Blue Jays: What you need to know about Joe Biagini


Blue Jays Rule 5 pick Joe Biagini is a career minor league starter, but Toronto seems intent on shortening up the right-hander to maximize his arm

Jays fans are being forced to dream on the additions of Darwin Barney and Rule 5 selection Joe Biagini after a quiet week at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. Biagini isn’t a name that comes with much wow-factor given that he was a late-round college selection who’s never made a prominent appearance on a Giants top prospect list, but like any newcomer to the organization, he’s worth getting to know.

A 26th rounder in 2011 out of UC Davis, Biagini got his start in the Northwest League before spending the latter half of 2012 and all of 2013 with the Single-A Augusta GreenJackets of the South Atlantic League. After a full 2014 of Hi-A ball in the California League, Biagini continued his league-per-year rise in 2015 making 22 starts for the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels of the Eastern League.

Biagini’s peripheral stats may always look uglier than the final score suggests, but with an ability to chew through innings and work the bottom half of the strike zone, he’s done well to keep the ball in the park and limit damage. Especially in 2015, where he saw his walk rate drop to a career minor league low of 2.3. With a strong and mature 6’4″ frame he’s also been able to work his fastball closer to the mid-90s while resting in the area of 91-93 MPH.

At first glance he seemed a more natural fit to compete for a long man or swingman role, which I’d suggested was the role they had in mind for Yusmeiro Petit throughout their brief free agent pursuit. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins seems more inclined to shorten up Biagini, however, to see if they’re able to maximize his arm and squeeze out a velocity bump.

“[He’s a] powerful right-handed pitcher who potentially we’ll shorten up, put him in shorter stints and see if there’s a little bit of upside to his stuff,” Atkins told Mike Wilner of Sportsnet in this piece from earlier today. “A three-pitch mix, a guy who jumps a little bit more subjectively than objectively, but still has a lot of interesting elements.”

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Biagini already throws a changeup in the lower 80s, so the primary objective with the experiment would be to boost the effectiveness of multiple pitches just by increasing his fastball velocity. The parallel for this move, of course, is the 2015 season of Liam Hendriks. The value in that comparison is that, looking back on Hendriks’ years as a starting pitcher with lower velocity, he also found a great deal of bats while struggling to rack up strikeouts.

In a Baseball America chat from October, Josh Norris was asked “Is RHP Joe Biagini someone to watch? He’s 25 and his peripherals weren’t good, but he was adept at run prevention.”

He responded: “He got a little love from one manager for his ability to work his FB/CB combo and ability to command the bottom part of the zone. The Giants have an excellent ability to turn unsexy prospects into major leaguers, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him in the bay at some point.”

That’s another mention of his work down in the zone, so if he can maintain that part of his game while pushing velocity, his arm could play favorably in the Rogers Centre. That is, of course, assuming an absolute best-case scenario in which Biagini hits all the right notes and grabs a spot on the opening day 25-man roster.

If not, Toronto could look to avoid offering him back to San Francisco for a fee of $25,000 and instead negotiate a small deal to keep him in the organization. While shortening his arm in hopes of creating an impact reliever is a perfectly fine first step, keeping him at AAA Buffalo in a depth starting role would be equally attractive if you’re the Blue Jays. Besides, the Bisons are wide open.

The bullpen role represents Toronto’s Major League need, however, which will take priority and guide the decisions made with him throughout Spring Training. Much like an out-of-options player, his Rule 5 status will also give him the narrow tie-breaker should he and another relief arm be neck-and-neck entering the season.