While all of the fuss over the Minnesota Twins’ supposed excesses of starting pitching has focused on Francisco Liriano, another member of the team’s rotation has reportedly caught the attention of the Toronto Blue Jays scouting staff.
According to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the Jays had three scouts watching Kevin Slowely during his latest performance this Spring, and you know it’s serious because one of the scouts even had a video camera. I hope that those scouts are aware that Major League Baseball games may not be reproduced or retransmitted in any form, and the accounts and descriptions of this game may not be disseminated without express written consent, because if I see a bootleg copy floating around of a Spring Training B-game in which Slowey is pitching, I know where I’m looking to lay blame.
Of course the Jays have a plethora of right handed relievers that could be a nice fit for the Twins after the team lost Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch from last year’s bullpen, all to free agency. That’s almost a combined 200 innings of relief in 2010.
For Toronto, their sudden interest in Slowey could mean one of two things: 1) The team doesn’t view Jesse Litsch, Jo-Jo Reyes or Marc Rzepczynski as legitimate stop gap options for the rotation and would rather use Slowey to begin the season as the team’s fourth or fifth starter; or 2) We can expect both Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart to start the season in Las Vegas, with the fourth and fifth rotation spots being given to Slowey and one of the triumvirate of mediocrity mentioned earlier.
I was intending to write about it later today, but I’m of the opinion that Reyes is best suited to being a lefty specialist out of the bullpen and both Litsch and Rzepczynski have Minor League options available, so if the organization isn’t confident in what they have to fill out the rotation, an acquisition makes sense. It’s also a reasonable strategy to limit Drabek and Stewart’s service time as much as possible, and even moreso if the team hasn’t been impressed by either this Spring. For all of the hype surrounding the two prospects, it should be remembered that neither pitcher has started a game at the Triple A level yet.
I’m just not so sure that Slowey is altogether that much better of an option than say Rzepczynski to start games this coming season. Consider this: not a single pitcher in all of baseball that threw more than 150 innings had a lower ground ball rate than Kevin Slowey. Inducing worm burners just isn’t his game. And that’s fine, I’m just not entirely certain that a stadium that saw more souvenirs given away to the outfield seats than anywhere else in baseball last year is the best place for that craft to be plied. Not helping matters is Slowey’s platoon split where left handed batters have accumulated an .849 OPS against him over his career. He improved those numbers drastically last season and showed better command than ever before, but he also likely benefited from an unexplainable lack of flyballs going for home runs against left handed batters. Overall, his numbers don’t inspire much hope for success in the AL East where tough lefty heavy lineups are the norm.
On the other opposite end of the spectrum, Marc Rzepczynski is a ground ball getting machine, and while control issues are evidenced from his low 1.9 K/BB last season, a glance at his batted ball numbers are very encouraging. In limited starts in just his second season in the Majors, Rzepczynski was fooling batters like a veteran, limiting contact in the strike zone while collecting an above average ratio of strikes both swinging and looking.
Rzepczynski won’t see his first year of arbitration until 2013 and won’t become a free agent prior to the 2016 season. Slowey, on the other hand, avoided arbitration with the Twins this offseason by agreeing to a one year contract worth $2.7 million. He is under team control for two more years after this one.
It seems pretty obvious at this point that the Blue Jays are willing to take one step back this season in order to take two, three, four steps ahead next year. In order to take those steps forward, the team needs unproven players to emerge. I can’t help but feel as though that might be difficult to achieve when the opportunity to do so is blocked by a spare starting arm from the Minnesota Twins organization.
Give RZep a chance. Pass.