For Tiedemann, can potential meet production?

January 29th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Eleven months ago, it felt like Ricky Tiedemann had his moment.

It's a moment that comes for each great prospect. For Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it was the walk-off home run in Montreal in 2018, ending an exhibition game with a tidal wave of hope. For Alek Manoah, it came in the spring of ‘21 when he struck out 11 Yankees across five total innings in back-to-back appearances.

Guerrero Jr. and Manoah were already on the doorstep of being household names, but these moments tend to launch a player to a different level. Your uncle, your bartender and the person working at the desk next to you start mentioning their name.

Tiedemann’s Feb. 28 start last spring was so close to being that. He blew a 99.4 mph fastball by Javier Báez for strike three and strolled casually to the back of the mound, an exclamation point on a scoreless, 12-pitch inning. It was the first time he’d hit 99 mph in a game, the cool confidence and electrifying potential of Tiedemann all in one snapshot.

Then, injuries kept Tiedemann grounded. Shoulder soreness slowed his build-up later in camp and a biceps injury in May torpedoed the heart of his season. Tiedemann returned in time for a taste of Triple-A and went on to win Pitcher of the Year in the Arizona Fall League, but finished the season with just 62 total innings pitched. His talent is undeniable, but like so many high-octane pitching prospects, his success is a matter of health and consistency.

That talent is what landed Tiedemann at No. 29 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, released Friday. Just 21 years old, Tiedemann can be more than a prospect in 2023. He can be part of a postseason run … if all goes well.

The upside and odds

Tiedemann’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 98 mph, setting up a very good slider and a changeup that could already get whiffs from veteran Major League hitters. All of the building blocks are there for Tiedemann to be a dominant pitcher in the big leagues.

Tiedemann has been one of the Blue Jays’ biggest development success stories. Tiedemann was intriguing as a third-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, but his physical growth and light-speed development have exceeded all expectations. The Blue Jays have a Ferrari; they just need to keep it on the road.

Nate Pearson lives on as a reminder of how pitching prospects can break your heart. Pearson was a dream prospect, built to be a frontline starter who throws 100 mph, but injuries and inconsistencies landed him in the bullpen. That’s always a possible outcome for even baseball’s best young arms, and until we see Tiedemann’s stuff keep humming past 100 innings, that reality is on the table.

2024 roster fit

The Blue Jays’ recent agreement with Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodríguez improves their rotation depth, which was desperately needed. Manoah is the ultimate unknown as he competes for the fifth spot in the rotation, but when you account for the underrated Bowden Francis, Toronto’s rotation depth feels much more stable now. This means Tiedemann won’t be rushed.

Injuries are unavoidable, though, and while Toronto’s big league bullpen remains a serious strength, it’s wide open beyond them. Expect Tiedemann to open the season in the Triple-A rotation, where he’ll be tested by patient, veteran hitters, but a strong start could give him several potential paths to the Majors.

If Tiedemann is pitching to his potential, that could quickly become a conversation of having the best 13 pitchers in the organization on the MLB roster. Tiedemann might already be in that group, but if he’s rolling, it will be undeniable.

Realistic 2024 outcome

How many innings does Tiedemann have to play with in 2024? Could he push 100? 120? More?

This will be a moving target, and while teams use far more information than just innings totals, we’re not looking at a 180-inning arm here. That’s just fine, but the Blue Jays need to make the best use of his available innings, especially if he’s pitching well enough to contribute to a postseason run.

A hybrid role feels likely here. Tiedemann’s usage early in Triple-A will be very telling, whether he’s pitching in three-inning bursts or pushing closer to five as the Blue Jays manage his workload for later in the year. Tiedemann could be a unique weapon, pitching once through the order as he gets acclimated to the big leagues to balance development and winning now.

There may be less urgency in another season, but the 2024 Blue Jays need to win, period. When Tiedemann is one of the 13 best pitchers in the organization, he needs to be part of that.