By Wesley James
Blue Jays from Away
Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.
In any other year, Chris Rowley would not have found himself pitching against the Pittsburgh Pirates in August.
In 2017, Toronto used 14 different starting pitchers. Injuries plagued the Jays from nearly day one - Aaron Sanchez had blister issues, J.A. Happ had elbow issues, Liriano had finding-the-strike-zone issues. By August, Liriano was traded and Joe Biagini was building up his arm in Buffalo. The Jays' fourth and fifth starters became a near constant rotation of unknown and sometimes untested faces.
In 2016, Toronto sent just seven starting pitchers to the mound. When Rowley started against the Pirates on August 12 he was the 12th of 2017. Despite appearing in his first major league game, he pitched confidently - one run on five hits while striking out three and walking only one in 5 1/3 innings. Toronto quickly penciled him in for more games.
An undrafted college graduate in 2013, Rowley entered the Blue Jays system as an innings filler for Toronto’s Gulf Coast League affiliate Bluefield Blue Jays. No one expected anything from him. The GCL is made up of mostly freshly drafted teenagers or international signings. As a 22-year-old college graduate, even good numbers could be easily ignored. In 32 2/3 innings that season Rowley struck out 39, walked only three, and finished with a 1.10 ERA and a 0.673 WHIP. Not bad. The report back to Toronto? “100 per cent bullpen, zero pro value.”
Two years in the army, and away from professional baseball, followed. Upon his return he was placed with the class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays where he excelled despite his time away, pitching to a 10-3 record with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP in 123 2/3 innings. In 2017, he was promoted to double-A New Hampshire to start the year and then to triple-A Buffalo. Between the two levels he had a 2.24 ERA, a 1.023 WHIP and a respectable 3.65 strike-out-to-walk ratio. And then, on August 12, he became the first graduate of West Point to play in the major leagues.
Against Minnesota in Rowley’s second start of 2017 he pitched well, despite walking five batters. In five innings he struck out three and allowed two runs in a no decision. Good enough to earn one more start. Against Tampa Bay on Aug 22 he pitched poorly, allowing four runs on five hits while walking three in just 3 1/3 innings. He stayed with Toronto through September but only made three more appearances out of the bullpen. He finished the year with a 6.75 ERA, a 1.821 WHIP, 10 walks and 11 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
In 2017, Rowley rose through the system quickly. Despite his overall poor numbers, there is reason to believe that he may be better than his small major league sample size Indicates. Rowley has rarely pitched out of the bullpen in his short professional career and has never pitched in September. Another year to improve his stamina and a consistent role with Buffalo could do wonders. Although Rowley’s four-seam fastball tops out at 90 mph, he relies primarily on a slider and a changeup, two pitches that had above average swing and miss in the very short time he was in Toronto. As a result, accuracy and placement are paramount for future success but, if he has more time in the upper levels of the minors to refine his approach, he should continue to improve.
Assuming Rowley starts the year in Buffalo and pitches well, another appearance in The Show might be in the cards. But if the top club’s arms manage to stay healthy this year, an appearance in 2018 is unlikely. But, as Rowley himself has proven, anything is possible.
Rowley is not currently on the 40-man roster and is still playing on his minor league contract. He is a non-roster invitee to major league camp in 2018.
2017 Regular Season Grades
Jay Blue: C
Emily: C (small sample size)
Wesley James: B (all levels)
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The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available! Visit the Handbook page for more information!