A Blue Jays starting rotation candidate that isn't talked about enough

Jun 17, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Bowden Francis (44) in action
Jun 17, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Bowden Francis (44) in action / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With pitchers and catchers having reported, it’s time for the hype train. Videos of bullpen sessions, media scrums, and speculation will all run rampant. Quotes from guys like Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt will make headlines, along with images of Alek Manoah and how good of shape he’s in

One guy who could fly under the radar this spring, but shouldn’t, is Bowden Francis.

Francis has been quite the revelation over the last couple of seasons in the system. He’s a benefactor of the Blue Jays pitching lab, having helped him gain velocity and increase his development as a pitcher exponentially. Despite this success, he enters 2024 on the outside looking in for a pitching staff that is stacked with talent. 

The former seventh-round pick pitched the best ball of his career in 2023. Francis appeared in 20 games for the Jays, totaling 36.1 innings while appearing in a variety of roles. These included long relief, the bulk pitcher following an opener, and the rare leverage situation. Francis also dominated Triple-A during his occasional time as a Bison, inducing a whopping 14 K/9 in 27 innings for Buffalo. 

Anyone with these numbers entering his prime years as a pitcher would be in line for a larger role. But with the Jays considerable pitching depth and Alek Manoah viewed as the likely fifth starter, Francis could be seen as an afterthought.

To compound on the roster crunch, Mitch White is out of options. White has pitched to a similar role as Francis during his time as a Blue Jay, splitting time between spot starts and the bullpen in both Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo. Francis has had more success, though Mitch White has the edge in experience and was dominant to end the season in Triple-A last year. Francis, with the benefit of options, may be the odd man out come opening day.

However, injuries can happen, and they always do. If the Blue Jays are misfortunate enough to leave camp with one of their guaranteed four starting pitchers on the injured list, Francis could be in line to step in should he have a productive spring. 

Francis makes his living off an above average fastball and curveball, with run values of 6 and 5 respectively in 2023. He’ll also mix in the occasional slider and changeup, but has really only had to rely on his two best pitches in his shorter outings.

Having Francis stretched out this spring is key, as he could very well be the first one called upon should the Jays need a sixth starting pitcher. Manoah appears to have the inside track to the fifth job, but Francis is still worth keeping an eye on.