With all the media hype centered on top prospect Marcus Stroman, one could be forgiven for forgetting about the other young pitcher who made his Major League debut for the Blue Jays this season. But ever since his first pitched at-bat on May 20th, when got David Ortiz to ground out for his first big league hold, 25-year-old, left-handed reliever Rob Rasmussen has been making a his own case for a spot on the big league pitching staff.
The road to the show has been a winding one for Rasmussen, who was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft by the then Florida Marlins but has been traded four times since then. Halfway through his second season in the Marlins organization, he was traded along with Matt Dominguez to the Houston Astros for a mid-season rental on Carlos Lee. The Astros traded him again in the offseason to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who swapped him to the Philadelphia Phillies for another prominent rental player, Michael Young, after the minor league season had already ended. Finally, before ever playing a game in the Phillies organization, the Blue Jays acquired him along with Eric Kratz for Brad Lincoln this past offseason.
After spending the majority of 2013 in Double-A for the Dodgers, Rasmussen began his 2014 season in the Blue Jays organization for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. During his tenure in past organizations he had been pitching mainly as a starter, but he became a reliever for the Bisons and he earned success while focusing on relieving. Between April and May he posted a 2.65 ERA over seventeen relief appearances while collecting nineteen strikeouts.
Coincidentally Rasmussen is somewhat like Stroman, in that they are both relatively undersized and are known for their ability to keep hitters off balance. At only 5’10, Rasmussen has to make the most of his smaller stature in order to be an effective major league pitcher. According to Michael Wray’s scouting report on him, he is able to do so by utilizing a compact, efficient delivery with a ¾ arm slot and a high release point, which helps give him a better throwing plane towards the mound. His fastball sits within the high 80s to low 90s, but has been known to touch near the mid 90s on occasion. His best off-speed pitch is his plus slider, which Baseball America once rated as the best in the Marlins’ organization, but he also throws a curveball and changeup as well.
Rasmussen’s first stint with the Blue Jays lasted only ten days, but during that stint he did not allow an earned run and he has since returned to the Bisons to pick up exactly where he left off. The strikeouts have been down over a small sample size, with only four over seven innings pitched in June, but he has managed to hold base runners and limit damage to maintain a respectable 2.57 ERA over that timespan. To put his ERA into perspective, he has allowed no runs over six consecutive innings of work after giving up two earned runs over an inning of work on June 1st, the day of his return.
Examining the roster since Brett Cecil’s recent trip to the disabled list reveals a stark lack of left-handed relievers available out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays. The blow to Cecil is an especially big one because, unlike the outfield depth, the depth within the left-handed reliever department is quite shallow. Unless the Blue Jays seek to acquire a real major-league arm, or want give old veterans like Raul Valdes Mike Zagurski one last kick of the can, they may have to take another look at young Rob Rasmussen to eventually fill the void in the bullpen. Luckily for them, Rasmussen is responding and showing them that he could be a viable option if necessary in the near future.