a ton of teams looking for starting pitching help including the Cards, Brewers, Yankees, Angels & Mariners. It should be pretty easy for AA to find a dance partner if he is ready to pull a deal. Especially with Litsch`s track record and Reyes ceiling.

    • gabriel

      Keith, if I may briefly disagree, I think Reyes might fit into the Jays longer-term plans. Reyes has similar stuff & profile to Romero; if he can put it together, he would be a potential #2-type. That isn’t to say that he couldn’t be traded, just that I can see Reyes sticking around when the Jays compete for a playoff spot.

  • gabriel

    I really doubt that Litsch is valuable as a reliever; even though he merits an MLB job, I’d rather see him starting at AAA than be a rarely-used longman in the pen. With Reyes, however, I’m not as worried about keeping him in the bullpen. I think his stuff profiles decently as a reliever, and, being left-handed, could be useful as a situational lefty as well as a long-reliever. Should he be successful, he can be moved into the starting rotation should injuries or trades occur.

    While I quite like Litsch, he clearly has limited upside, and he’s performed relatively well in the Majors thus far. Should he do well in the first half this year, he may well be able to get a decent prospect or two in return. I don’t see Reyes or Rzep gathering such value even if they were to start in the MLB rotation & do well; even though both have higher ceilings than Litsch.

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  • matt

    I think we’ve seen how much Reyes is going to add to the starting rotation…

    As for Litsch, I think we should have stopped starting him after his first outing as that would have maximized trade value…

    Look I love Romero-Drabek and hope that Morrow comes back strong as ever, but bottom line is that we have a solid top 3 and not much else.

    Don’t get me wrong I’ll be cheering for Cecil, but my expectations are definitely held in check and come on man what’s with the stupid glasses who does he think he is Wild Thing Charlie Sheen in Major League? lol