The number fifteen prospect on the Jays Journal countdown is another right handed pitcher who seemingly still has more questions than answers, despite spending half of the season at Double-A.
Name: John Stilson
Position: Right Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 07/28/1990 (22)
Acquired: Selected in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft ($500,000 USD)
High School: Texas High School (Texarkana, TX)
College: Texas A&M
Height/Weight: 6’3”/200 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- Ranked 25th on 2012 top 30 prospects list
2012 Statistics and Analysis
5-4, 104.1 IP, 110 H, 45 ER, 8 HR, 42 BB, 91 K
3.88 ERA (3.78 FIP), 1.46 WHIP, 7.85 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, 1.00 GO/AO
The 2012 season was Stilson’s professional debut, and you can really break the year down into three segments. From April 5th through May 12th, Stilson was on a very strict pitch count. He was coming off a major shoulder injury, and as such the organization didn’t want to push him too hard. In those eight starts, he completed the fifth only once, allowing eight earned runs while striking out 25 in 29.1 IP (2.45 ERA). From May 18th through July 27th, the leash was eased out and Stilson would complete five innings in 11 of 14 starts. In those 64 innings, he allowed 30 earned runs while striking out 54 batters (4.22 ERA). Fatigue was clearly becoming an issue as he allowed 13 hits and nine earned runs over his final seven innings, so the Blue Jays allowed him to finish the season in the bullpen; the third segment. Making eight relief appearances, Stilson struck out 12 and allowed seven earned runs over 11 innings pitched (5.73 ERA). The numbers as a whole aren’t earth shattering, but when you attribute fatigue to some of his late season failings, the results are far more encouraging for the long term.
Video (via Kevin Gray, graymatter11.com)
Throughout his college career, John Stilson had an extremely violent delivery. Not only was his arm action rough, his stride landed on the third base side of the mound, forcing him to throw across his body and cause even more strain on his arm. Since being drafted by the Blue Jays, the organization’s minor league coaches have made an effort to clean up his mechanics. Stilson’s stride is squarer to the plate, and while his arm action is improved, it still has visible effort. The alterations did have negative impacts, however, as Stilson’s velocity has fallen back a notch and the more traditional release point has taken away from some of his deception.
Pitch Arsenal Breakdown
Depending upon who you ask, John Stilson either has three or four pitches. The first two are very clear, as they’re the right hander’s top two offerings. He features a plus calibre fastball that sits between 91 and 94 miles per hour while in the rotation. In short stints out of the bullpen it’s a grade better, as Stilson will consistently work around the 95 mph mark and touch even higher. His best gun reading came during college while serving as the Aggies closer, as the big Texan hit 99 mph. The fastball has average movement as it’s more of a traditional four-seamer than a two-seamer or sinker, but he’s always commanded it quite well.
Stilson’s strikeout pitch is a low-to-mid 80’s changeup that has received equally impressive reviews. The offspeed pitch has a tremendous amount of sink, and while it has lost some deception with Stilson’s more streamlined mechanics, he still has the requisite arm speed to keep hitters off balance. The changeup is already very impressive, and like the fastball, it has the potential to be a plus pitch. When you combine these two pitches with a competitive and fiery demeanour, it quickly becomes apparent why most feel John Stilson would be a highly effective late inning reliever.
If he is to remain a starter, he’ll need to make improvements in the breaking ball department, and this brings us back to the three/four pitch question. He’ll throw two breaking balls at very different velocities – one in the high 70’s, the other in the mid 80’s – and while some classify the pitches as distinctly separate offerings (a curveball and slider), others argue that it’s simply one slurve-type pitch that Stilson will manipulate to do different things depending upon the situation. Regardless of what you want to call the breaking ball, it’s noticeably behind the fastball and changeup in development, consistency, and command. The best future grade I’ve seen on the pitch is average, but if Stilson remains in the bullpen (where he belongs), it’s a rather moot point.
John Stilson has the raw stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but durability concerns will likely keep him in the bullpen where he has the perfect world projection of an upper echelon closer.
2013 Outlook, Risk, and ETA
The injury concerns reared their ugly head late in 2012, as after originally being assigned to the Arizona Fall League to represent the Blue Jays, Stilson was pulled off the roster just before games started because of lingering arm soreness – over a month after his last official appearance. Assuming he has progressed past that soreness, Stilson should return to New Hampshire in the spring where he concluded last season with 50 innings. I suspect he’ll be returning to the rotation as well, as the Blue Jays have become known for giving pitching prospects every opportunity to prove they can stick in the rotation before demoting them to relief duties.
There’s an old baseball adage that “an arm only has so many bullets”, and I feel like the organization is wasting too many of Stilson’s by attempting to start him in what will inevitably look like an act of futility. Max effort pitchers like Stilson have a place, and it’s at the back end of a major league bullpen. If Toronto made the change this spring, he could be contributing at the major league level in the second half of 2013. If they continue with the starter experiment, we’re looking at a 2014 debut, and by the time he arrives there will be another 150-plus innings of wear and tear on the shoulder. Stilson’s developed arsenal and proximity to the show make him medium risk, but as long as the Blue Jays keep up this starter’s charade, the risk is medium-high.