Back with the Blue Jays, Scott Copeland may have figured out that the path back to the majors is the one he knows the best.
Roberto Hernandez was the headliner of Friday’s quintet of acquisitions by the Toronto Blue Jays, but he isn’t the most familiar name to Blue Jays fans. Especially considering all his good years came under his Fausto Carmona persona. Scott Copeland returned to the fold on a minor league deal at the same time. It’s the third straight off-season that he’s been into the free agent waters and emerged on the same shore as before, returning to the familiar confines of Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo.
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For a refresher on Copeland’s 2015, he joined the Blue Jays for a brief relief stint in May before making three starts in June before being sent back down following a disastrous June 21st start against the Orioles (1.1IP, 7ER). He was the odd man out when Darwin Barney came to town, designated for assignment in September so the backup infielder could be added to the roster, and that likely inspired him to take his stellar AAA performance (11-6, 2.90 ERA in 21 appearances for Buffalo last season) and see if he could parlay that into a permanent MLB gig.
However, placing a resume that reads 1-1, 6.43 ERA in 5 Blue Jays appearances is not going to get many call backs for contract signings. Toronto fans should take heart that the numbers are skewed by the start in Baltimore . Take out that appearance, and Copeland has a 2.57 ERA scattering 16 hits over 14 innings.
Fans can be forgiven for looking past Copeland when perusing all the names of pitchers brought in by the Shapiro regime to fill in the slots of the Bisons’ roster. Hernandez was the name with the most cache from the latest flurry of signings. Brad Penny is a two-time All Star and he has a World Series ring. Wade LeBlanc has been in the majors for seven seasons, even if 2015 consisted of a two-month vacation in the Ōmiya Bonsai Village.
Copeland is not even the most famous Scott on the team anymore. Scott Diamond, the good ole Canadian boy, has joined the Bisons and brings three seasons worth of starts from his Minnesota days. So why is Copeland and his 15.1 innings of MLB experience the most likely candidate to be the first call out of Buffalo? Options.
The 28-year-old Copeland made his first 40-man roster last year, giving him unlimited tickets on the QEW express for the next three years. Both Hernandez and Penny have opt-out clauses in their contracts at the end of spring training. If they exercise them, the projected starting rotation in Buffalo would be Diamond / LeBlanc / Copeland / whoever emerges from the position battles (Bobby Doran? Casey Lawrence?).
Both Diamond and LeBlanc could be called up if there is a long term injury, but if John Gibbons wants to give Marcus Stroman a rest, or skip R.A. Dickey in a park where the knuckler may not be as effective, then he may opt to take a Bison for the start instead of reinstalling the loser of the Jesse Chavez/Drew Hutchison battle in their place. Both Diamond and LeBlanc would have to clear waivers on their way back down from a brief appearance with the Blue Jays. Rather than risking the balance of the Bisons’ rotation by losing one of the two veteran starters, Copeland can come up instead, make the appearance and be back in Buffalo for late-night wings.
In talking with Jays Journal minor league guru Ryan Mueller, he confirmed that Copeland has the tools to be an MLB starter, at least on a bad team. His sinker induces a lot of ground balls, and despite not having pitches that can sit a batter down on their own (Copeland’s 2015 K/9s were 4.8 in AAA and 3.5 in MLB), Copeland can eat enough innings to keep his team in the game with a chance. The Texan’s BABIP should see a significant drop from the .383 he was saddled with in Toronto last year. Given the news of a dirt infield being laid down in RogerSkydome in February, and with Troy Tulowitzki behind him instead of the busted Swiffer that was Jose Reyes, Copeland’s average should fall more in line with the .275 Buffalo BABIP.
Scott Copeland starting would be disappointing for the Blue Jays in the sense that it means the starting pitching depth would be tested. However, given the numbers and the familiarity with the system, it’s not surprising that he’s back with the organization and could be called upon again to take the mound in a pinch. Blue Jays fans shouldn’t be worried if Copeland is called up from the other side of the Falls. The numbers suggest he’ll do just fine.