Tom Robson pitches for the Bluefield Blue Jays on July 18, 2013. Mandatory Credit: Jay Blue
The highest ranked Canadian on our list, Robson isn’t coming in under the radar anymore. I had him ranked #10 on my list.
Name: Tom Robson
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: June 27, 1993 (20)
Height/Weight: 6’4″/200 lbs
Acquired: 4th round of the 2011 draft ($325,000 signing bonus)
High School: Delta SS (Ladner, BC)
Drafted as a highly-regarded young pitcher out of British Columbia, Robson played with the Canadian Junior National Team in 2011 before beginning his professional career the following summer. When I spoke to him this year, Robson spoke highly of his time learning from Paul Quantrill while playing for the National team. Before being drafted, Robson was the 72nd ranked pitcher in the draft and was the highest Canadian selected that year. 2012 was a fairly difficult year for Robson, throwing only 11 innings in Bluefield due to an injury that kept him out most of the season.
In 2013, Robson took some giant steps forwards, starting the season back in Bluefield but thoroughly dominating his competition. He didn’t rack up the strikeouts but his pinpoint control and the difficulty that batters had in getting the ball in the air off of him made him incredibly successful and made the Blue Jays’ decision to call him up to Vancouver after just six starts an easy one.
Once in Vancouver, Robson maintained his success, making seven starts and allowing just four earned runs in 38 1/3 innings (0.94 ERA) while walking 11 and striking out 29. As one of the leaders of the starting staff, Robson ended up pitching six and two-thirds shutout innings in the deciding game of the Northwest League final series against the Chicago Cubs’ affiliate Boise Hawks.
I saw Robson make his penultimate start in Bluefield, throwing five innings of three-hit ball with only one walk and two strikeouts. Of the players that I saw in Bluefield, he was probably the one that surprised me the most, particularly with his velocity. Robson doesn’t strike out a ton of batter but it’s not because he can’t. His primary pitch is a hard sinker that he throws around 91-92 mph (from the radar readings I saw in Bluefield) that is incredibly difficult to get off the ground. As a result of that, Robson has been an extreme ground-ball pitcher to this point in his career, getting 3.48 ground outs for every air out in 2013.
To go along with the sinker, Robson throws a changeup in the 83 mph range and a curveball in the mid-70s. The change is more developed of the two but they both need some polishing. Robson’s success is due to the fact that he challenges hitters early with his sinker, getting lots of ground balls. To that point, he can frequently get himself out of jams (not that he got into many) with double plays, notching at least one double play ball in all but three of his 2013 starts and he had five in one game on August 9 with Vancouver.
Robson throws from 3/4 arm angle that enables him to get heavy sink on the baseball. He doesn’t have a particularly high leg kick and has a slow-ish stride to the plate, finishing in a fairly low position which probably helps him keep the ball down. Robson’s arm action is very quick and loose and he really gets a good downward plane on the ball.
Robson has advanced control and feel for pitching and is a real competitor on the mound. He gets raves from his coaches thanks to his makeup and competitiveness and it speaks to his ability to fix himself when I was able to see him lose his command for a bit but didn’t let it spiral out of control. He righted his mechanics and finished his outing strongly.
Additionally, he has also shown himself to be a big-game pitcher, winning the final of the Northwest League championship and pitching with the Canadian National Team.
Risk, Outlook and ETA
I became a really big fan of Robson’s from seeing him pitch and talking to him. He has a big, strong frame that can still fill out a bit (and add a little bit of velocity too) to go along with muscular legs that help him push towards the plate. The fact that he’s already got a great sinker means that he’s likely going to be able to go deeper into games by keeping his pitch counts down and spare himself some over-taxing on his arm that some prospects will have when they’re trying to strike out every batter.
Because of the way he pitches, he doesn’t have a lot of risk aside from the usual ones associated with throwing a baseball 90+ miles an hour over and over. Robson can probably easily get to the high minors with the stuff that he has now and when his change and curve polish up a bit, he could be a solid middle-of-the-rotation, innings-eating starter in the majors. He could make the majors as early as 2016 if he continues on his present path.
If you like what you’ve seen by Jay Blue, read his work and listen to his podcast on Blue Jays from Away and follow him on Twitter: @Jaysfromaway.