Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays pitching prospects starting to catch up to the bats

The Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff has been dreadful this season, but the good news is that help is on the way from the Minor Leagues.

With Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Cavan Biggio, the Toronto Blue Jays have had plenty of talented hitting prospects join the club this year. What’s been missing, however, is the same level of talent on the mound.

That situation seems to be changing, and it happened on back-to-back days this past week. First came the news that fireballing 23-year-old right-hander Nate Pearson was being promoted to Triple-A Buffalo. Then, on Monday against Rochester, T.J. Zeuch tossed the first no-hitter for Buffalo in 22 years.

Suddenly the Blue Jays organization finds itself with pitching prospects to be excited about for the future. They don’t yet have the expectations of Bichette or Guerrero, but the likes of Pearson and Zeuch are just what the club needs to become competitive at the big-league level again.

Pearson, the Blue Jays’ first-round pick in 2017, hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in a start since May while pitching for Double-A New Hampshire. In his last seven starts, he has a 1.82 ERA while striking out 37 in 34.2 innings before earning the call-up to Buffalo. The 14th-ranked prospect in baseball and who can touch 100 mph with his fastball, Pearson is striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings this season.

His path to the big leagues, though, is complicated by the number of innings he’s pitched. Pearson only pitched 22 innings in 2018 after fracturing a bone in his right forearm. He’s already at 83.2 innings this season, and the Blue Jays aren’t likely to force him much beyond that after such a light workload a year ago. His scenario will probably be like that of Guerrero, starting next season in the Minors before joining the big league club after a few weeks.

Zeuch’s situation is different. He’s spent most of the 2019 season in Buffalo, making 11 starts. He’s had consecutive scoreless outings in his last two games, including his no-hitter on Monday, and is 4-2 with a 3.84 ERA. The criticism of Zeuch, in contrast to Pearson, is that he doesn’t strike anybody out.

So far this season, he’s striking out less than five batters per nine innings. Instead, he relies on a powerful sinking fastball to generate contact and induce weak ground balls. That worked to perfection on Monday, when he forced a Rochester lineup that included former Major Leaguers like Wilin Rosario, Brandon Barnes and Ronald Torreyes to ground out 15 times while striking out only three batters.

The Blue Jays lack of pitching depth was a big reason why they decided to part with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez at the trading deadline in an attempt to reload. In return, they got prospects Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson from the New York Mets for Stroman. Kay, a 24-year-old left-hander, has rebounded to post a 2.25 ERA in his last three starts after a rough debut.

That emphasis on pitching seems to be working. Five of the Blue Jays’ top seven prospects in the organization are pitchers, including Pearson, Kay, and this year’s first-round pick Alek Manoah. Zeuch is 17th in the organization but may be closer to the big leagues than any of them.

The offense seems set for years to come. Since Bichette joined the club on July 29 and had a record-setting first few weeks, the Blue Jays are behind only the New York Yankees in home runs. The pitching staff, though, is holding the club back, at least at the big league level. In the Minors, the Blue Jays’ pitching situation is thriving, and that’s just what they need if they want to return to being contenders in the American League.

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