Arm injuries run rampant through Blue Jays farm system, spelling trouble for the future

Four of Toronto’s top 20 pitching prospects are currently shelved with injuries.
May 27, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) leaves the game against the Chicago White Sox due to injury during the second inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
May 27, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) leaves the game against the Chicago White Sox due to injury during the second inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

With snake-bitten starter Alek Manoah undergoing an MRI on his pitching elbow after experiencing discomfort on Monday, the glare is back on the long problematic lack of MLB-ready pitching depth in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system. Sure, the City Connect uniform drop was nice, but what about the pitching?

Those depth issues have been glossed over by some consistent turns in the rotation by the core four starters. But with the team 11.5 games back of the Yankees in last place in the AL East, the Blue Jays’ front office is dumpster diving for arms again just like they did in May and June of 2021, when the bullpen blew nine saves and lost 14 games over those two months to put the team 8.5 games back of Boston by July 1st that year.

Thankfully general manager Ross Atkins has not gone looking for the likes of Rafael Dolis, Tyler Chatwood, Anthony Castro, Jeremy Beasley and Trent Thornton again, but he has added a bunch of warm, non-rostered bodies to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons pitching staff, including Ryan Burr, Mike Mayers, Beau Sulser, Joel Kuhnel and Aaron Sanchez.

Sure Bowden Francis looks like he’s nearing a return soon to Toronto’s rotation. Yariel Rodríguez has only pitched two innings for the Bisons since starting his rehab assignment on May 21st. Erik Swanson is trying to figure things out and reboot his season at Buffalo as well.

What about the BlueJays’ top pitching prospects?

Based on Jays Journal’s 2024 prospects pre-season ranking update, seventeen of the top 30 Blue Jays prospects were pitchers. Two of them are already on the 40-man roster, including Adam Macko and Hagen Danner.

However, of those 17, Ricky Tiedemann (No.1), Brandon Barriera (No. 5), Landen Maroudis (No. 11), and Chad Dallas (No. 19) are all currently on the injured list. No. 14 prospect, Yosver Zulueta, was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man for Daniel Vogelbach; he was then claimed on waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, who sent him to their Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats.

For those counting, that’s four of the top 20 Blue Jay’s prospects lost to injury just since February. In other words, rampant arm injuries are decimating the farm system and the pitching depth.

Tiedemann was placed on the 7-day injured list on April 18th after only three starts and 8 innings pitched for Buffalo. Thankfully his injured elbow was diagnosed as ulnar nerve inflammation with no tear.

The Blue Jays’ top draft pick at No. 23 overall in 2022, 20-year old Barriera underwent a combination Tommy John surgery and internal brace procedure on his left throwing elbow in late April to address a Grade 2 UCL tear. The Blue Jays expect Barriera to be sidelined for the rest of the year… at least. He’s only made 8 minor league starts and pitched 21.1 innings since being drafted in 2022.

Maroudis, a 19-year-old righty who had a 0.84 ERA over 10.2 inning pitched in his first professional season with the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays, underwent elbow surgery this week as well. The timeline for his return is currently unknown.

Chad 'Cheese’ Dallas was unable to take his turn in the Bisons rotation again after his previous start on May 15th, and was placed on the 7-day injured list on May 28th with an undisclosed issue.

Obviously with the Manoah MRI and IL stints for Francis and Rodríguez, the injury bug has bitten the 26-man big league roster as well. But could these rampant structural arm issues we are now seeing with top pitching prospects point to a darker issue with how the Blue Jays’ farm system develops pitchers?

There have been a rash of elbow surgeries across the league this year, headlined by aces who’ve been shut down like the Braves’ Spencer Strider and the Guardians’ Shane Bieber. 2023 AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole has yet to pitch this year due to nerve inflammation in his pitching elbow, while former Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray and Jacob deGrom have all undergone Tommy surgery in recent years, as have superstars like Shohei Ohtani and Shane McClanahan.

So while the rash of elbow injuries continues, the Blue Jays seem to be following the industry trend with the rampant injuries in their farm system. Can they buck the trend and find a way to avoid injury by focusing less on velocity and spin rates, and more on mechanics and leg drive to take pressure off of young arms? That remains to be seen, but the loss of all these top prospects to injury spells trouble for the future.