When I gave my quick hit thoughts on the Vancouver Canadians luncheon this week, it included quite a few prospect tidbits that I was able to chat with Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos about. On my way out of the Hotel Vancouver I ‘ran into’ (re: stalked) 2013 playoff hero and local boy Tom Robson. We had a five minute chat, which, if it didn’t include some very interesting points, I would have included on the aforementioned post. However, as it did contain some good stuff, I thought a full, if not brief, post was necessary.
The first thing that took me by surprise was fact that the right-hander said he was heading down to Dunedin this week. It being the dead of winter, I just can’t wrap my head around baseball, but ya, pitchers and catches report on the 17th of February. So the fact that some of the younger guys who are making their full-season debut, Tom mentioned that he knew Dan Norris, Matt Dean, and I know Shane Dawson, are heading down for a mini-camp makes perfect sense.
We briefly touched on his off-season regime, which, this year, hasn’t included as much throwing as year’s past. Robson has mainly been working on his strength and conditioning, training three times a week with a specialist in New Westminster. He is still using the weighted ball program, it’s just a bit sporadic given the weather. Bullpens will start in earnest when he touches down in Florida.
More than likely, those bullpens will be a continuation of what the 20 year old was working on during September’s instructional league. Specifically, his curveball. I’ve written about the pitch quite a bit, saying it could be a make or break offering for Tom. Of course, I am a bit prone to hyperbole. Still, if he can learn to command the deuce, he would be adding a plus offering to his fastball/changeup combination. Canadians catcher Mike Reeves told me last season that if the curve wasn’t working, they would rely on the heavy fastball, using the curve as a show me pitch to keep hitters off-balance.
That works fine when hitters do not know you all that well. The final game versus Boise was the first and only time Robson saw a team twice in the Northwest League. That will change this year. Hitters in full-season ball will adjust very quickly if they recognize the curveball isn’t being thrown for strikes. His fastball is great, producing an otherworldly 67.1% ground ball rate in 2013, but that should normalize somewhat this year. If he can consistently miss bats with his curve, any reduction in that ground ball rate will be made up for with an increase in his K%.
He told me that instructs was used to change his grip, giving him a better feel. He already feels more confident in the pitch and will continue to refine it over the coming weeks. When I mentioned that C’s pitching coach Jim Czajkowski told me that Tom may need to switch to a slider if he couldn’t bring the curve under control, Robson said he has been messing around with a slider for the last couple of years and may start to introduce it this year.
Speaking of this year, I asked if the Jays had given him any inkling of his landing spot. This is where the conversation got very interesting. Robson said he hadn’t been told, but assumes it will be either Lansing or Dunedin. When I expressed surprise at the possibility of Dunedin, he explained how Czajkowski had told him that hitters in Lansing were no better than the Northwest League, the only difference was that it started in April rather than June. With Robson’s ability, Big Czai said he should be shooting for and playing in the Florida State League.
I have to admit, I’d just assumed all of the younger arms in the lower levels would take a linear path, stopping at every level on the way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve called for prospects to jump before, asking AA to skip Roberto Osuna last year (how’d that work out?), so for me the possibility of Robson to Dunedin is positive.
And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. If he can control the curveball, then there is no reason to believe that the Ladner native will not shove in High A. With the Florida heat and humidity, his low to mid-90s power sinker will generate a ton of ground balls, and the balls that do get in the air will die a death.
He would be facing hitters that are, on average, two to three years older than him, so there are no guarantees but if he were successful then his prospect capital would take a rather large jump.
Baseball prospectus recently released their top 101 prospects in the game, with three Jays (Marcus Stroman at 27, Aaron Sanchez at 31, and Alberto Tirado at 76) making the cut. I’m a firm believer that both Daniel Norris and Mitch Nay will join them next year. If Robson has an excellent spring, plays his way onto Dunedin’s roster, and pitches well, you have to think that a 21 year old power righty with good feel for his changeup and a plus curve will be right there in the conversation for 2014.
As an aside, I charted Robson in four of his five home starts with the results below. Full disclosure, this is the first year of charting for me, so am guessing there will be a few mistakes as I was learning on the fly. For example, my notes for the final start are far more comprehensive, including where his curve ball was missing, if ump missed a call, etc than the Aug. 3rd game. Still, there’s some interesting points to be taken here, including how heavily he relied on his change in that final outing, and, although you can’t see it in the box below, how his fastball often got stronger as game progressed.
|Date||Pitches||Strikes||FBs||FB %||Avg FB Velo||Changes||Curves||CB Strikes %|