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Inbox: Are pitching prospects on right track?

@baseballexis
August 5, 2019

TORONTO -- With the Blue Jays season more than two-thirds completed, we might be getting a late start to the question-answering portion of the beat, but we couldn’t be more excited at the response and depth of the questions we received. Though we couldn’t get to everything asked -- and

TORONTO -- With the Blue Jays season more than two-thirds completed, we might be getting a late start to the question-answering portion of the beat, but we couldn’t be more excited at the response and depth of the questions we received.

Though we couldn’t get to everything asked -- and will certainly aim to find out soon whether Derek Fisher has cats, or might be familiar with the Double-A squad in New Hampshire -- we do hope you enjoy our first crack at the Inbox and we will look to make it a much more regular feature in the future.

There's lots of negativity right now, but some optimism. Pitching-wise, do you think we are getting there in terms of improvement in 2-3 years with pitching prospects who will catch up to the positional prospects? It seems as though we’ve got a lot of guys with raw tools, and we just need a couple to make it.
-- @SawyerMarsh

You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned only needing a couple of the pitching prospects to make it. Though a staff is comprised of more than just a couple of arms, of course, Toronto’s upper management has been stockpiling controllable young pitchers in the hopes of complementing the position-player talent that has been on display of late.

If you’re looking two to three years ahead, there’s certainly realistic hope that Alek Manoah, this year’s first-round Draft pick, will at least be in the conversation alongside newly acquired 18-year-old right-hander Simeon Woods-Richardson. Nate Pearson and Anthony Kay headline the names to be expected in the future -- they're perhaps nearer than a number of others -- alongside Eric Pardinho, Adam Kloffenstein and Kendall Williams.

Adding to that, the current roster is also home to several young pitchers who could be significant pieces -- with Ryan Borucki, Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, Sean Reid-Foley and Thomas Pannone all under 25 years old -- if they continue learning in the roles they’re in or become members of the bullpen. There is definitely some optimism on the horizon when it comes to Toronto’s hurlers.

-- Alexis

Do we know enough about Elvis Luciano to add him to the young starting pitching prospect list? I am assuming we will be seeing him in September with the Blue Jays.
-- @ColleenEvans6

This brings me back to the 2018 Winter Meetings in Las Vegas,. After Elvis Luciano’s name was announced in the Rule 5 Draft, I turned to a colleague with his MLB.com player page on my phone and asked, “They said Elvis Luciano, right? He’s only 18.”

It turns out the Blue Jays were on to something. Luciano is expected to return this season and, if he’s able to do so while satisfying the Rule 5 requirements, he will represent one of the smartest moves that the Blue Jays have made over the past 12 months. Once Luciano becomes a no-strings-attached member of the organization, he can be mentioned in the same breath as many of the organization’s second-tier pitching prospects.

Luciano will be 20 next spring, but with a taste of the Majors already under his belt, which makes him a unique development story. If it reaches that point, an assignment to Class A Advanced Dunedin or Double-A New Hampshire would make sense to start out.

-- Keegan

Given the open spot in the rotation, do you think we’ll see Anthony Kay or maybe even Nate Pearson in September?
--
@wmatthewcollins

As alluded to earlier, Kay and Pearson are the two Toronto pitching prospects nearest to the Majors right now. While it might seem beneficial -- or just plain desirable -- to see them among the late-season callups for the Blue Jays, it bears keeping in mind that both have missed significant time and will be beyond their career highs in workload by the time the last month of the season rolls around.

Pearson missed almost all of last year with a fractured right forearm after getting a season under his belt in his first professional season in 2017. This year, the 22-year-old right-hander has logged 72 innings between Class A Advanced Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, missing time with a groin injury, so the Blue Jays might wait until next year to see what he can offer.

Kay has thrown 102 1/3 innings so far this year, in his second pro season. Just after he was selected 31st overall by the Mets in 2016, he underwent Tommy John surgery. In his return to the mound last year, the 24-year-old left-hander finished with 122 2/3 innings, and would be the more likely candidate to make his debut this year.

-- Alexis

What do you feel the future is for Teoscar Hernandez with the Blue Jays now the Derek Fisher is here? -- @GVLOW

These are two very similar players on the surface. Both have impressive physical tools that are tantalizing if you see them on the right night and both have a shot at the center-field job, but they’ve also had similar challenges.

Hernandez has been worth +2 Outs Above Average this season, according to Statcast, so there’s something behind all of the talk from Spring Training that he’d been working on his defense with first-base coach Mark Budzinski. He’s also the fastest measured player on the time with an average sprint speed of 29.0 feet per second. Add in the power -- which sometimes shows up -- and you can see why the Blue Jays want to give him as many chances as they can.

If you include Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk to make a group of four outfielders, I think you’ve got your three outfielders and starting DH on many nights.

-- Keegan

What is Justin Smoak’s future?
-- @frang4u

Smoak’s value to the Blue Jays can’t be overstated. No, he hasn’t hit for average, and his power numbers have regressed this season, but the veteran is quietly a pillar in the clubhouse and has given his rookie infielders a safety net at first base.

Smoak can be a free agent following the season, and he will turn 33 in December. An extension seemed possible earlier this year, so that’s something that Smoak and the Blue Jays could circle back to over the coming months. The position might belong to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. long-term, but the Blue Jays will give him a much longer look at third base and Rowdy Tellez hasn’t done enough to earn the job just yet. It’s too minimizing to say that Smoak could help “bridge the gap” after what he’s done in Toronto, but the timelines could line up nicely on a one- or two-year deal, if both sides remain interested.

Keep in mind that, prior to Smoak debuting in 2010, he was ranked as one of the game’s top prospects and was projected to be a dominant power hitter from day one. Most young players can handle success on their own, but Smoak’s experience would be a valuable asset when this young core experiences its challenges.

-- Keegan

Does Devon Travis still have a spot on this team or have we seen the last of him for the Blue Jays?
-- @JesseBurrill17

There is hardly any doubt that everyone in the organization wants to see Devon Travis return to active duty for the Blue Jays, as one of the most well-liked and respected players in the game. The last time the question was asked about whether or not he might return to the roster this season, the answer was one of hope but didn’t seem as though it would be a realistic possibility.

That being said, the 28-year-old second baseman isn’t arbitration eligible until next year and won’t reach free agency until 2022, so if Travis can return to form and bring the bat the Blue Jays have seen in encouraging spurts from him in the past, there’s hardly any doubt the organization would want to keep him around.

-- Alexis

Alexis Brudnicki is a Canada-based Baseball Development and Special Projects reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.