Should Blue Jays consider starting Joe Biagini in 2017?

May 7, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31) pitches in the ninth inning against the LA Dodgers at Rogers Centre. Dodgers won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
May 7, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Joe Biagini (31) pitches in the ninth inning against the LA Dodgers at Rogers Centre. Dodgers won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini owns a 0.93 ERA through 9.2 innings pitched in 2016

Joe Biagini has been a pleasant surprise for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016, both for his excellent performance on the mound, and his refusal to mumble a recycled “we’ve got to take it one game at a time” to the media.

A Rule 5 pick from the San Francisco Giants, Biagini has gone from a roster long shot, to a battle with Arnold Leon for the final bullpen role, to pushing for higher-leverage roles in early May.

Biagini joined the Blue Jays having never pitched above double-A ball in the Giants’ system, all as a starter after being drafted in the 26th round in 2011. Given the wealth of scouting information in the modern game, Rule 5 picks rarely develop into the star players they once did, but Toronto could have a legitimate keeper in Biagini. During Friday’s game, Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair had the following to say:

What a jump for Biagini, who just two years ago with the Advanced-A San Jose Giants posted a 4.08 ERA as a 24-year-old. He was an arm that possessed undoubted value, but seemed to be headed towards more of a high-grade organizational depth role. Perhaps something similar to Scott Copeland, who recently left the Blue Jays to sign in Korea, or a lesser version of Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, both of whom profiled as serviceable back-end starters when traded to the Oakland Athletics in the Josh Donaldson deal.

Now that Biagini has been given a look, granted a very short one with just one month in the books, he’s beginning to earn the trust of his new manager. Looking ahead to 2017 — we’re already doing that? — there is some logic behind stretching Biagini back out if it’s done right.

Before anything else, Biagini’s arm stamina won’t likely be a worry as he pitched 128.0 innings in 2014 and 130.1 last season in double-A. With 86 minor league starts under his belt, he knows the gig.

It’s important to remember, though, that despite the talent on San Francisco’s roster, Biagini was left unprotected ahead of the  Rule 5 Draft and has thrown just nine and two-thirds innings in the major leagues. So let’s assume, for a moment, that Biagini’s rookie season continues on smoothly and he finishes the year with an ERA between 2.50 and 3.50.

Brett Cecil and Drew Storen are both entering free agency following the season, but the most important names in regard to Biagini are Gavin Floyd and Jesse Chavez. Without those two arms on the roster next season, Toronto’s bullpen will also be in need of an arm that can provide high-quality length when needed, perhaps a role suited perfectly for Biagini.

R.A. Dickey is a pending free agent himself, leaving Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Marco Estrada under contract in the rotation. Drew Hutchison will spend this season looking to re-establish himself, while top prospects Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, and Jon Harris will look to make the same leap Daniel Norris did in Toronto.

When free agency and trades are taken into consideration, barring unforeseen circumstances, that is a tough rotation for Biagini to crack. Even if he’s maintaining his 95-96 MPH bullpen velocity, which is another conversation, itself.

Next: Blue Jay top pitching prospects: Week 4 roundup

That doesn’t mean, though, that he should not be stretched out. Instead, assuming all things stay relatively ‘normal’, Biagini should be given the Sanchez treatment: stretched out for camp, just in case.

Depending on next year’s bullpen picture, which will be drastically different that what Blue Jays fans see now, there could even be some wiggle room to have Biagini stay in a starting role with triple-A Buffalo if the organization chooses to take a hard line with his role.

That’s miles down the road, though, and with 9.2 innings under his belt, the fan favourite has only just turned the key to start the engine.