Next on Jays Journal’s annual list of the top Blue Jays prospects is Trent Thornton, a right-handed pitcher acquired from the Houston Astros in exchange for Aledmys Diaz in November, who should join the major-league squad at some point in 2019.
Though a newcomer to the organization with some potential, right-handed pitcher Trent Thornton represents nearly endless question marks as a prospect.
After being acquired by the Blue Jays from the Houston Astros in exchange for infielder Aledmys Diaz, many were skeptical about his ability to contribute consistently to a major league team.
His age presents concerns, while his unorthodox leg kick (examined eloquently by Kaitlyn McGrath of the Athletic in a recent column) makes him difficult to picture in a major league uniform.
Still, after a solid 2018 season (spent with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies), he found his way onto the Blue Jays’ top 30 prospect list on MLB Pipeline, earning himself an invite to big league spring training as a non-roster invitee.
Regardless of where he starts the season, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares as he enters big league camp with his new organization.
Name: Trent Thornton
Position: P Age: 25
Height: 6’0” Weight: 175 lbs
Acquired: November 2018 in a trade with the Houston Astros
Routinely able to reach 95mph (and occasionally touching 97mph), Thornton’s fastball, which was rated a 60 by MLB Pipeline, is his most used pitch. Likely his greatest asset, Fangraphs is confident in his fastball going forward.
In 2018, the native of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia pitched to an ERA of 4.42 in 124.1 frames, striking out 122 and walking just 31.
Boasting a FIP of 4.01, he had a record of 9-8 and started 22 games. Prior to that, in 2017, also with Fresno, he tossed 115.0 innings to an ERA of 5.09, adding 88 strikeouts and posting an uneasy WHIP of 1.391.
With impressive spin rates on his breaking pitches, Thornton’s array of secondary pitches, which includes a changeup, curveball, and slider, are versatile but undeveloped. With a “power[ful] and [deep] changeup”, he’ll have to “trust his changeup more”, per Pipeline. His slider, which could, at some point, transition to a cutter, has been one of his most improved pitches of the last season.
Having walked just 6.0% of batters in 2018, his ability to hit the strike zone is something to behold. Of course, he’ll need some more innings at the game’s highest level to hone his command. Still, his command is not something to be worried about going forward, with Pipeline praising his “strike-throwing ability” in their report.
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For this reason, he could do well as a multi-inning reliever, something that many scouting reports have extensively alluded to. With his uncanny ability to limit free passes, he could conceivably work as a middle/long reliever, if he can keep his strikeout numbers up, that is.
With a big league spring training invite under his belt, Thornton could very well contribute to the major league team in 2019, even if, for some reason, he fails to make the team out of spring training. Eric Longenhagen, lead prospect analyst at Fangraphs, writes that in Thornton, the Blue Jays acquired a pitcher who has “bat-missing stuff” and has the potential to be worth 1.5-2.0 WAR in his first full season.
Estimated by both Fangraphs and Pipeline to join the major league roster during the 2019 season, Thornton is arguably the minor league pitcher who is the closest to making an impact in the bigs. While there is, understandably, quite a bit to sort out, 2019 will be a telling season for him as the organization decides his ultimate role.