Over the past couple of days, Jeff Todd has highlighted some of the early returns on minor league signings from the offseason and Spring Training, as pertains to starting pitchers and position players. It’s obviously early to glean too much from such investments, and that’s all the more true when it comes to relief pitchers, most of whom have worked fewer than 15 innings thus far in the season. That said, there are still several minor pickups who have played a relatively sizable role through the season’s first five weeks.
A look at some of the most oft-used arms (10+ innings pitched)…
- Fernando Salas & Jorge De La Rosa, Diamondbacks: Salas (17 1/3 innings) and De La Rosa (10 1/3 innings) have combined to yield just four runs through their 27 2/3 frames this season. Neither is missing many bats, and De La Rosa has issued as many walks as strikeouts (six), but it’s hard to argue with the bottom-line results they’ve delivered to date. Salas leads all minor league signees in terms of relief innings thrown thus far in the 2018 season.
- Hector Santiago, White Sox: Santiago tossed 16 innings of 3.38 ERA ball out of the Chicago ’pen before shifting into a starting role and logging 4 2/3 frames in his first outing. In all, he has a 3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 innings of work with 20 strikeouts, though he’s also issued 10 walks and hit two batters. The control issues could come back to haunt the Sox, but he’s been a useful depth add so far in 2018.
- Tyler Clippard & John Axford, Blue Jays: Clippard (15 1/3 innings) and Axford (14 innings) have combined for 29 1/3 frames of sub-2.00 ERA ball, with each yielding just three runs on the season. Clippard has issued eight walks and has seen his extreme fly-ball tendencies become even more pronounced, which has caused fielding-independent metrics to forecast some regression. Axford boasts a 14-to-4 K/BB ratio and 52.6 percent ground-ball rate.
- Kevin Jepsen, Rangers: Jepsen has soaked up 14 innings for the Rangers, albeit with a pedestrian 4.50 ERA and as many walks (seven) as strikeouts. Texas has had plenty of injuries both in the rotation and the bullpen, so his spot seems safe for now.
- Dylan Floro, Reds: Through 11 2/3 innings, Floro has been dominant in the Cincinnati bullpen. He’s logged an impressive 11-to-2 K/BB ratio (one of those walks was intentional) and run up a sensational 66.7 percent ground-ball rate when allowing hitters to put the ball in play. Floro has quadrupled the frequency of his changeup, jumping from a 4.5 percent usage rate to more than 18 percent in 2018 (largely at the expense of his fastball), and the early results are obviously very promising.
- Drew Hutchison, Phillies: Hutchison has given the Phils 11 1/3 innings and a 3.18 ERA so far, with an 11-to-6 K/BB ratio and a grounder rate just north of 53 percent. The control could be better, but he’s been a solid enough pickup that can be counted upon for multiple innings of relief work. He also provides the club with some rotation depth after starting in Spring Training, though the longer he works in shorter relief stints the less likely he is to make any spot starts.
- Bruce Rondon, White Sox: Rondon has had a pair of nightmarish outings but is unscored upon in seven of nine relief appearances this year. He’s showing the velocity that tantalized the Tigers for so long (96.9 mph average fastball velocity) and an ability to miss bats (14 strikeouts, 16.3 percent swinging-strike rate), but control remains an issue (six walks, one hit batter, two wild pitches). His 5.06 ERA in 10 2/3 innings isn’t impressive, but he figures to get a longer look.
- Matt Belisle, Indians: The veteran Belisle finished out the 2017 on a strong run with the Twins but didn’t carry that over to his new gig with the Indians. In 10 2/3 innings, he allowed six runs before being designated for assignment yesterday. Belisle walked just one batter in his short time with Cleveland, though he also hit a pair of batters and whiffed just four hitters while averaging 89.8 mph on his fastball.
- Blaine Boyer, Royals: The 36-year-old had a nice run with four teams from 2014-17 after a two-year MLB hiatus, but he’s had a dismal start to his Royals tenure. In 10 innings, Boyer has surrendered 19 runs (15 earned) on 17 hits and eight walks with three strikeouts. He’s given up four homers as well.
Certainly, there are other names that will become factors in due time. Jonny Venters’ call to the Majors from the Rays after five years lost to multiple arm surgeries is a feel-good story for any baseball fan. Carlos Torres, Brooks Pounders, Matt Magill and Casey Lawrence are among the minor league signees who’ve recently emerged at the big league level, while recognizable veterans like Josh Edgin (Orioles), Xavier Cedeno (White Sox), Jeanmar Gomez (White Sox), Edward Mujica (Cardinals), Oliver Perez (Yankees) and Sean Burnett (Marlins) have thrown rather well in Triple-A to this point in the young season.