The 2010 season figures to be a year of transition and development for the Toronto Blue Jays. It will be year one A.H. (After Halladay), and the Jays have little chance of contending with the baseball super powers in the Bronx, Boston and Tampa.
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA pegs the current Toronto roster for a last-place finish in the A.L. East, with a 72-90 record and a -91 run differential. An infusion of prospects (Brett Wallace, Kyle Drabek and Travis D’Arnaud chief among them) suggests better days may be ahead, but it will be an uphill climb to contention in a division where anything less than excellence won’t cut it.
Sans Halladay, the Blue Jays feature a youthful, lefty-laden rotation. While Marc Rzepczynski doesn’t have the draft pedigree of Ricky Romero or Brett Cecil, Toronto’s lesser-known southpaw could be a sleeper heading into the 2010 season.
A U.C. Riverside product, Rzepczynski was taken in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. The 6-1, 205 pounder missed a portion of his senior season with the Highlanders with elbow soreness, as well as a broken knuckle on his pitching hand. Baseball America liked Rzepczynski’s four-pitch mix, though, noting a tailing fastball sitting at 88-91 MPH, a low-80’s curve and slider, and an occasional changeup. While cautioning that command had always been “a major problem” for Rzepczynski, BA said he had middle-of-the-rotation potential.
The play-by-play announcer’s worst nightmare made his pro debut in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he posted rates of 9.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and a 2.81 FIP in 45.2 innings pitched. Rzepczynski waged a ground assault on less experienced batters, using his sinker to the tune of a 65.6 percent groundball rate.
Prior to 2008, Rzepczynski checked in at #21 on Baseball America’s list of Blue Jays prospects. BA praised his 87-89 MPH sinker, boring in on same-handed hitters and occasionally cracking the low-90’s. Rzepczynski also featured a hard slider and a changeup. His “long, slinging arm action” from a three-quarters arm slot added life to his pitches, though the english on those offerings came at the expense of fine touch around the corners of the plate.
In ’08, Rzepczynski spent the whole year at Lansing of the Low-A Midwest League. Marc missed April with a fractured pitching hand, but he returned to screw with A-Ball hitters as a member of the Lugnuts. He authored a 2.60 FIP in 121 IP, punching out 9.2 hitters per nine innings and issuing 3.1 BB/9. While that microscopic FIP was influenced by a very low home run rate (0.15 HR/9), it’s hard to find many faults when a hurler is whiffing over a batter per inning while inducing grounders at a 66.5% clip.
Rzepczynski jumped up to ninth on Toronto’s prospect list leading up to 2009. BA noted that he pounded the bottom of the zone with an 88-90 MPH fastball, supplementing the sinker with a sharp low-80’s slider, an average changeup and a “show-me” curveball. They did voice some concern about the disconnect between Rzepczynski K rates and his stuff: “though he got plenty of swings and misses in low Class A, Rzepczynski lacks a true out pitch.”
This past year, Rzepczynski zipped from Double-A to the majors. He began 2009 in the Eastern League, compiling a 2.64 FIP in 76.2 innings with 10.3 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9. Rzepczynski’s stuff passed the two-level jump with flying colors, and he burned worms with a 61 GB%. After just two starts at Triple-A (11.1 IP, 16/4 K/BB), Rzepczynski reached the majors in early July.
In 11 starts and 61.1 innings with Toronto, the 24 year-old had a promising 3.70 xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent ERA, based on strikeouts, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball rate). He struck out 8.8 hitters per nine frames, with 4.4 BB/9 and a 51.2 percent groundball rate. Not wanting Rzepczynski to zoom past the previous year’s innings pitched total (he threw 28.1 more IP in 2009 than in ’08), the Jays shut him down in early September.
Rzepczynski tossed his 88 MPH sinker 55 percent of the time with Toronto, going to his 80 MPH slider a whopping 39 percent and sprinkling in some 82 MPH changeups (six percent). It’s difficult to glean much from such a small sample size, but Rzepczynski scuffled with the sinker (-1.05 runs per 100 pitches) while baffling batters with the slider (+2.9 runs/100).
Control was an issue during his first big league stint, as Rzepczynski located just 42 percent of his pitches within the strike zone (49% MLB average). His first-pitch strike percentage was just 52.1 percent (58% MLB average). Despite the high strikeout rate, Rzepczynski’s contact percentage was about league average, at 80.4 percent.
In 2010, CHONE has Rzepczynski posting a 4.05 FIP, with 8.7 K’s per nine innings and 4.4 BB/9. It’s going to be interesting to see how his punchout rates translate long-term to the majors. Despite not having the archetypal power pitcher’s arsenal, Rzepczynski has deftly avoided lumber at each level of competition. His control needs work, but this lefty’s combination of whiffs and worm burners could make him The Dude to target late on draft day.