Blue Jays: How the Jays should handle top pitching prospects
The Toronto Blue Jays seem to be done with their offseason shopping. While they managed to create one of the more dangerous lineups in all of baseball, the rotation and bullpen are still a work in progress, with a lot of question marks. With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that the rotation and bullpen are going to be areas of the team that GM Ross Atkins focuses on improving throughout the season.
The Jays could definitely go out and acquire a top of the rotation arm, or another shutdown reliever at the trade deadline. Both of those options are realistic ones but the best upgrades for both the rotation and bullpen might be internal ones in the form of top prospects Simeon Woods Richardson and Alek Manoah.
For those who are unfamiliar, both Woods Richardson and Manoah are highly regarded pitching prospects in the Jays’ farm system. Both are ranked in the top hundred of multiple prospect lists such as MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. Despite each of them only having one season of minor league ball under their belts, both Woods Richardson and Manoah could be making their debuts soon, possibly this year.
With both hurlers rapidly approaching the big leagues, the Jays will have to figure out the best way to integrate them into this team. The good news for management is that there’s a blueprint from a few years ago that helped two former top prospects break into the bigs. Those prospects were Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez and the Jays could reimplement some of the tactics that were used by the previous front office and coaching staff back in 2014 to help Woods Richardson and Manoah start off their carriers.
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The Jays used two different approaches when it came to handling Stroman and Sanchez, but both methods would definitely be applicable in this situation. Stroman was a little more advanced than Sanchez was, as he finished the 2013 season in AA and was able to start 2014 in AAA. Because of this, Stroman was able to make his big league debut near the end of May, spending more time in the bigs that season.
The Jays used Stroman in a reliever/starter hybrid role. He made his first few appearances out of the bullpen, both to manage his innings and to get him accustomed to the big leagues before opening him up, and letting him make 20 starts to end the season.
Sanchez on the other hand, started the 2014 season in AA and wasn’t able to make it to the big leagues until the end of August. When Sanchez was called up, the Jays used him solely as a reliever, to manage his innings and because they were still in the hunt for a playoff spot and thought he’d be more effective out of the pen.
Both of these options could definitely be used to help Woods Richardson and Manoah break into the big leagues and help with a potential playoff push later in the season. I don’t think that either of them will be in the majors by May, like Stroman was, but I think the hybrid starter/reliever role he was used in could be viable, just in a shorter time period and depending on how well the rotation is performing.
Pitching solely out of the bullpen, like Sanchez did, may be the more realistic option due to the amount of time that both arms will have to spend in the minors. The Jays will hopefully be in a playoff race around this time aswell, and starting meaningful games in late August and September is a lot to ask of rookies.
Pitching out of the pen this season could end up being an ideal scenario for both Woods Richardson and Manoah, as they would get stretched out and developed as starters in the minors for the first 3-4 months of the season, then be called up towards the end of the year to boost the bullpen down the stretch, and then transition back into the rotation next spring.
I think both Woods Richardson and Manoah could handle pitching out of the pen at the big league level this season. Evaluators think that Manoah could be a reliever in the majors right now because of his plus fastball and wipe out slider. Woods Richardson is a very advanced pitcher for his age, with a mid 90’s fastball, a plus curveball, and an elite plus change up that would all play up in the bullpen.
The Jays have stated that they are committed to developing both Woods Richardson and Manoah as starters. However, having them pitch out of the bullpen for a month or two during the end of the season should not hinder their development.
In a shorter sample size, I think that it could be beneficial for both of them to pitch in a relief role for the last chunk of this season, to garner experience at the big league level, and to help the Jays contend for a playoff spot this season. It worked for Sanchez, who was able to transition back to the rotation in 2016, and led the AL in ERA after mainly pitching out of the pen prior to that.
Woods Richardson and Manoah are going to be good major league pitchers. I’m very interested to see how management uses them early on in their careers and how comparable it will be to Stroman and Sanchez.