One of the the coolest perks of being accredited with the Vancouver Canadians this season, aside from the pulled pork sandwiches I shove down my throat every night, is the fact I get to crowbar my now fatter arse into the coaches room post-game to discuss the state of the team. Generally it’s just manager Clayton McCullough, hitting coach Dave Pano, and pitching coach ‘Big’ Jim Czajkowski in attendance, so there is a little room to breath. Every now and then though, the roving instructors are passing through, which makes for a very cramped interview.
As I strolled in this past Monday, there was a bit of a treat in store. Not only was Big Jim there to talk about Tom Robson‘s start, but Paul Quantrill, the Jays roving pitching coach was available, which led to a wide ranging discussion.
Before I get to that though, Tom Robson. A Ladner, B.C. native, which is about a half hour drive from the Nat, the twenty year old right-hander was taken in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. By most accounts, that may have been a bit high, but Robson has done nothing in his pro career thus far to cast doubt on his ability.
After signing late, Robson only made his debut in 2012. Even then he only threw eleven innings before an injury shut him down for the season. Once that healed he was off to instructs and then the Dominican for winter ball. That has allowed for a full program this season and the 6’4″ 200 pounder has taken full advantage
A lot of reports I read had worries about his strike out rate. Watching him live, I don’t see the issue. His fastball sits in the low 90s and he can ramp it up to 95 mph on occasion. He hits his spots and when he does miss, it’s down. He’ll throw a straight change early in the count, especially after missing with a fastball, in an effort to induce weak contact. As per Cjazkowski, ‘hitters at this level will be geared towards fastball if the pitcher has missed with his last one.’ As I wrote here, there is no innings limit with these younger pitchers this year, but they are on strict pitch counts. They give them eighty pitches, it’s up to the kid how deep they go in a game with them. If they can get a hitter to roll over on a changeup early in the count, all the better.
In a strikeout situation he’ll throw a change that has arm side movement. He’ll often bury it, in an effort to get check swings. His curve is a plus pitch for this level. The break fools not only hitters but the umpires as well. It is probably a major league pitch already.
After the season the Jays, and many of their affiliates have had this season, I’ve found myself quite down on most prospects, and am a bit gun-shy to predict pitcher success after Taylor Cole and Javier Avendano have struggled in Lansing this year, but Robson, I think, will be one to watch with the Lugnuts next season.
Quantrill was extremely impressed with the performance and claimed to be very happy with Robson’s development.
I asked Paul how often he’d seen Daniel Norris this year. It had only been the once, but for him, ‘the stuff is there for everyone to see.’ Nobody can question the left-handers pitches, for Quantrill, the bulk of Norris’ early-season problems were between the ears. If you throw in the 90s in high school, you dominate, simple as that. Pro hitters, though, are a different kettle of fish and he just needs to change his mentality on the mound. ‘He’s the nicest kid off the field you’ll ever meet, but as soon as he crosses that white line, he needs to learn how to get mean. Even your brother is your worst enemy.’
The ex-Jay believes Norris is finally starting to trust his stuff and sees a Dunedin assignment next season.
We also talked about some of the younger, rawer kids in the system. For guys like Jacob Brentz and Matt Smoral, the trick for the Jays staff is to get them to slow the game down to their speed. It’s easy enough to get them repeating their deliveries in the bullpen, but all too often they let the speed of the game overwhelm them, throwing their mechanics out of whack.
‘Once you can get them repeating their delivery in a game situation you can then start working on their (ie) changeup in the ‘pen, and the whole process starts again.’
Lastly we touched on Sean Ratcliffe‘s promotion to Vancouver and subsequent movement to the temporary inactive list. Ratcliffe, at the time, was in Australia at Canadian Junior National Team’s pre-world championships camp. A native of Ajax, Ontario Ratcliffe was drafted this year by the Jays in the eighteenth round. Quantrill noted how raw he is, having only converted from catcher to full-time pitcher a couple of years ago. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if he would make the JNT, although, judging by this link, he has.
Since I’m only really keeping track of the Jays for draft purposes at the moment, will keep a closer eye on Canada’s travails in Taiwan. Hopefully they can improve on their silver medal from a year ago.