Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: RHP Trent Thornton

Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Indians
Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Indians / Ron Schwane/GettyImages

Next up in our Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season preview series is right-handed pitcher Trent Thornton.


Addison BargerAnthony BassChris BassittBrandon BeltJosé BerríosBo Bichette, Cavan BiggioMatt ChapmanAdam CimberHagen DannerSantiago EspinalMatt GageYimi GarcíaKevin GausmanChad GreenVladimir Guerrero Jr.Thomas HatchSpencer HorwitzDanny JansenLeo JimenezKevin KiermaierYusei KikuchiAlejandro KirkOtto LopezNathan LukesAlek ManoahOrelvis MartinezTim MayzaWhit MerrifieldNate PearsonZach PopTrevor RichardsJordan RomanoHyun Jin RyuGeorge SpringerErik Swanson, Zach Thompson

Before getting into this, here's a quick refresher on the projection models we'll be looking at.

STEAMER26 G (0 starts), 1-1 record, 4.37 ERA, 24 SO, 9 BB in 26 innings pitched

ZiPS43 G (7 starts), 4-4 record, 4.41 ERA, 78 SO, 33 BB in 85.2 innings pitched

2022 stats: 32 G (0 starts), 0-2 record, 4.11 ERA, 37 SO, 17 BB in 46 innings pitched

After leading the rebuilding Blue Jays in innings pitching in 2019, Thornton has struggled to find himself a consistent role in the majors. With the improvements in pitching depth that the team made this offseason, 2023 feels like a make-or-break season for the 29-year-old, and he'll need to show what he can do if he wants to stick in Toronto.

In the past, the Jays have lacked depth in their bullpen, which has allowed them to experiment with the potential of Thornton's arm. This, however, has led to him feeling a bit like an after though, and with the improved bullpen in 2023, he'll really have to earn a spot. STEAMER projects Thornton to have essentially the same numbers he's had each of the past two seasons, while ZiPS seems to have him in a long-relief/emergency starter role, but again with similar numbers. While this type of performance has kept him with the team in the past, it may not keep him here this season. With that being said, what should we expect from Thornton in 2023?

If you want to paint an optimistic picture of Thornton, you have to start with his spin rate. His fastball and curveball are in the 89th and 98th percentile for spin per baseball savant, which accomplishes a couple of things for him. His high fastball spin makes it slightly more deceptive, so he can get away with average velocity pitches in the zone more than some other pitchers. For his curveball, it leads to it completely bottoming out, which can be a hard adjustment for a hitter. His slider isn't half bad either, with some good horizontal movement. This is where this issue with his fastball and curveball lies though, as the movement is almost entirely vertical. This makes the spin on the pitches far less effective and leads to fewer swings and misses than you would hope. There are, however, some encouraging signs in this department.

Here's a video of a recent bullpen session from Thornton. If you don't feel like watching this for yourself, here are the important takeaways. The first thing you'll notice on his fastball is some cut (or horizontal movement). You can hear him and the coach in the video talking about this and it's clear that he's made a concerted effort to get more out of his fastball. The same goes for his curveball, which has far more sweep than we've ever seen from him in the majors. His arm slot consistency, which is something he's struggled with, also seems to be much better and could improvements in this area almost always lead to better control. Obviously, this is just a bullpen session with no batter, but he clearly knows exactly where he needs to improve and has put in the work to get it done. It's no guarantee that it'll work, but it's an encouraging sign.

Throughout his time with the Blue Jays, Thornton has never really wowed and has simply been another below-average pitcher in what has often been a below-average bullpen. However, it's clear that he's put work into the areas where it's needed, and if that work pays off, he could be in for a much better 2023. With how much harder it'll be to make the team this year, don't get your hopes up too high, but keep him in the back of your mind, he could end up being a pleasant surprise.

Next. 3 reasons Ricky Tiedemann won't make Opening Day roster. dark