The Blue Jays took a unique approach to the new draft slots this year, spending almost all of their top 10 rounds bonus allotment on their 7 picks in the top 3 rounds, then spending no more than $5,000 each on players selected in rounds 4-10. I’ve already covered Marcus Stroman and Matt Smoral, the top two pitchers the Jays drafted in 2012, but they also selected hurlers in the supplemental first round (Tyler Gonzales) and the second round (Chase DeJong).
Gonzales is a 6’2, 170 pound righty out of a San Antonio area high school that signed for $750,000. He’s got a cleaner delivery than DeJong due to his more compact frame and the fact that he’s nearly a year older, turning 19 before his senior season started. Gonzales has a thin and long-limbed frame with some projection but his stature limits how much you can dream on him. Gonzales has an elbowy, clean arm action with a slight wrist cock early in the stroke and his throwing and lead elbows get higher than you’d like to see before foot strike. It isn’t a red flag, but with pitching prospects, there is so much attrition and uncertainty, you’d like everything to be as clean as possible to increase your odds of success.
Gonzales sat 91-93 in the outing I saw, with occasional run to his arm side and cut to his glove side helped by a slight crossfire in his delivery, but normally he throws pretty straight four-seam fastball. He compliments his heater with a slider at 83-85 mph that, at its best, had 11-to-5 tilt, depth and hard late bite for above average potential. Early on especially, Gonzales would get around the pitch and it would flatten out with three-quarters tilt, an occasional loop and frequently would leave it out wide to his arm side. He didn’t have great feel for his off-speed pitches in this outing and scouts relayed that they had seen his slider better in other outings, so there may be some room for growth from what I saw out of his slider.
The issue with Gonzales is his lack of a third pitch. He threw a handful of changeups at 82-84 mph and it was mostly straight and not in the strike zone. He doesn’t have much feel for it, as he doesn’t get much action on the pitch despite good deception via fastball arm speed. Gonzales would also leave this pitch out to his arm side frequently and it was a below-average pitch that only showed fringy upside. This obviously will make scouts think his future is in relief, a sentiment that was much stronger pre-draft when Gonzales was hitting 98 with much more effort in his delivery and not throwing a changeup at all.
I think Gonzales has a chance for average command with his current delivery, as everything works pretty well. His tempo, balance, front side, landing and deception are all solid, but not spectacular and while his arm is a hair late to catch up with his body, its not a huge problem. There is a slight head bob at release, much more acceptable that his head whack earlier in the year. Gonzales looks like he can develop into a reliever with two plus pitches and average command, which would be closer upside, but it’s optimistic to see that as a likely outcome at this juncture. It’s tough to see him sticking long term as a starter and I generally don’t like drafting arms that are likely relievers and old for their prep class, but Gonzales dad is a Nationals crosschecker and he’s shown an ability to make adjustments since signing.
DeJong is much more of the prototypical projectable prep arm, a 6’4, 195 right-hander from Long Beach powerhouse Wilson High School. He signed for $860,000 and I prefer DeJong as a prospect to Gonzales, after having the chance to see DeJong pitch twice in instructs.
DeJong seems very aware of his stature and the plane he can create, doing everything he can to stay tall through his delivery. He has solid balance but takes a crossfire angle to the plate, moves his head to make room for his arm at a high slot, often above high three quarters and tilts his body at a 45-degree angle at release. DeJong shows feel his delivery and locating his pitches but creating this noise and east-west movement doesn’t make his job any easier.
DeJong has a clean arm and very good plane but in his attempt to keep tall and fall to the plate, he creates a lot of up/down momentum rather than momentum toward the plate. Pitchers at UVA are taught to do something similar to this and pro pitching coaches almost always change it soon after signing their pitchers. This excess motion creates a head bob at release and DeJong’s glove hand hangs low, both helping to diminish his command.
He sat at 89-91 in both outings, occasionally showing some life on the pitch, but normally throwing a pretty flat four-seamer that was often up in the zone. DeJong’s length and projection help you project him to add another tick of velocity and the deception caused by some of the noise in his delivery help the pitch play up more currently.
DeJong’s feel for his 82-85 mph changeup wavered but he later on, it was consistently above average with excellent deception, fade, depth and it occasionally turned over. It was better at the lower end of the range and it looked like he was trying too hard to pronate it at 85 mph, creating problems with command the pitch as well, especially to his glove side. His curveball was 77-78 in the first look I got, flashing above average potential and 11-to-5 tilt with good depth and power. In the second outing, he threw the hook at 75-76 mph and it was much softer, a below average pitch that was only average occasionally.
DeJong has a chance for three above-average pitches with solid-average command but there’s plenty of work to be done and a decent amount of risk. The upside is a number three starter and the three-pitch mix, bigger frame and 11 months of youth DeJong has over Gonzales give him a better chance to stick in the rotation, though both are far from sure things.