As the Blue Jays nurture the young talents of Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez, they’ve encountered a delicate balance of current impact and future potential
In January of 2015, the Blue Jays had a full stable of capable arms in their early to mid-twenties and the future of the rotation looked bright. Among 2015 rotation hopefuls like Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, and Daniel Norris were others who ended up in the bullpen like Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro (remember him?), and eventually Aaron Sanchez
Now that a year has passed, obviously the scenario has changed significantly. Norris and Castro are gone (also Jeff Hoffman, Matt Boyd), Stroman has been tabbed to lead the staff, and Hutchison will fight for a rotation spot. That leaves Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez, both of whom could be needed in the bullpen again if the Blue Jays want to truly compete in 2016.
But there’s an argument for why it’s crucial one or both end up in the rotation this season.
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Sanchez is the likeliest candidate to crack the rotation and is expected to be stretched out this spring. For good reason, too. The 23 year old got a cup of coffee in 2014, began the year in the 2015 rotation, and finished the season as a crucial part of the bullpen. In all, he has had 65 regular season appearances with 11 coming as a starter. He showed great promise as a starter prior to his injury, rounding the corner just prior to going down, but by the time he had returned the Jays had a much greater need in the bullpen, and again showed great value as a late inning reliever.
The 20 year old Osuna entered the season as an unlikely young bullpen arm along with Castro, and quietly began to show his own great value. He didn’t officially take over closing duties until June, and it was mostly by default after Castro and Brett Cecil struggled in the role. While having a rookie closer on a contender isn’t normally ideal, Osuna answered the call and pitched with the poise of a man twice his age, even performing well in the playoffs.
While both have proven to be valuable late-inning relievers, they are only giving the Blue Jays approximately 1/3 of the innings they could if they were starting. While it’s a sacrifice fans are willing to make in the short term, what if neither ever become starters? More importantly, is sacrificing their development as starters, putting their future, and the team’s at risk?
In the 90’s the Blue Jays regularly brought up minor leaguers, made them a part of the bullpen, and then eventually transitioned them into the rotation. And it worked well. Guys like David Wells, Pat Hentgen, Al Leiter and more went this route. The problem is, pitching has changed a lot since the 90’s and development has never been more scrutinized.
More recent examples of guys trying to flip-flop have ended in disaster. Anyone remember Brandon Morrow? He’s still looking to stabilize his career after several failed seasons trying to convert to the rotation from the bullpen with a consistent level of success
How about Neftali Feliz? He was one of the best closers in baseball prior to 2012 and has never been fully healthy, or as effective, since his attempt to become a starter. Sticking with the Rangers, the same could be said for Alexei Ogando who was an All-Star in 2011 before flip-flopping him back and forth caught up with him.
The most significant recent example would have to be Aroldis Chapman. At the time of his posting, Chapman looked like he had the potential to be one of the next great left-handers in the MLB. However, the Reds had a greater need in the bullpen and Chapman has never made a start in the MLB. As effective as he’s been as a closer, one has to wonder what could have been.
These examples don’t eliminate the possibility that Sanchez and/or Osuna can become effective starters, but it does show how difficult the transition can be for young power arms. While I do believe it’s crucial for at least one of the two to remain in the bullpen for 2016 (likely Osuna), the Jays have to be wary of what this development path could mean longterm, and how it will effect their futures.
Thankfully, acquiring Drew Storen gives them the flexibility to explore some options.