Category: Fisher Cats

The Blob

Blue Jays starting rotation as The Blob

The blob is nothing if not unpredictable. If you asked the most seasoned baseball analysts and Blue Jay fans in April who would be holding up the back-end of the starting rotation by August, it is unlikely even two of 100 would have chosen Brad Mills and Henderson Alvarez to be there.

The tendency of injury in MLB starting rotations and the depth of talent and competition in the organization have combined to see 10 young pitchers (Romero, Morrow, Reyes, Drabek, Villanueva, Cecil, Litsch, Mills, Stewart, Alvarez), all 27 and under, start for the Blue Birds.

1. Ricky Romero is the only one, who has not missed a start due to injury or seen time in the minors. The top three (Romero, Morrow, Cecil) have, more or less, found their form and consistency.

4. Brad Mills needs a quality start tonight, if he wants to stay out of Las Vegas.

5. Henderson Alvarez will likely get the Zach Stewart treatment: three starts, more if he doesn’t get hit hard.

6. Jesse Litsch remains in the bullpen. He may yet start some games, if others falter or injure.

7. Kyle Drabek, see you in September.

8. Dustin McGowan made the jump to New Hampshire Double-A last week. Eight scoreless innings of work there is a great sign.

9. Joel Carreno. I’m surprised this guy doesn’t get more attention. He’s been projected as a big league reliever, even though he’s arguably been the Fisher Cats ace this season.

10. Chad Jenkins, next September or 2013.

11. Nestor Molina, next September or 2013.

12. Deck McGuire made the jump to New Hampshire, before sitting down for a rest on the 7-day disabled list. Next September at earliest.

The blob’s shifting mass:
  1. Ricky Romero (26)Henderson Alvarez, in the starting rotation for now
  2. Brandon Morrow (27)
  3. Brett Cecil (25)
  4. Brad Mills (26)
  5. ↑Henderson Alvarez (21)
  6. ↓Jesse Litsch (26) – Toronto bullpen
  7. Kyle Drabek (23) – Las Vegas
  8. Dustin McGowan (29) – New Hampshire
  9. Joel Carreno (24) -New Hampshire
  10. ↑Chad Jenkins (23) – New Hampshire
  11. ↑Nestor Molina (22) – New Hampshire
  12. Deck McGuire (22) – New Hampshire (7-day DL)
  13. ↑P.J. Walters – (26) – Las Vegas
  14. ↓Chad Beck (26) – Las Vegas
  15. Robert Ray (27) – Las Vegas
  16. ↑Yohan Pino (27) – New Hampshire
  17. ↑Willie Collazo (31) – New Hampshire
  18. Drew Hutchison (20) – Dunedin
  19. Ryan Tepera (23) -Dunedin
  20. ↑Asher Wojciechowski – Dunedin
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Win Mills

On this, the evening of Brad Mill’s second start of the season, I renew my claim that anything can happen in this starting rotation.

A guy named Brett Lawrie also takes his first career at bats this eve.

Seven straight balls from Brad Mills in the third inning.  I digress, or not.

If the wind does not blow in Mills’ direction tonight, does Litsch then rejoin the rotation?

Luis Perez is also in the running. Jays management would seem to want to have a look at him in the rotation, or so it has been suggested by the Jays Talk. Since Mills has already thrown a few starts over the past three seasons, he now needs a string of quality starts to stick around.

One out, two on, bottom of three. Blue Birds four, Orange ones two.

If and when he does join the rotation, Luis Perez will have a slightly longer leash than Mills, given that it would be his first opportunity.

One gets the sense that this will be the last best chance for Brad Mills to permanently join the ranks of MLB starters.

If only in shades, does watching Brad Mills pitch remind you of a young Jimmy Key?

He’s out of the third. Two runners left on.

Brett Lawrie to take his second at bat. No longer batting 1000.

Mills survives the fourth.

Alan Ashby and Jerry Howarth speak in ominous tones about Mills’ shaky control, leaving pitches well above and up in the zone. Can he settle in for another few innings?

Three up, three down in the fifth. Mills in position for the win.

Fan 590, Jerry Howarth, Alan Ashby, Mike Wilner, Brad Mills opinions

Jerry Howarth just called Brad Mills a magician. Alan Ashby corrects himself on having judged Mills too harshly.

It’s clear Alan Ashby does not get a good feeling watching Brad Mills, pitching high with a fastball of 86 mph.

Mills then walks two, loads the bases, and allows another run.

Jays 4, Orioles 3.

In comes Perez to get the Jays out of the sixth.

Jays jump ahead to a 5-3 lead in the top of the seventh.

Litsch comes in to get the Jays through the seventh.

It looks like neither Perez or Litsch will fill Villanueva’s rotation spot.

Could it be the second coming of Kyle Drabek? Or the first coming of Henderson Alvarez?

Frank Francisco continues his streak of effectiveness with a clean eighth inning.

Brad Mills will earn the victory on 5.1 IP and 3 ER, 4 BB and 5 SO, if John Rauch can lock it down in the ninth.

Rauch has been our most reliable closer of the season, and that’s not saying much at all.

I look forward to saying goodbye to this man, though not as excruciating as Kevin Gregg, he is less effective and certainly a place holder with a very limited shelf life in Toronto.

He did it. Rauch the save, Mills the win and most likely another whirl (start), despite not pitching nearly as well tonight as he did in his last outing.

He may be one of these guys who can buck the trend. Maybe he can get away with throwing up in the zone, said Ashby.

The fortune of Brad Mills

Brad Mills makes the rotation, Brad Mills(er) time, starting rotation sweepstakes Jo Jo Reyes is out. Brad Mills is in, at least for today. Jesse Litsch, also called up, will work out of the bullpen, in the wake of the departure of Mark Rzepcynski, Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel.

Welcome Colby Rasmus. Hopefully, he and Travis Snider will push each other to meet their ubiquitously spoken of potential.

As of Wednesday July 27, GM Alex Anthopolous, video seen at Getting Blanked, had only stated that Brad Mills was called up for temporary bullpen depth, until the Blue Jays new pitchers (P.J. Walters and Trevor Miller) arrived. A decision had not yet been made on who would start Saturday’s game. How quickly things change in these starting rotation sweepstakes. Brad Mills is our #5.

According to Mike Wilner on the Jays Talk, Mills is likely getting the start today as a way of showing him off as potential trade bait, before the deadline strikes Sunday. The following John Farrell quote from bluejays. com, provides some context:

“The fact that Brad has thrown the ball exceptionally well in Las Vegas, I think he’s earned the spot,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s got the opportunity to take this start and run with it.”

Whatever the case may be, Mills deserves at least a 10 game stint in some major league ball club’s starting rotation.

He’s dominated in Triple-A, unlike Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch and Kyle Drabek. He’s got a lot to prove at the big league level, and I think he’s about ready to do it.

Zach Stewart is out, no longer part of the puzzle. Our depth of starting rotation makes losing Zach a moot point, (in the modern sense of the term).

I don’t think Luis Perez has earned his shot in the rotation, though look for him to rejoin the big club’s bullpen soon.

Carlos Villanueva will have to pitch better than he did Thursday over his next three starts, especially if Mills hangs around, Litsch pitches well in long relief and Kyle Drabek continues to bring his ERA back down to Earth.

Exciting times, indeed.

Chad Beck made the jump to Las Vegas this week. Deck McGuire is now a New Hampshire Fisher Cat, and Dustin McGowan is now up to pitching three innings per start with Dunedin. Joel Carreno and Henderson Alvarez are knocking on the Blue Jays door. It will be interesting to see if either gets the chance to show his stuff when the roster expands to 40 come September.

The race is always on. The climb is great – the fall is depth.

  1. Ricky Romero (26)
  2. Brandon Morrow (27)
  3. Brett Cecil (25)
  4. Carlos Villanueva (27)
  5. ↑Brad Mills (26)
  6. ↑Jesse Litsch (26) – Toronto bullpen
  7. ↑Kyle Drabek (23) – Las Vegas
  8. ↑Dustin McGowan (29) – Dunedin
  9. ↑Joel Carreno (24) -New Hampshire
  10. ↑Luis Perez (26) – Las Vegas
  11. ↑Henderson Alvarez (21) – New Hampshire
  12. Chad Jenkins (23) – New Hampshire
  13. ↑Deck McGuire (22) – New Hampshire
  14. ↑Chad Beck (26) – Las Vegas
  15. ↓Scott Richmond (31) – Las Vegas
  16. ↓Robert Ray (27) – Las Vegas
  17. ↑Nestor Molina (22) -Dunedin
  18. ↑B.J. LaMura  (30) – New Hampshire
  19. ↑Drew Hutchison (20) – Dunedin
  20. ↑Ryan Tepera (23) -Dunedin

Gelatinous movement


To animate the notion of a malleable starting rotation, composed of this organization’s top 20 starters, think gelatinous blob. Individual forces push toward and pull back from various spots, while overall movement trends in the same direction.

The blob is getting bigger.

It was last spotted heading south.

Engrossing New York and Boston is only a matter of time.

Brett Cecil is looking more like a #3 man. Tao of Stieb waxes poetic on the thighs of Cecil, which recovered from a rough last outing and a trying stretch to start the game against the Red Sox last night, going the distance in a losing cause at Fenway Park.

8 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 6 SO

Jesse Litsch got hit hard wearing the Las Vegas 51s uniform July 4. He’ll have to put together a few quality starts in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League before Jays brass will consider moving him back into the rotation. Andrew Stoeten at Drunk Jays Fans speculates on how the starting rotation numbers game may play out. Through two starts for Vegas, the Litsch line does not help his cause in the starting rotation sweepstakes:

6 IP, 8 ER , 16 H, 0 BB, 5 SO

Despite putting together a promising start to the season in Double-A, Reidier Gonzalez is again getting pounded by PCL hitters.

70.1 IP, 2.56 ERA, 1.21 WHIP – New Hampshire

22.1 IP, 11.69 ERA, 2.60 WHIP – Las Vegas 

It is highly unlikely he will be called up to Toronto when the roster expand from 25 to 40.

Joel Carreno has been an Eastern League leader and strikeout master for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 15 games this season.

90.2 IP (7th), 3.18 ERA (8th), 1.18 WHIP (8th), 111 SO (2nd)

Compare with Zach Stewart through 13 starts:

75.2 IP (26th), 4.04 ERA (25th), 1.41 WHIP (27th), 53 SO (41st)

1 Blue Jays Way provides an audio interview with Carreno  from his Lansing Lugnut days, as well as a written interview with Stewart following his recent return to New Hampshire.

Robert Ray, thought to have been released outright by the Blue Jays May 19, 2011, is, in fact, still in the organization. Signed as a free agent on May 21, 2011, Ray has been in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats starting rotation since June 12. He yesterday logged his second quality start in five tries.

27.0 IP, 7.33 ERA, 1.63 WHIP , 23 SO

Since his promotion from Dunedin to New Hampshire, Henderson Alvarez has started nine games for the Fisher Cats.

53.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 37 SO

Also making the jump to the Blue Jays Double-A starting rotation, Chad Jenkins has started five games. The 2009 first round draft pick would also seem to belong.

35.0 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 21 SO

Considering the Jays organization has promoted two of its better young pitchers (Drabek and Stewart) directly from Double-A to the Big Leagues, it is within the realm of possibility that Carreno, Alvarez, or Jenkins could get a look sooner than later.

Dustin McGowan, who was reported to have been shut down due to shoulder soreness, did miss a simulated start but threw two bullpen sessions instead last week. Tonight, July 6, he started his second game for the Dunedin Blue Jays, throwing two scoreless innings before youngster Drew Hutchison replaced him.

The 20-year-old Hutchison, a 15th round selection in 2009, has been promoted to Dunedin from the Lansing Lugnuts. In his first two starts, June 26 and July 1, Hutchison did not allow a run. He was pitching in his third game at the time of this posting.

Starting rotation sweepstakes

The race is always on. The climb is great – the fall is depth.
  1. Ricky Romero (26) Joel Carreno, prospect ascending the ranks
  2. Brandon Morrow (26)
  3. Brett Cecil (25) 
  4. Carlos Villanueva (27) 
  5. Jo Jo Reyes (26) 
  6. Brad Mills (26) – Las Vegas
  7. Jesse Litsch (26) – Las Vegas
  8. Kyle Drabek (23) – Las Vegas
  9. Zach Stewart (24) – New Hampshire
  10. Dustin McGowan (29) – Dunedin
  11. Scott Richmond (31) – Las Vegas
  12. Joel Carreno (24) – New Hampshire
  13. Henderson Alvarez (21) – New Hampshire
  14. Chad Jenkins (23) – New Hampshire
  15. Deck McGuire (21) – Dunedin
  16. Nestor Molina (22) – Dunedin
  17. Reidier Gonzalez (25) – Las Vegas
  18. Mike MacDonald (29) – Las Vegas
  19. Chad Beck (26) – New Hampshire
  20. Drew Hutchison (20) – Dunedin

Toronto

3.  Brett Cecil – June 30, 6.1 IP, 6 ER, defensive lapses

5.  Jo Jo Reyes – July 3, 6.0 IP, 4 ER

Las Vegas

6.  Brad Mills –  July 2, 7 IP, 2 ER

7.  Jesse Litsch – July 4, 3 IP, 7 ER

8.  Kyle Drabek – June 30, 6 IP, 1 ER, 0 BB

New Hampshire

9.  Zach Stewart – July 3, 6 IP, O ER (3 R)

Dunedin

10.  Dustin McGowan – July 2, 33 pitches, 2/3 IP, 3 ER, defensive lapses

Following his 30-day rehabilitation, if he is not yet ready to rejoin the Blue Jays, McGowan may rest and/or start a new 30-day rehab stint.

Baseball in J Minor

Jesse Litsch, Lansing to New Hampshire to Las VegasAs it concerns demoted and rehabilitating Blue Jays starters, the news out of New Hampshire is better than out of Las Vegas.

Jesse Litsch barrels along the comeback trail, making the jump from Lansing to New Hampshire. His two starts for the Double-A Fisher Cats have bested the one in A-ball the previous week, where he gave up three runs in two(+) innings of work.

After 3.2 shutout innings June 23, Litsch lasted five innings and gave up one run June 28. His next start will likely take place in a Las Vegas 51s uniform.

The question, however, is whether the Jays starting rotation will a have a space available for Litsch when he is ready. With Villanueva pitching so reliably,  I would be inclined to think not yet.

If anyone gets the yank, it should be Jo Jo Reyes, especially if his next start ends as soon as his last one did (3.2 IP, 6 ER).

The .363 blog posted an interesting take yesterday on the shelf life of Jo Jo.

Brad Mills is not leaving Las Vegas yetBrad Mills is not leaving Las Vegas yet

Brad Mills, June 26, went six innings for the 51s, allowing four earned runs, days before getting passed up for a Toronto promotion. Though he seems to have hit a bit of a rough patch in the Pacific Coast League, statistically, he remains at the top among all starting pitchers there:

3.72 ERA (3rd), 101.2 IP (2nd), 1.28 WHIP (2nd), 92 SO (1st)

Brett Cecil, June 23, also went six innings for the 51s in his last start, allowing five earned runs. The Jays called him up anyway June 29. Cecil’s velocity has returned, touching 93 and averaging 89 mph, which returns the 6-10 mph differential considered necessary for an effective change-up.

Discounting two God-awful performances for Las Vegas, Cecil has almost matched Brad Mills in core performance measurements. Cecil also has something Mills may never have: a 15 win season at the major league level.

In related news, the Zach Stewart flirtation is over. See you in September, Zach. New Hampshire’s lucky to have you. I’m sure you will be fighting hard for your return and a pass to a proper rookie season in 2012.

I still think his ticket ought to include a pass through Las Vegas.

Upon being reactivated to the 25-man roster, Cecil alluded to the very real difference between pitching in the Pacific Coast and Majors, saying he had never had to base pitch selection on which way the wind is blowing. Perhaps it is that sort of thing the Jays want to avoid with Zach Stewart, having returned him to the Fisher Cats of the Double-A Eastern League.

Only nine PCL starting pitchers now hold an ERA below 4.00, while just 27 have ERA below 5.00 in the 16-team league.

Among them, the Jays forgettable 5th starter of Spring 2010, Dana Eveland, is enjoying a bit of success in that league. His 7-4 record and 3.86 ERA through 16 starts (91 IP) for the Albuquerue Isotopes may serve to give the 27-year-old another shot with a major league club. Just so long as it’s not with the Jays, preferably with an AL East squad. Eveland went 3-4 with a 6.45 ERA in 44.2 IP before the Jays traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ronald Uviedo, June 1, 2010.

As regards another former 5th starter, I would be shocked to ever see Scott Richmond start a regular season game for the Blue Jays. The #3 man in Las Vegas, has gone 4-6 with a 6.26 ERA and given up 14 HR in hitter-friendly air. In my estimation, the April 2009 MLB rookie of the month, now sits 11th in the organization’s depth chart.

My characterization of depth chart is one of constant malleability that considers current performance, health, and major league readiness as its main criteria, but also takes into account perceived statistical blips and temporary setbacks, such as in the case of Brett Cecil. My top five, though not in the same order as Bluejays. com or Torontostar. com, will not include players outside the starting rotation.

That said, when Litsch was still with the Lansing Lugnuts and Cecil still finding his form with the Las Vegas 51s, I believe Brad Mills was the most deserving candidate to take on the spot surrendered by Kyle Drabek.

Since Mark Rzepczynski has adjusted so well to his new role as lefty-specialist in middle relief, I’ve left him off this list.

  1. Ricky Romero
  2. Brandon Morrow
  3. Brett Cecil
  4. Carlos Villanueva
  5. Jo Jo Reyes
  6. Jesse Litsch
  7. Brad Mills
  8. Kyle Drabek
  9. Zach Stewart
  10. Dustin McGowan
  11. Scott Richmond
The oft-injured Robert Ray, who filled in adequately in the 2010 Jays rotation (4 GS, 24.1 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1-2) and pitched 3.2 innings of shutout relief last September, was released May 19, 2011. Dustin McGowan, contrary to first report, has not been shut down due to forearm stiffness. He threw a full bullpen session Monday. I’ll be waiting on the proverbial seat-edge to learn whether he pitches his next scheduled simulated game. To see him rejoin the starting rotation in September would be a thing of miraculous beauty.

The Promotion of Zach Stewart

Promoting Zach Stewart is like handing the car keys over to your 15-year-old son, while his 16 and 17-year old brothers look on from the bus stop.

I jest.

By all accounts Zach Stewart is a real talent. But bringing him up now may prove short-sighted. What’s the hurry, considering the Jays have more experienced options?

That he has jumped from the Double-A Eastern League and New Hampshire Fisher Cats does not seem to be a natural progression.

That he has replaced Kyle Drabek, who will now pitch for the Las Vegas 51s of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, seems ironic, since Drabek made a similar jump from the Fisher Cats to the Blue Jays, only to last 14 games in the bigs this season.

While Stewart did pitch last season in Las Vegas, he jumped down a level this season to New Hampshire, which would appear to be a demotion.

Jays management may have viewed it as a lateral move. The EL is thought to provide a better environment for developing young pitchers, although it is not clear what quantifiers bear out this claim.

Cleaner fields? Lighter air? Inferior hitting?

Drabek skipped Triple-A, and he performed inconsistently in the majors.  These two separate facts, concerning his development, should have given management long pause before making the same move with Stewart, who has not dominated in Double-A the way Drabek did. And I know that just because Drabek jumped over the Triple-A stage and struggled in the majors does not mean the former necessarily caused the latter. But one would be hard pressed to say there is no connection.

Much depends on a comparative valuation of the PCL and EL: one has the reputation of a hitter-friendly league, the other of a superior developmental league for pitchers. And yes, there is much more to know.

Drunk Jays Fans relays a quote from Alex Anthopoulos,  revealing some of the thinking that went into the Zach Stewart promotion.

To reach a decision on the when and where of the right league for a highly-touted pitching prospect, coaching staffs and management must make a nuanced evaluation of the individual pitcher, tangible and intangible criteria alike. I have little doubt that Anthopoulos and company did due diligence, I just question how they got there.

Most pitching prospects graduate from Double-A to Triple-A,  and when the stars and their stats align, they get their shot.

But that has not been the path for Stewart or Drabek. So far that path has not been a smooth one for either.

If it is true that the ECL serves as a better developmental league, why aren’t Brett Cecil and Brad Mills developing there, instead of the PCL?

Does a Blue Jays pitching prospect now go to New Hampshire via Las Vegas, prior to landing in Toronto?

Down is up. Up is down. Is Las Vegas just a holding station for potential mid-rotation to back-end starters?

There’ a lot of trial and error in baseball, and even with all the homework and analysis in the world, a magic eight ball would still get to the right answers before some management teams. It is all a bit confusing. But we do have our statistics.

Given its hitter-friendly climate, the PCL tends to inflate pitching statistics somewhat. That does not appear evident in the case of Brad Mills or Brett Cecil, who are 6-5 and 8-2, 3.04 and 5.21, and 1.15 and 1.43 WHIP, respectively.

All of which compares favourably with Stewart’s (4-3, 4.39, 1.42) in the ECL.

If you can’t shake the sight of Cecil’s ERA, consider that without his first Vegas start, a 10-run meltdown, 5.21 shrinks to 4.11.

In an arguably tougher league to pitch, with numbers as good or better than Stewart’s, two starters, who each have major league experience, have been skipped over.

From its tweet bag, Tao of Stieb produces a hunch as to why Stewart got the nod over Mills, whose mechanics could still pose a problem.

Stewart did produce a quality start (7 IP, 2 ER, 4 SO, 1 BB) yesterday, of which Mop-up Duty analyses the positives and negatives, and Mike Wilner summarizes poignantly, reminding us that Drabek’s first start of the season was an even better performance (7 IP, 0 ER, 7 SO, 3 BB).

Without a doubt, Stewart deserves a shot, as Drabek did (and still does), but what is the hurry?

Mills already leads the PCL in ERA, IP, WHIP, and SO. Cecil is the winningest pitcher in that league. The two must wonder just what they have to do to get their next shot.

Check out Bleacher Report’s polling data on which of the three pitchers ought to fill Drabek’s spot.

Maybe Stewart is just in Toronto for a quick look.

But if his confidence gets rocked during that time, or if it does not, where does he go next? New Hampshire or Las Vegas?

By promoting Stewart, what message is sent to Mills and Cecil?

For now, they, along with Drabek, pitch in the weighty air of Las Vegas, waiting for the next plane to Toronto. Whoever may be on it, will there be a layover in New Hampshire?