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PHOENIX — With an eye on the future of the Blue Jays, questions remain about some of the organization’s up-and-comers, as well as what direction the club will continue to take as it moves forward.
In this week’s Inbox, we take a closer look at the successes of a couple of Toronto’s prospects in the Arizona Fall League, as well as how the Blue Jays approach to Elvis Luciano could shift what some other clubs might do in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, and where the expectations might be for a potential return on closer Ken Giles.
A late addition to the Scottsdale Scorpions roster in the Arizona Fall League, Julian Merryweather has appeared in two games, throwing one inning in each outing. He’s shown impressive command and increased velocity — crediting the rehab process — as he’s continued to make his way back from Tommy John surgery.
“All that downtime that you’re taking for your arm, you’re able to put in work in other areas of weakness,” he said. “So whether it’s mobility or strength, the strength and conditioning aspect has gotten so good now that guys are coming back so much stronger and in better shape and moving better. That’s a huge reason for it, so it’s the double-edged sword of knowing you might be throwing harder but your arm might not be ready for it at a certain stage.”
The 28-year-old right-hander is expected to make two more appearances before the fall season comes to a close and has felt great so far as his 20-month comeback from Tommy John continues. Merryweather originally returned to the mound in June, throwing two innings for rookie-class Bluefield and four innings for Class A Advanced Dunedin five days later. But after another couple of days, he came to the realization that his arm might not have been completely ready.
“I felt fine for the four innings, had good velocity for all four innings, didn’t see a crazy drop, so that was a good sign,” Merryweather said. “It was just the recovery phase, I wasn’t prepared for that, I guess. A couple days later it was like, ‘Wow, this is not great, this does not feel great right now.’
“I thought, ‘Oh no, I tore it again,’ and everyone has their dramatic thoughts like your life is over, but once the training staff checked it out, they knew there was nothing wrong with the ligament … but it was definitely my arm telling me it was not ready for the amount of workload it was. So we’re doing things differently this time to prevent that from happening.”
Beyond his time with the Scorpions, Merryweather will proceed with regular offseason activities, and is likely to head to Triple-A Buffalo out of Spring Training, where he was slated to land before his arm derailed him in June. — Alexis
What’s your perspective on Jackson Rees and his progression through the Jays system — could you see him starting in New Hampshire in 2020 knowing his history of injuries and [trouble] consistently throwing strikes based on how much his pitches move?
– Jon C.
Jackson Rees has been one of the most impressive hurlers in the Fall League over his small sample size of 7 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old right-hander has appeared in six games and allowed five hits, walked one and struck out 12 over that span, showing impressive stuff and earning a roster spot among the Fall Stars.
After making his way to Dunedin this season and finding success in the Florida State League before dominating with the Scorpions, a natural progression for Rees could be to head to Double-A New Hampshire out of Spring Training, if the undrafted free agent signing continues his dominance ahead of the ‘20 season. — Alexis
What the Blue Jays did with Luciano should be a model for other organizations, especially those without realistic hopes of contending in ‘20. Yes, most teams enter a season eyeing at least an outside run at a Wild Card spot, but a quick glance at the Astros and Nationals shows just how wide of a gap exists between the good teams and the great ones.
For Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins, the entire process of selecting and rostering the 19-year-old Luciano was about the rarity of the opportunity. Young, athletic right-handers with multiple pitches that profile at the Major League level don’t grow on trees. This is about quantity as much as quality, too, and the Luciano experiment ended with the Blue Jays adding a high-upside arm for free, in baseball terms.
I’d argue that Major League Baseball in 2020 caters particularly well to Rule 5 picks, even before the 26th roster spot gets involved. Versatility is valued highly by some clubs, and the opener strategy — or bullpen days — means that teams are burning through plenty of relievers over the course of a season. If you have a spot for a seventh right-hander or second utility player, why not roll the dice on someone who could provide long-term value?
Other organizations noticed what the Blue Jays did with Luciano, so it will be interesting to see if the appetite for risk increases across the league this December. — Keegan
“What should the Jays expect in a Giles trade and could it land them a decent OF prospect? Maybe [someone] like Brandon Marsh?”
– Craig P.
Let’s give Atkins the first word on this, as he was asked about Giles during his year-end media availability.
“We’ll weigh what it means to have him versus what it means to trade him for some other value,” Atkins said in early October. “He makes a significant contribution, so we would have to factor in that subtraction if we were to trade him. Thinking about it from a strategy standpoint, he’s been exceptional. He had an incredible year, so he’s not someone that we would have to say we are open to trading. I’m sure there will be significant interest in him.”
There’s an argument to be made that the Blue Jays could keep Giles into the season, wait for a new closer to emerge by July and flip him at the Deadline. That’s a risk with a 29-year-old reliever who throws gas, though, as a down year is always lurking just around the corner at baseball’s most volatile position.
Finding a comparable trade is difficult, given the shifting value of relievers. This would not be another case of Aroldis Chapman for Gleyber Torres, who was baseball’s No. 24 prospect at the time, with the Yankees.
This past July’s Shane Greene trade from Detroit to Atlanta might be closer in line to expectations. The same goes for the Marcus Stroman deal, where the Blue Jays acquired a pair of pitchers who ranked outside of the MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects but were highly regarded. A prospect on the edges of the top 100 would make sense to lead a package, and the Blue Jays have plenty of groundwork laid if they choose to explore it actively. — Keegan