It’s no secret that the Blue Jays bullpen has struggled over the last month and a half. The team’s relief core has been riddled with injuries so far this season, seeing key arms such as Julian Merryweather, Ryan Borucki, David Phelps and others spend significant time on the injured list.
These injuries have left what was an outstanding bullpen to begin the season in a depleted state, and has led to an implosion over the last couple of weeks. In the month of May, Blue Jays relievers pitched a total of 97 ⅔ innings and allowed 60 runs, good for an ugly 5.53 ERA. The pen’s struggles have carried over to June, where they have posted a 5.11 ERA and have blown multiple games, which is really going to hurt this club down the stretch where making or missing the playoffs can be determined by a game or two.
There’s no question that the bullpen has to be improved.
With the MLB Draft approaching, the Blue Jays may want to take a page out of the Chicago White Sox’s book.
If you’ve tuned into the MLB Draft before, you’ve probably heard analysts use the phrase, “he could pitch in the big leagues as a reliever right away” when a college arm is selected. This is because most college pitchers taken in the first round fit a similar mold. They normally have a power fastball that can touch the upper 90’s or even triple digits and one plus off speed pitch, but lack command and a third offering, which are tools that need to be developed over time if a pitcher wants to become a big league starter.
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A starting pitcher is far more valuable to a ball club than a reliever is. Teams usually want to get maximum return when investing a first round pick in a player, which is why they will almost always give pitchers selected in the first round every opportunity to be a starter, by giving them plenty of time in the minors to refine their command and add to their repertoire.
The White Sox decided to break this trend in 2020, when they selected Garrett Crochet with the 11th overall pick. Crochet was a classic college arm, as he had a power fastball that could reach triple digits from the left side, and a wipe out slider that graded out at a 60 according to MLB Pipeline’s 20/80 scale.
Crochet lacked a plus third pitch and had shaky command. Scouts projected the lefty as a starter but still viewed him to be at least two years away from the bigs as he would have to refine his command and add a third pitch if he was going to succeed in that role. The White Sox decided to bypass those two years of development and brought Crochet to the big leagues less than four months after they selected him, to pitch in a relief role and help them chase down a playoff spot.
The lefty instantly found success when he arrived in Chicago, and has posted a 0.64 ERA, with an 11.1 K/9 ratio in 28 ⅓ big league innings. Bringing Crochet to the big leagues right away essentially meant that the White Sox punted on the lefty being a starter to help fill a current need on their team.
I believe that there are arms in this draft class who could make the same jump that Crochet did. Sam Bachman and Gavin Williams are two names that could be available when the Jays are on the clock. Both Bachman and Williams possess plus fastballs that run up to 100MPH and wipe-out off speed pitches that should fare well in a major league bullpen immediately.
This isn’t a move that I would love to see the Jays make if they decide to go in this direction, as they would give up getting maximum return from their first round pick right away. It would also be extremely risky to trust a 21 or 22 year old rookie with high leverage innings in a playoff race.
Despite this, the Jays are ready to win and are really just a bullpen away from being a legitimate playoff threat due to how potent their lineup has been and the stability they have found in their rotation. Their farm system is also loaded, and can afford to not get maximum value from their first rounder this year, due to the talent they already have in it.
If the Blue Jays truly feel there is a college arm that can handle pitching meaningful innings in a big league bullpen right away, then I think that it is an interesting route that should at least be explored to help revive a bullpen that has been horrendous as of late.