TORONTO – Tim Mayza dominated as a starter at Millersville University of Pennsylvania but once the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the 12th round of the 2013 draft, his days in a rotation quickly became numbered.
"I made, maybe, three starts in pro ball," says the left-hander.
Six, actually, as the Blue Jays quickly converted Mayza to a reliever, a role in which he steadily moved up the ladder as he learned to harness his big fastball while developing a slider as his secondary pitch.
The transformation really picked up steam in 2016 and he broke through to the big-leagues last year, logging 17 innings over 19 games with an unsightly 6.88 ERA but a very impressive 27 strikeouts against only four walks.
The progress continued this spring for the 26-year-old from Allentown, Pa., who was one of the team’s final cuts ahead of opening day. On Monday, the Blue Jays revealed their minor-league assignments and as expected, he’ll begin the season in the bullpen at triple-A Buffalo, a leading candidate for a call-up when opportunity arises.
"If anything, it was more comfort level, being comfortable around the guys and being comfortable around the coaching staff is something that I took away from being up there," Mayza says in a recent interview when asked how his big-league time last year helped him this spring. "It was just trusting my stuff and trusting my ability to execute and get hitters out. That was something I learned along the way, there has to be a formula of trust in my ability to execute and get hitters out."
Mayza has the potential to be a helpful piece for the Blue Jays this season, given that they have only one lefty in the bullpen at the moment.
There was some sentiment toward him breaking camp with the club given how well he pitches and his velocity from the left side – his fastball averaged 93.9 mph last season – which underlines how well regarded his camp was.
"The main thing we’ve seen is a comfort level, a quiet confidence, someone who when he’s on the mound now there’s no hesitancy, he knows what he wants to do, he has a plan, he knows what works for him," says pitching coach Pete Walker. "He’s finally at that place in your career where you understand what you can do."
It wasn’t always that way.
Mayza entered the Blue Jays system as a fastball/changeup pitcher with a work-in-progress breaking ball but former pitching co-ordinator Sal Fasano suggested he change things up.
"I completely scrapped the changeup," says Mayza. "Sal’s idea was to simplify everything, let’s attack hitters with four-seam fastballs to both sides of the plate and sliders that I can throw for a strike and expand more to get chase. My game-plan is very simple heading into games: Be a two-pitch guy who’s going to attack and throw two pitches to both sides of the plate."
Mayza experimented with a two-seamer early in spring training but scrapped it when he couldn’t find the consistency he wanted to see from the pitch. It’s something he’ll play around with while he focuses on continuing the transition he started five years ago.
"That was a learning process, switching from a starter to a reliever, and as you climb the ladder you’re continuing to learn how to get hitters out at each level," says Mayza. "It’s fun in the aspect that you get to learn, either about the hitters you face, or about yourself."
Here are some other notable assignments across the Blue Jays farm system:
Buffalo Bisons AAA
Joe Biagini and left-hander Ryan Borucki give the Blue Jays better rotation depth than they had at any point last year. Catching prospects Reese McGuire and Danny Jansen are steadily working toward their big-league debut. Veteran Danny Espinosa, who has an out in his minor-league contract at the end of the month, will help steady an infield missing Richard Urena, on the DL with an intercostal strain. Teoscar Hernandez and Roemon Fields headline an outfield missing both Anthony Alford (hamstring) and Dalton Pompey (wrist). Joining Mayza in the bullpen are Carlos Ramirez, Al Alburquerque, Luis Santos and Jake Petricka (disabled list).
New Hampshire Fisher Cats AA
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette headline a prospect rich club which will be closely monitored all season. The two crown jewels of the Blue Jays system were each promoted after dominant 2017 seasons split between low-A Lansing and advanced-A Dunedin. Joining them are catcher Max Pentecost, who caught 28 games last year between Dunedin and the Arizona Fall League and should carry a heavier load this year as he builds up his shoulder, infielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Cavan Biggio, plus starters Sean Reid-Foley, Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., and Francisco Rios. Veteran lefty Craig Breslow decided to accept an assignment to double-A after being released from his minor-league contract in the spring.
Dunedin Blue Jays advanced-A
Hard-throwing right-hander Nate Pearson and shortstop Logan Warmoth, both 2017 first-round picks, headline a solid roster. Both helped the short-season A Vancouver Canadians win a Northwest League title last year and as college players, the Blue Jays decided to advance them past Lansing. T.J. Zeuch, the 2016 first-rounder, and Patrick Murphy are two other names to watch in the Dunedin rotation while catcher Riley Adams, a third-rounder last year, is someone the organization likes. Righty Justin Maese underwent shoulder surgery and will miss the season.
Lansing Lugnuts low-A
Infielders Kevin Smith, a fourth-round pick last year, and Samad Taylor, acquired in the Joe Smith deal last summer, headline a roster that also includes a couple of toolsy outfielders in speedy Reggie Pruitt and hard-hitting Ryan Noda. Right-hander Yennsy Diaz, who struck out 82 batters in 77 innings over 16 starts last year, returns to the Lugnuts rotation.