TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays passed on prospects Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman when they needed to fill a rotation slot this past Saturday, and there’s good reason to think they’ll look elsewhere again the next time a starter is needed Sept. 3 at Arizona.
While injuries have pushed nearly half of the triple-A Buffalo Bisons’ lineup to the big-leagues– second baseman Ryan Goins plus outfielders Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra started against the New York Yankees on Monday – conservatism reigns with the organization’s two most advanced young arms of promise.
Nolin, up at triple-A Buffalo, and Stroman, currently at double-A New Hampshire, are discussed both internally and externally every time there’s a spot to fill, but the slow-the-kids-down set has mostly held sway over the push-the-prospects group.
Nolin’s Blue Jays debut May 24 stands as the lone exception, when the 23-year-old left-hander was whipped for six runs over 1.1 innings by the Baltimore Orioles before being getting optioned back to double-A New Hampshire as soon as the game was over.
Whether that’s coloured the deliberations since is open to interpretation, but the let’s-see-what-they’ve-got sentiment among some fans isn’t shared by some key Blue Jays decision-makers.
“I’ll always be a person that believes there’s a reason for the levels and in most cases, guys need to experience those levels to develop properly,” says assistant GM Tony LaCava, speaking in general terms and not specifically about Nolin and Stroman. “In my mind, I don’t think anyone’s career was ever hurt by waiting a little while longer.
“On the other hand, I think there have been some guys that get pushed too fast and then they have to get rebuilt, they lose their momentum, and it now becomes not just physical, it becomes mental, too, to get them back to where they need to be.”
That in part explains why Chien-Ming Wang again played stop-gap Saturday against the Houston Astros, allowing five runs, four earned, over three innings of an 8-5 loss, and why there’s a good chance it will be someone else getting the call the next time a fifth starter is needed.
The Blue Jays are expected to recall Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison from the Bisons once rosters expand to 40 men in September, while Ricky Romero—with a strong finish at Buffalo—is also a possibility. Drabek and Hutchison, each coming back from Tommy John surgery, would be ahead of Nolin and Stroman on the depth chart, and Romero remains an intriguing wild card.
Getting them some action next month makes plenty of sense. Though the same can be said for Nolin and Stroman, there are roster management implications to consider there, as well.
Nolin is already on the 40-man roster (and as a 2010 draft pick out of college would have had to be added this winter or be exposed in the Rule 5 draft), but Stroman is not and doesn’t need to be added until after the 2016 season.
Given that he’s no lock to break with the team in 2014, using a spot for a month of garbage-time baseball isn’t necessarily the best idea, especially with Brandon Morrow, Maicer Izturis and Luis Perez having to be returned from the 60-day DL this winter. The Blue Jays would also need to burn an option to send Stroman down next spring if he doesn’t earn a job on the club.
All told, the play-it-slow faction can make a pretty reasonable and compelling case.
Still, the counter-argument to that is that Nolin and Stroman can only gain by being exposed to the big-leagues, and that any hard knocks they endure now should only ease the learning curve later.
As bad of a debut as Nolin had against the Orioles, LaCava believes “he’ll be better having gone through that because he realizes where he had work to do. I think he went back more determined than ever, and he’s got the type of makeup where it will do him good. Some kids I would say it may not, but in his case I think it will do him good.”
Stroman is said to have the temperament to handle the good and bad, too, and LaCava notes that “every challenge we’ve handed him, he’s done really well.”
“But remember,” he continues, “this is his first full season, and he’s had a nice year in double-A, which is a pretty good jump. That’s an example of a guy who we’ve challenged with his first full season, more so than we would have in the past. We were aggressive with his placement and he’s done very well.”
Reading between the lines, that sounds like it’s time to leave well enough alone with the 22-year-old.
Worth noting, too, is that in recent years the Blue Jays have promoted several starters right from double-A to the majors – Drabek, Hutchison, Nolin, Chad Jenkins, Aaron Loup, Joel Carreno, Henderson Alvarez and Sam Dyson among them – to mixed success.
When he was optioned down, Nolin was sent back to New Hampshire rather than Buffalo, and remained there until a couple of weeks ago. He’s 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts for the Bisons, although his WHIP is 1.58.
The Blue Jays didn’t push, they made him earn it.
“We feel like he achieved all he needed to achieve in double-A. We were glad to promote him to triple-A,” says LaCava. “The one thing about Sean, and everybody has to keep this in mind, is I think there’s more in there.
“He last winter had a minor surgery (cleanup in hip and then suffered a groin injury during spring training), and I don’t know that he ever really fully had his legs underneath him all year. He was just trying to play catch-up, he was healthy but I don’t think he was strong.
“I think he’ll be able to hold on to his stuff a little bit longer into games, I think he’ll have a little more velocity, a little more power to his breaking ball.”
Tantalizing possibilities for sure, and the Blue Jays are going to need both him and Stroman to fulfil their potential down the road for things to get better.
But whether a September stint furthers that end is far less certain, and at this moment, it sounds like a cautious approach is going to carry the day.