A mere couple of days stand in the way of the Jays’ chances in acquiring help for their labouring pitching staff before the trade deadline comes to pass. Sure, they could still explore the waiver wire for the next month but the likelihood of a David Cone like trade isn’t something I would hold my breath on.
Without delving into the depths of every trade rumour the Jays have been linked to–there’s been a lot– it would be fruitful to examine if any of these notorious prospects are capable of contributing to the major league pennant race for the next two months.
First, the more obvious and higher-up prospect Daniel Norris. As you may remember, Norris had a brief cameo with the Jays earlier this season where he pitched in five games with a 3.86 ERA and 1-1 record. He was later demoted to Triple-A Buffalo to fine tune his mechanics and improve his command where he’s camped out (literally?) ever since.
There he hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was in 2014. Through 85.2 innings, he holds a 4.10 ERA and a win-loss record not worthy of mention because of the Bisons’ calamity of an offence. Despite this, Norris holds a 3.49 FIP indicating he’s been better than given credit for.
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The problem, however, is that Norris hasn’t rejuvenated that strikeout pitcher potential with his return to the minors. In 2014, albeit in a much smaller sample size–22.2 IP– Norris’s K/9 was 15.09 with a walk rate at only 3.18. Even if you consider his entire 2014 across Single, Double and Triple-A, his strikeout and walk rates were still awe worthy at 11.8 and 3.1. This year, since being demoted, Norris witnessed his strikeout rate decline to 7.98 batters per nine innings while watching his walk rate increase slightly to 3.89. His last ten outings manifest a slight improvement in command with a 3.13 BB/9 but his lack of strikeouts are a tad concerning for a pitcher who’s main gift was his swing-and-miss potential.
Following the chain of thought with Norris’s circumspect command, it’s of this writer’s opinion that Daniel Norris not be the one (if anyone) who is promoted to assist in the run for a American League pennant. The Jays sent him down with the goal of improving his command to work deeper into ball games; that goal has yet to be manifestly accomplished. Unless the Jays plan to employ him in a short-term bullpen role, it’s best he continue to hone in on what’s truly important as a young promising prospect in the Jays system, throwing strikes.
Photo via: MiLB.com- FisherCats Game Recap, July 18, 2015. Credit: Rachel Murphy/NH Fisher Cats
The other prospect worthy of promotion is the rather fresh Jeff Hoffman. Hoffman’s no stranger to any Jays fan as he’s been in and out of trade talks since his draft day last season. In his rookie season, Hoffman has done nothing but live up to expectations. Starting in Single-A Dunedin, he’s maintained a 3.21 ERA over 56 innings earning himself a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire. There, he’s been even better. In two starts, he’s pitched 11.2 innings for a 1.54 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .214 batting average. His command continues to fuel that success with a 2.41 BB/9 and 6.11 K/9 rate.
So Hoffman is really good, but is he ready for promotion? As the sceptics would argue, he’s seen just two outings of Double-A and it’s only been a full year since he was drafted, so maybe this is all just rushing him.
This argument I’ve never completely understood as a Jays fan. I wondered, does this mistrust in prospects exist in other organizations? For instance, the American League Champion Kansas City Royals who used Brandon Finnegan as an high leverage reliever in the post-season after pitching all of 27 innings since being drafted last June. Or the Cubs who recently promoted no. 3 pick Kyle Schwarber, who, if you haven’t been following, is smashing a tidy .391/.429/.674 slash with three home runs. The abysmal Phillies who promoted no. 7 pick Aaron Nola who’s had a 3.29 ERA in two starts totalling 13.2 innings. Their organizations seem to have no problem fitting in youngsters to win baseball games. After all, the name of the game is winning games, not counting birthday’s and experience. Winning doesn’t discriminate based on age.
Maybe Hoffman needs a little bit more work before coming up; a couple more starts aren’t going to hurt anyone. With his plus velocity, maybe a Finnegan-like role would suit him perfectly come September call-ups and a consequent playoff run.
Internally, the options aren’t plentiful for starters in the Jays system if they want to fill a canyon-sized void. Randy Wolf is a wildcard possibility but at some point you run the risk of rolling the dice too much on a provenly average commodity. Matt Boyd is an option too; he’s still pitching well at Triple-A but it’s unlikely John Gibbons has any renewed confidence in the young lefty after his last disaster.
Of course, this argument is all circumstantial. In less than a few days one, both, or many more of these prospects may no longer be with the Jays organization. But if they are, have confidence. Crazier things have happened than banking on glory with youth.