These Blue Jays prospects could become high-leverage relievers

May 21st, 2023

TORONTO -- There’s something more exciting about how the Blue Jays are developing pitchers now.

The organization has pivoted towards chasing high-end outcomes, velocity and strikeouts, which was long overdue after a stretch in which the Blue Jays lagged behind many other clubs. You know how the Rays or Orioles keep trotting out relievers you haven’t heard of who just so happen to throw 100 mph with a high strikeout rate? That’s where the Blue Jays want to be.

These things don’t produce immediate results, but you’re starting to see the ripples spread from the bottom of the system on up.

Another active strategy we're seeing from the Blue Jays is the use of a bulk role as a development tool. No longer just an in-between place for failed starters to get stuck, this bulk role has big-league value and the Blue Jays want to start that in the Minor Leagues. You’ve seen it with No. 3 prospect Yosver Zulueta and No. 10 prospect Hayden Juenger, and that will continue to expand.

Toronto’s rotation depth is another issue for another day -- and a serious one -- but let’s take a look at potential bullpen arms coming up through the system. Here’s a standout from each level.

Triple-A Buffalo Bisons: Waiting on Zulu
Even though Zulueta’s path hasn’t come with quite as many frustrations as 's, the parallels are there. Both possess incredible physical gifts, but have been held back by health or performance, and Zulueta is now in the same “starter or reliever” conversation Pearson found himself in up until recently.

After making six starts to open the season -- all in the range of two to three innings -- Zulueta is now coming out of the bullpen in Buffalo. His last two outings have been rough, and with a 5.03 ERA, Zulueta isn’t forcing the Blue Jays’ hand in any way just yet.

We’re not seeing the 99-mph heat he’s flashed in previous springs, but if he can pair that with his breaking ball, there’s still serious potential for Toronto’s No. 3 prospect. It’s becoming more and more obvious that it’s going to happen in a relief role, though, if it happens.

Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats: Danner dealing
Hagen Danner is back in Double-A now (after starting the season with two appearances in Single-A Dunedin) and has made five scoreless appearances (6 2/3 IP) with 11 strikeouts. The converted catcher and No. 22 prospect brings a high-90s fastball and an impressive slider, creating an ideal reliever profile. Danner has thrown just 48 Minor League innings between his late conversion and some injuries, but he’s more polished than that number suggests and he already has a spot on the 40-man roster, which matters.

High-A Vancouver Canadians: Brock the K machine
As I’ve mentioned in previous prospect reports, T.J. Brock's name came up early and often in Spring Training among coaches and player development staff. A sixth-round pick from the 2022 Draft, Brock has a fastball that flirts with 100 mph and a very good slider that some rank among the best in the organization.

The result? A 1.84 ERA with 25 strikeouts over 14 2/3 innings with Vancouver. If he keeps this up, Brock should earn a promotion to Double-A later in the season and position himself well for a big 2024. He’s quietly become one of the most interesting pitchers to track at the lower levels, and while he’s not currently ranked on our Top 30 list, he’s leapfrogged some higher-profile names to put himself in that next group for consideration.

Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays: Rojas dripping with upside
Kendry Rojas hasn’t been pitching for long, but the 20-year-old is already starting to show some of the potential that the Blue Jays are dreaming on. With broad shoulders and long arms, the lefty reaches 96 mph with his sinking fastball that sits closer to 94. He also throws a slider, four-seamer and changeup.

Rojas has bounced between starting and coming out of the bullpen (three starts and three relief appearances), but those designations don’t matter much as he’s throwing close to four innings each time out. So far, he’s posted a 2.49 ERA with 29 strikeouts over 25 1/3 innings. Perhaps there’s starter potential in there long-term, but if the Blue Jays can find a little more velocity as Rojas matures physically, he could move even quicker.