Blue Jays Starting Pitching Depth Rapidly Dwindling

Thanks to a few trades, poor performers and injuries, the Toronto Blue Jays' pitching depth is being spread dangerously thin.

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26: Chris Bassitt #40, Jose Berrios #17, Kevin Gausman #34 and Danny Jansen #9 of the Toronto Blue Jays walk to the dugout prior to a game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

When the Toronto Blue Jays kicked off the 2024 campaign, they were flying high in regards to their pitching depth. Don’t forget that last year, the quartet of Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Bassitt were as nasty as they come.

The main four are back for another go-round this season, with Alek Manoah also on hand as someone the Blue Jays desperately hope will bounce back. The Jays went out and signed intriguing right-hander Yariel Rodriguez as well in hopes of some insurance should Manoah not find his way.

As spring training neared, Gausman, Berrios, Kikuchi, Bassitt, Manoah and Rodriguez all represented big league-ready starters for the Blue Jays. Beyond them, there were some serviceable options available as emergency depth.

Ricky Tiedemann, the club’s top prospect; Bowden Francis, Mitch White, Wes Parsons and Paolo Espino were all depth arms that the Blue Jays had at their disposal entering spring training.

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We are a month into the season and every single one of those depth pieces – outside of Espino and including Manoah – are either hurt or no longer in the organization. This is a major problem.

Blue Jays Starting Pitching Depth Taking Huge Hit

Parsons, a 31-year-old journeyman, was the first player to remove himself from the equation. After a dreadful three-outing tenure as a member of the Blue Jays, he was designated for assignment and eventually claimed off of waivers by the Cleveland Guardians.

The right-hander was decent in Triple-A last year but he just could not get outs with any sort of regularity at the big league level. He wasn’t great, but he was an option to start games nonetheless.

With Parsons moving on, the club’s emergency starter effectively became White, another right-hander who has had troubles finding his footing at the game’s highest level. He allowed six runs on 10 hits in 10 innings of work before a second DFA resulted in him being traded to the Giants for cash considerations.

Just like that, two options to start games in an emergency are out the window.

Tiedemann, the top left-handed pitching prospect outside of Kyle Harrison, was mysteriously placed on the injured list last week with what has been labeled as elbow discomfort. This, obviously, is not a welcomed development. Last reports indicate that he’s going to be meeting with team doctors at some point in the coming days to determine next steps.

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Finally, the most recent nail in the coffin is Francis’s placement on the injured list, which happened on Thursday. The promising right-hander made the Opening Day starting rotation after a strong showing in spring training, but struggled mightily in the first two starts of his big league career. He has recently made a switch to the bullpen as a multi-inning option in favor of Rodriguez, to much better results.

Losing Francis is tough, because this essentially removes every single depth piece the club had a month ago.

What About Alek Manoah?

As has been the case on a constant basis dating back to this time last year, Manoah is far from ready to take the mound in the big leagues. He battled through a ton of adversity last year but ultimately wound up leaving the team in protest after a demotion to the minor leagues.

Kicking off this season, Manoah missed out on the Opening Day roster and instead landed on the injured list with shoulder soreness.

During his current rehab stint, the right-hander has made four starts between Single-A Dunedin and Triple-A Buffalo. In that time, he has posted an 11.85 ERA thanks to 19 runs (18 earned) on 26 hits. His strikeout numbers remain high but he’s also walking just under six batters per nine innings and current is sporting a hits-per-nine at just over 17.

Until Manoah can prove that he’s ready for a return to the big leagues, he’s going to have to wait things out in Buffalo with the Bisons. As it stands, the Blue Jays have until May 6 to determine whether he’s ready to be brought back up or formally sent down to Triple-A.

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Recent results have indicated that that decision may not be too difficult to make when the time comes.

Who’s in the Minor Leagues as Starting Depth?

The Blue Jays don’t exactly have a farm system that’s full of depth arms. Espino, 37, is available in Triple-A as a swingman option. The soft-tossing righty has made a pair of starts for the Bisons and has 18 years of experience under his belt. There’s no doubt that right now, he’s starter No. 6 on the depth chart.

Adam Macko, also on the 40-man roster, is currently in Double-A New Hampshire and has started the season off on a strong note. His 3.07 ERA through 14.2 innings of work is promising, but he likely needs some more seasoning in the mid-to-upper minor leagues.

Beyond them, things get a bit suspect. There are no other options on the 40-man roster readily available. Mike Mayers, a 32-year-old right-hander, is in Buffalo but he’s only making it into ballgames as a reliever so far this season. He made 13 starts in the minors last year and, like it or not, is the best non-Espino option.

Chad Dallas, Just Baseball’s No. 6 Blue Jays prospect, seemed to be knocking on the door of a big league debut to close out last season. He had impressed the organization in how he handled himself in Double-A and earned a promotion to Triple-A to start the year.

In four starts, Dallas has not started things off on the right foot. He has surrendered 16 runs on 26 hits in just 18.1 innings, good for an ERA of 7.85. His strikeout numbers have also plummeted and he has struggled to keep runs off the board.

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Paxton Schultz and Luis Quinones, a pair of 26-year olds, have experience starting games but not above the Triple-A level. They’re fine options, but if the Blue Jays need to stretch that far down to find a serviceable starter, there’s a problem.

Zero Room For Further Injuries

Fortunately, this is all hypothetical. Right at this moment, the Blue Jays have five healthy and effective starters on their 26-man active roster. As we all know, injuries can and always do happen at random and inopportune times.

Knock on wood, but the four consistent starters in the Blue Jays’ rotation have been the picture of health over the course of their respective careers. Just last year alone, each of them made over 30 starts, with Kikuchi, Bassitt and Berrios each making every single planned start of the regular season.

With all of the recent moving parts, there is so much pressure on not only the players but the organization to keep these guys healthy. Rodriguez, 27, is also very much on a limited workload as he did not pitch professionally at all last year and prior to that was a one-inning reliever in Japan for a few years.

Again, right now there’s no imminent threat to the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, but it’s best to expect the unexpected. Since any of these guys can go down at any moment, the Jays are going to have to strongly consider making some external additions in the near future, otherwise they risk being caught in a tough situation with no real reinforcements in sight.