The Toronto Blue Jays farm system is stocked with young arms in the low minors but next up on our list is a player who is fairly close to the Show. After a successful first season in Triple-A, relief pitcher John Stilson has a good chance of playing with the Blue Jays at some point in 2014.
Name: John Stilson
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 7/28/1990 (23)
Acquired: 3rd round of 2011 draft ($500,000 USD)
High School: Texas HS (Texarkana, TX)
College: Texas A&M University
Height/Weight: 6’3″/200 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- Ranked 15th on 2013 Jays Journal Top Prospects
- 2011 Golden Spikes Watch List
- 2011 Louisville Slugger 1st Team Preseason All-American.
- 2011 Baseball America 2nd Team Preseason All-American
Stats and Analysis:
Stilson was a highly regarded college arm and projected to be a first round draft pick coming out of Texas A&M as junior. However as fate would have it, he suffered a major setback and tore his labrum just a few weeks before the 2011 Rule 4 Draft. The injury was crippling for his draft status but the Blue Jays took a chance on the hard-throwing right-hander by selecting him in the third round.
After starting 2012 in Class A-Advanced Dunedin, Stilson was moved up to Double-A New Hampshire by the end of the year. He struggled as a starter with the Fisher Cats and was moved to the bullpen to finish the season. It wasn’t known at that time if the Blue Jays would try him again as a starter.
Stilson remained a reliever in 2013 and made two dominating appearances at Double-A to start the season, which earned him another quick promotion to Triple-A Buffalo in mid-May. Pitching out of the bullpen in one or two inning bursts, Stilson found tremendous success and posted a scintillating 1.077 WHIP and 2.09 ERA. He struck out 47 batters in 47.1 innings and gave up only 15 walks, good for a 3.13 SO/BB ratio.
His 2013 campaign did come to a disappointing close in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched three times and in a brief 2.1 innings was lit up for a 23.14 ERA. He did not finish the event and was removed from the Salt River Rafters roster page before the AFL season was over.
Video Credit: MLB Prospect Portal
Stilson has a deceptive, high-effort delivery that works to fool hitters but also creates durability concerns. He’s worked hard to improve his balance and appears to be much more in control compared to his days as a college pitcher. He throws out of a 3/4 arm slot and slightly across his body, which helps him deceive hitters but also makes him a higher injury risk going forward.
Pitch Arsenal Breakdown
Stilson’s best pitch is most likely his fastball and you could debate whether it’s a true four-seamer or more of a two-seam/sinker. Pitchf/x data provided from Brooks Baseball tracked his fastball as a four-seamer during his brief Arizona Fall League stint but based on the downward movement and armside run some people wonder if it’s really more of a two-seam/sinking fastball. Regardless, it’s a plus pitch with good life and out of the bullpen he works regularly in the mid-90’s, and will touch 96 or maybe even 97 MPH. Improved control allowed him to work ahead more often and helped make his off-speed pitches more effective.
His changeup is another strong offering that he throws from a slighter lower release point, which helps give him impressive depth to the pitch. He generates plenty of swings and misses but the difference release points between his fastball and changeup means he loses a bit of the deception created by his delivery. It’s a strikeout pitch with good fade and should be another plus offering.
Stilson’s breaking stuff is rated as fringe-average and he struggles mightily with control. There’s not much different between his slider and curveball, which some have called a hybrid pitch. It seems to have grown a little more into a hard slider with tilt, which he throws in the mid-to-high 80’s, and doesn’t seem to be using the slower, loopier version, that is more like a cuverball, as often.
Risk, Outlook and ETA
Unlike most of the prospects within the Toronto Blue Jays organization who are still several years from the majors, Stilson appears to be knocking on the door. The bullpen is currently flush, which makes it slightly more difficult to predict his ETA, but there’s a good chance he could appear in a Blue Jays uniform during 2014. I’m a little fuzzy on Rule 5 eligibility but I believe because his first year of professional baseball was 2012 he won’t require protection from the Rule 5 Draft by being added to the 40-man roster until the end of 2015.
The biggest concern with Stilson coming out of the draft was his health and durability and so far he’s passed both tests. I was a bit disappointed to see him converted into a full-time reliever but it was probably inevitable he would be destined for the bullpen at some point so doing it now was probably a smart move by the Blue Jays to save some wear and tear on his arm.
He projects to pitch in a setup role at the major league level, or maybe even a closer if you’re optimistic. There’s no point for the Blue Jays to rush him and with so many other relievers out of options he will likely start the 2014 season in Buffalo.
Relievers as a group are historically volatile so I’m hesitant to say that he’s “blocked” from the Blue Jays bullpen. But there is a case for keeping him in Triple-A until at least mid-to-late August to avoid having to outright another reliever. If he’s added to the 40-man roster prior to that time and struggles, if he’s sent back down to the Bisons (for 20 days or more) he will expend the first of three option years. Being patient may be in the Blue Jays best interest and if they can hold off on adding him to the 40-man until around the time rosters open up in September, he’ll go into 2015 with all three options intact. That gives the Blue Jays additional flexibility to shuffle the bullpen and increases his potential trade value to other teams.