Blue Jays: The next generation of the “Lansing Three”

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 2: Mark Shapiro is introduced as president of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on November 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 2: Mark Shapiro is introduced as president of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on November 2, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The future of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff looks a lot brighter, both at the MLB level and also throughout the MiLB ranks.

What was the obvious weakness of the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays roster could turn into a potential strength for the club in 2020. After a rough season of watching a random assortment of starting pitchers, the Blue Jays have made some significant upgrades with the additions of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and the likely return of Matt Shoemaker.

The off-season work has greatly improved the pitching depth charts throughout the Blue Jays organization, as the new additions will push several starters back to Triple-A to start the 2020 campaign, likely where they belong for now. That said, there is talent among the group that features Trent Thornton, Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, and more, and we’re almost certain to see most of those arms throughout the 162 game season ahead of us.

It’s certainly a step in the right direction for the rebuilding club, and hopefully those veterans can provide a solid bridge to the future in the Blue Jays’ rotation. It could take a few years, but there is even more help coming beyond the names I’ve already mentioned.

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The most well-known arm that has yet to make an MLB appearance would be Nate Pearson, who is almost certainly destined to start the 2020 campaign in Triple-A. He made just six starts there last year, and with the need to build up his innings count (he has just 123.1 professional innings under his belt), the Blue Jays can control his workload more easily if he starts the year in Buffalo. Plus, there’s that whole “service time” thing, but we can talk about that another day.

Beyond Pearson is an exciting group that helps round out the Blue Jays top 10 prospects at the moment. In fact, some of the young arms remind me of a group that was referred to as the “Lansing Three” a few years ago, when the Blue Jays had one of the more enviable MiLB pitching stables in all of baseball. The “three” referred to at that time were Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, and Justin Nicolino. The trio were all selected by the Blue Jays during the 2010 draft, and started their pro careers mostly together.

Of course, those three didn’t work out for the Blue Jays in the way that many of us dreamed at the time. Syndergaard was traded to the Mets in the fateful R.A. Dickey sway, and Nicolino was a part of the 12-player blockbuster with the Miami Marlins before the 2013 season. Sanchez was the one that stuck, and despite winning the AL ERA title in 2016, turned out to be a disappointment, mostly because of injuries.

The Blue Jays could be looking at a do-over opportunity at that “Lansing Three” idea this season with some of the talent in the lower rungs of their minor league system. Among their top ten prospects are three pitchers who will likely start their 2020 seasons in Lansing with the Low-A affiliate of the Blue Jays, and could have a chance to draw the same type of attention that came back in 2012.

That trio could include their #3 prospect in Alek Manoah, #6 with Adam Kloffenstein, and #9 with Eric Pardinho. I would have liked to include Simeon Woods Richardson as well, but chances are he’ll go back to the High-A Dunedin Blue Jays to start the year, especially after impressing with a short stint there late last year. If we’re legitimately talking about the pitchers in the Blue Jays’ top 10, you could also throw Kendall Williams into the mix (#10).

As for the three of four I’ll focus on for now, there’s a great deal of talent on the verge of making an MLB climb, and the future should be very bright. Manoah was drafted last season and made six appearances with the Vancouver Canadians in the Northwest League. He was clearly pitching against inferior competition, posting a 2.65 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 17 innings, and he’ll certainly move up the ladder, likely beginning the year in Lansing. That said, the soon to be 22-year-old wouldn’t surprise me if he moved up quickly, as he’s older a little more advanced than some of the other Blue Jay minor leaguers.

Kloffenstein was selected in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft and has made the Blue Jays look pretty good so far. He made 13 starts with the Canadians last year and posted a 2.24 ERA over 64.1 innings, striking out 64 against 23 walks and putting up a 1.088 WHIP. He’s still just 19 years old and will need to build up his innings limits, but don’t be surprised if he dominates in Low-A this year, and finishes the year in Dunedin, or maybe even in Double-A.

Pardinho lost a little bit of lustre last season, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. He dropped down to #9 on the prospects list after rating higher in the past, but that’s more a result of the added talent than a major drop off in production. It’s also the result of a battle with injury last year that limited him to just seven starts in Low-A. Chances are he’ll repeat the level, at least to begin the 2020 season, but it shouldn’t be for long. He ended up posting a 2.41 ERA over those seven starts and 33.2 innings, and hopefully will be healthy enough to regain his full prospect status over the next 12 months. Keep in mind, Pardinho won’t turn 19 until early in January, so he has plenty of time.

And if Woods Richardson hadn’t performed so well in High-A last season, I’d likely lump him in this group as well, especially at just 19 years old. He had some mixed results over 78.1 innings while with the Mets organization, but was dominant in High-A after being traded to the Blue Jays. He ended up making six starts and putting up a 2.54 ERA over 28.1 innings, allowing a WHIP of just 0.882. My assumption is that he’ll return to Dunedin to start the 2020 campaign, but will likely move up to Double-A with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at some point early in the year.

Next. With a stabilized staff, expect more offence from Jansen. dark

For a team that felt like it had almost no hope in the starting pitching department last year, the Blue Jays are in a much better position as of today. Their big league rotation should be greatly improved, and there’s a chance for big things from the homegrown starters over the next few years. For all of the criticism that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have taken, it appears the fruits of their labour have yet to come, and that’s a pretty exciting thing to think about.