Undrafted out of the University of Hawaii, relief pitcher Jackson Rees would eventually sign with the Blue Jays to a minor league contract back in 2018. While the right-hander would struggle in his first professional season, Rees would absolutely dominate opposing batters in 2019 on his way to earning numerous awards including MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and MiLB.com Staff Choice for Best Relief Pitcher.
In 39 appearances in 2019, Rees would craft a 0.73 ERA across two different A leagues, finishing the season with 88 strikeouts, 15 walks, nine saves, and a 0.892 WHIP over 61.2 innings of work. While the 2020 minor league season was cancelled due to COVID-19, the California native would be invited to the Jays Spring Training camp earlier this year, appearing in two games and would not allow a hit or an earned run while striking out four through two innings of work.
Rees will be heading to the Buffalo Bisons in AAA as per yesterday’s roster announcement and could see some opportunities to close games once again this season. He is not on the 40 man roster as of right now, but more injuries to the Blue Jays bullpen and a strong start to the season could see the righty go from undrafted to major league baseball player in just four years time.
While one could argue that Yosver Zulueta is not really considered an “under the radar” prospect given how much coverage he had this Spring Training, there is a good to fair chance that not many Blue Jays fans knew who the Cuban native was before the start of this season.
Spending three seasons in the Cuban National Series (CNS) since the age of 18, Zulueta signed with the Blue Jays back in 2019 as an international free agent and would have to undergo Tommy John surgery before even throwing an inning for his new ball club. While the right-hander is now healthy, he was roughed up in the two appearances he had during Spring Training earlier this year, giving up two earned runs and two walks over two innings of work while also striking out two batters.
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What makes Zulueta an intriguing prospect to watch is that he has the potential to climb through the farm system very quickly given his previous experience in Cuba and his arsenal of pitches. The righty has the ability to both start and pitch in relief and has a cannon of a fastball that can reach the high 90’s, complimented with an assortment of offspeed pitches that keep batters guessing in the box. Zulueta will begin the season with the Low-A Dunedin Blue Jays and I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear his name creep up the prospect rankings (currently ranked #21) and the Blue Jays farm system as the season progresses.
Another international free agent signing, pitcher Eric Pardinho has had his fair share of setbacks over the past few seasons.
Making his professional debut back in 2018 at just 17 years old, the right-hander was performing well at every level he was slotted in at, crafting a 2.57 ERA over 19 appearances (18 starts) with 99 strikeouts, 32 walks, and a 1.129 WHIP over 87.2 innings across Rookie and A ball. Towards the end of the season, he would be placed on the injured list as he was experiencing soreness in his elbow, an injury that would lead to the Brazillian prospect requiring Tommy John surgery and sidelining him for the non-existent 2020 minor league season.
While the prospect has been sharing his progress on social media, Pardinho is still a few weeks away from being ready to go and will most likely being heading to A ball once he his healthy. Considering Pardinho was once a top-rated prospect in the Jays organization, the injury has seen him slide down to #14 on the internal rankings.
Once healthy, if right-hander can return to the same form he had prior to being placed on the injured list, he should easily find himself heading to AA New Hampshire by the end of the season and possibly knocking on the major league door sometime next season (if all goes well).